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Alleviating stress in the classroom – Jane Godwin Coury

As a teacher, do you ever find yourself talking louder and louder so you can be heard and the students raising their voice so they too can be heard? If you were a fly on the wall, you might be witnessing a pointless exercise of a shouting match in which neither side is likely to win. Have you ever thought outside the box and tried to do things differently? After all going down the same path “day in, day out” may lead to the “same old, same old”. Einstein once said “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”.

This month, I would like to suggest some ways of alleviating stress in the classroom.

  • GREETING STUDENTS

Arrive early at class and greet the students one by one at the door, looking at them in the eye, shaking their hand, saying hello, smiling, wishing them a nice day.

  • CLASSROOM LAYOUT

Choose a different layout for your classroom and arrange the seating before the students arrive. For example: chairs in a horseshoe layout; no chairs; mats/cushions on the floor; 4 chairs together to form groups, etc.

  • BATE PAPO

As soon as students arrive at class, ask them to sit down in a circle. Put some classical music on quietly in the background. Get each pair to brainstorm ways in which a particular situation you are going through (noise levels/anxiety issues/students not handing in homework…) could be tackled. After they have listed some possible solutions, talk as a group about the problems. This can be done in their mother tongue. Also offering refreshment like fruit, pão de queijo and juice helps the climate!

  • RELAXING

Use some relaxation techniques in your lessons, such as breathing in and out while listening to calm music; getting students to tap their face with their fingers; stretching exercises; meditation exercises; using a calming spray such as lavender; offering chamomile tea… Also mingling exercises where students are moving around help to reduce stress so they are not sitting in the same place all the time.

  • STUDENTS ARE TEACHERS FOR ONE DAY

Ask students what things they like doing in their free time, such as playing an instrument, cooking, practising a sport, dancing, playing video games… Invite students to bring in their instruments for a sing along, teach the class how to cook a dish, show their classmates how to play a sport, teach the class some dance moves, show the class how their favourite a video game works, etc.

  • INVITE STUDENTS’ FAMILY MEMBERS TO GIVE WORKSHOPS

Ask students’ family members to come into the school and share a skill, give a talk/workshop and get the students to ask questions.

  • A HEALTHY ENVIRONMENT

Bring in rags, brushes and cleaning products and distribute them among the students. Put some lively music on and get everyone cleaning the classroom. Take materials out of cupboards and get ideas from students how to use them in future lessons. Ask students to draw some pictures and hang them up on the walls.

  • TAKE STUDENTS OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Prepare some activities to do outside the classroom now and again. For example, go for a walk around the block with the students and ask them to note down what they can see, hear and smell; walk up and down the street and ask them to detect what kind of problems the neighbourhood is experiencing (rubbish/blocked drains/parking problems…); do some activities outside the classroom (games/treasure hunts/conducting surveys with people in the school..); go outside and draw what they can see (buildings/trees/people) and then talk about it with their classmates; take students on a trip to the zoo/theatre/cinema/picnic in a square.. and talk about it in class afterwards; arrange a time with another class and do a “getting to know you” activity with all the students.

  • DOING A PROJECT TOGETHER

Ask students to do a project together over the semester, for example discussing how to reduce plastic cups in the school. They could discuss how they would solve the problem and take measures to reach the ultimate goal. Another idea is to get students to organise a “palco livre” at the end of the semester (advertising it on social media, organising the order of the performances, etc.). The important thing is to get the students involved in the organisation of a project.

  • GET TO KNOW CHALLENGING AND DISRUPTIVE STUDENTS

Try to get closer to challenging and disruptive students to find out what makes them tick. Are they experiencing any problems (parents divorcing/death in the family/mental health issues). Try to put yourself in their shoes for one day and see the world from their angle.

  • IDENTIFYING STRESSFUL SITUATIONS

When you feel stress symptoms coming on (low energy/headaches/upset stomach/muscle tension/insomnia) try to pinpoint what is causing the stress and do something about it. Look after yourself and your colleagues.

  • USE TECHNIQUES TO IMPROVE RAPPORT

A number of techniques can be used to improve rapport with people around us, such as active listening (really listening to what the other person is saying and responding appropriately); being present at the moment and understanding situations; thinking about the words you are going to say before responding to someone; matching breathing patterns; being aware of volume, speed of speech and voice tone; reflecting on and altering body posture and body language. Neuro Linguistic Programming courses can help you to learn these techniques.

  • GIVING CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS

When we are clear about what we want our students to do, they generally feel more secure. This includes giving instructions when everyone is listening, asking someone to repeat what the instructions are, being clear, objective and succinct. Also remembering what you asked your students to do for homework and what the content of the last lesson was is essential for continuity, trust and progress.

Teacher stress is a reality all over the world and is due to a myriad of reasons including low pay; violence; heavy workloads; inspection regimes; changes in education policies, etc. The causes of stress are sometimes out of our hands, however gauging and managing our own stress levels can help to alleviate tense situations.

Take time to smell the flowers. And remember you are appreciated.

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