Setting the emotional tone of your classroom is the most important thing a teacher does.” (Dr.Mariale Hardiman, founder of the Brain Targeted Teaching Model)
Stress is a funny beast. It’s kind of like chocolate - small amounts are fine, but it’s the larger quantities that can do you in. Here’s what we know about stress - large and consistent exposure to stress shrinks the hippocampus, the region of your brain involved in memory, and neurons in the pre-frontal cortex, the area of your brain responsible for problem-solving. Read the research here.
So what does this mean for your classroom?
It’s simple - stressed brains aren’t learning.
If a kid shows up to your classroom, having started their day with stress or encountered stress along the way, they are going to be sitting in that stress. A simple “shake it off” or “slip into a learning mindset” or “let’s leave our baggage at the door” isn’t going to shift their brain from the “protective fight or flight mode” into the “thinking thoughtful mode”.
Social-Emotional Learning offers teachers a basic understanding of emotions and the brain and equips teachers with tools and strategies to help students move out of the stress and their emotions, and into the learning day.
In the film Grey Matters, we see the Peace Path used by Justin Holbrook in his Grade 4 classroom, offers students and teachers, a way acknowledge their emotions, communicate calmly and make a resolution for future behaviours. Holbrook designated a space in the rear of his classroom for his Peace Path which offered students a way to vocalize what was troubling them. Maybe someone had called them a mean name, or grabbed something from them. “My kids know that they can go to the Peace Path at anytime, even if I’m teaching. I’ve had kids ask me to go the Peace Path and I’ve asked kids to go to the Peace Path,” Holbrook explains.
One of the biggest things teachers talk about is how to handle external situations that result in stressed students. From home life to peer relationships - there are a lot of things that teachers can’t control. Yet, those outside the classroom situations, often spill over to the classroom.
Do you deal with it? Or ignore it, in hopes it’ll sort it self out?
Turns out neither of those.
A 2007 research study suggests acknowledging the emotion and redirecting the student (barring a life-threatening issue) may be the most effective approach. In action, that could look like, “Did you want to chat after class or do you want to have lunch with me?”, effectively creating some distance between the student and the emotion.
But what if you can’t tell when a student is upset?
Here’s what one teacher did and this piece is excerpted from “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for the 21st Century School” by Dr. Hardiman, “She designed a simple emotional temperature form with a row of emotions and corresponding adjectives (e.g. good, bad). Students circled how they felt that day and wrote a word or sentence or drew a picture to express his or her emotion. They would take the form, complete it, and return it to a basket, before beginning their work Two things came out of this approach - kids had the opportunity to acknowledge the emotion which helped them to detach. And the teacher was able to quickly spot where further follow-up or intervention might be needed.
Yours in learning and filmmaking.