1/20/19

CONSULTING





Please contact me if you are in a place where everything you've tried hasn't "worked." (artteacherhelp4al@gmail.com)

It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help, it is a sign of strength. 

I have studied classroom management in depth for the last 5 years for this non-profit blog designed to empower and encourage art teachers. I have been an art teacher for a total of 20 years; after teaching art part time and substitute teaching for 5 years, I taught middle school art full time for 13 years. I am now in my second year of teaching PK-12th grade art.

Because I believe in supporting, encouraging, and empowering art teachers, I am now offering consulting - I will even come visit you and watch you teach your worst class (provided your school is in central Alabama)! 

You can earn professional development hours with the permission of your principal (see below), AND you will leave our conversation feeling uplifted, encouraged, and stronger knowing it IS possible to change your classroom dynamic. 

I can consult with you via telephone, email, Skype, or Facebook message. 

Here is what you will get with your consultation:
1. A list of your strengths - I love to encourage!
2. Specific strategies you can use to improve
3. A Facebook message or email with information about resources that will help

4. A follow-up contact after two weeks just to check and see how you are doing! 


Email me at artteacherhelp4al@gmail.com or message me on Facebook!


If you would like to earn professional development hours and you need the approval of your building administrator, here is a letter of introduction that includes a few of my credentials: 








Consultation Fee: $50.00 per hour




12/5/18

CRAZY SCHEDULE DURING THE HOLIDAYS? Here is what I do the last week or so of school:


(For lesson ideas in the elementary, middle, or high school art classroom, scroll to the bottom of this post!)

The winter holidays are quickly approaching, and I am brainstorming ways to keep my middle school kiddos busy in the coming weeks. Semester exams start this week, which means that all their assignments have been completed and we will have some "down time." Exams will be every day for nearly a week, with a "make-up" day scheduled for the last day of school, December 20. The last few days of the semester will see fewer and fewer students who show up. After their exams in the morning, many kids check out and the afternoon classes are constantly interrupted with school-wide intercom announcements, "So and so is checking out!" There is no way to have any quality structured learning time, so here is what I am planning for the last week and a half:

1. Reflection & Art Class Survey: I like the kids to reflect on their time in Art class and I give them a chance to assess the class itself. I hand out Reflection Sheets with a Survey on the back. They are asked which projects they enjoyed the most and why, and which projects didn't turn out as well (and why!) Which ones were the most challenging, what problems had to be solved, etc. The Art Class Survey asks, "What is one thing you would keep about the class? What is one thing you would change about the class? Would you recommend this class to a friend?" etc. (My 6th and 7th graders will rotate to a new elective in January, so December is their last month with me.)

Tacky Art Trophy with palette base
2. "Art Jeopardy:" The day before the kids take their exam, we will play this game. The table groups compete for small prizes while answering review questions. A student volunteer keeps score on the board and calls out questions. The questions come straight off of their semester exam study guide. I like to do a "speed round" or a "Final Jeopardy" question worth five points, just to keep it interesting! I am trying out a Tacky Art Trophy for kids to pose with if their table group wins! They think it's a hoot!


3. Scrub down the classroom! Selected student helpers will be working to assist me in cleaning up and organization. This work will be taking place every day during exams. Only two exams are scheduled each day next week, so what will the other classes do? They will choose one of the activities from #5 (see below) or they will help me clean. Some kids really, really like to clean! Go figure! 



4. Contest: This year, we will have a "Make-Off" competition, thanks to an idea from Michael's Arts and Crafts store. Disclaimer: a contest will be guaranteed to get kids excited and I do NOT recommend this be done the last day or two before the break. I plan on doing this on the day of their exams, after the kids are finished testing. I like my middle school kids to be   c   a   l   m  .  



5. Activity Stations: (these will be closed on the last two days, Dec. 19 & 20, due to the kids' lack of motivation to leave them neat... I have learned the hard way not to do anything that requires any type of clean-up right before a holiday 😜!)

*Lego Building Station - Table One

*Ornament or Card Construction - Table Two ... this is the only really messy station and can be quickly cleaned up. I have markers, ornament blanks, blank paper, stencils, and texture sheets for kids to use at this table. If I am feeling very, very brave, I will have glue and a glitter bucket for kids to dip ornaments in. This requires very close supervision, however! 

*Puzzles/Games such as art related jigsaw puzzles or "Pictionary" - Table Three

*Drawing with "How To" drawing books on Table Four

*Art Appreciation Activities a' la Maggie Moschell on the Art Teachers Facebook Group ... I requested the digital version of her handouts which consist of around 40 full color pages of artists and their work, complete with student friendly biographies and an activity sheet. 


6. Videos: The last two days before the holiday there will be zero art supplies out except for paper! I will give kids the choice to watch the video and/or draw. I have handouts with tons of drawing prompts for kids who would like to draw. Click on the above link for an extensive list of videos. (I am very fortunate to have Internet access and a digital projector!) Below are the video clips I plan on showing the last two days:

Art For Kids Hub, by Rob Jensen...this is good for 6th and 7th graders to draw along with the artist. 
PBS - Castle - David Macaulay, Youtube (this is about an hour long)

8th graders will be watching these: 


A word about discipline: 
My students know that if they act up there will be a consequence. I have several ready-made discipline assignments that I will quickly hand out if I see them horseplay, throw paper, or in any way abuse supplies. For some reason (a few) kids are more tempted to abandon all sense of self control right before a holiday - perhaps they think that teachers are too tired to hold them accountable and will relax the rules? Not so, my friend, not so! This time of the year, right before Spring Break, or the very last week of school is when I write the "Alternative Assignment" on the board. Kids can choose to do something fun, or they can choose the dreaded "Alternative Assignment." It's up to them! 


Further Resources & Ideas:

photo credit: Jamie Hyche Kolb
This awesome idea for using up wrapping paper scraps is from Jamie Hyche Kolb: "Have parents save the sample sheets from wrapping paper fundraiser catalogs. My students love mixing them with fun add-ons to create holiday miniatures. I give them glue, scissors, a small piece of mat board (4x6) and set them free with their imaginations! These were made by my second graders. The only parameter I gave them was to consider a subject that reflects on what their family celebrates in December. I love seeing what they come up with!"


Here are a few terrific articles by Michael Linsin (smartclassroommanagement.com) about handling kids right before a holiday: 













article by Mrs. Anna Nichols
re-posted (original publishing date, December 11, 2016)










12/1/18

ARE STUDENTS TALKING DURING INSTRUCTION?



Students talking during instruction is something that a LOT of teachers struggle with. I believe it is because they are not sure this is a battle they need to fight. It is annoying, but kids will be kids, right? What's the big deal about a little bit of talking during the lesson? 

In my opinion, talking during instruction is just plain rude. How can the kids hear the teacher when other kids are talking? How can the ones talking actually listen to the teacher at the same time? If students are carrying on a conversation during the lesson, they are checked out. Later, these same students will ask the teacher to repeat instructions and demonstrate the technique just for them, or they will continue to be disruptive during independent work because they have no idea what to do. 

Every classroom management book I've ever come across recommends that you DO NOT TEACH until you have EVERYONE'S attention. Period. Allowing students to do anything else will sabotage the learning environment, slowly but surely. 

Once you DECIDE this is a behavior that is NOT ALLOWED, and you figure out a consequence that the kids will take seriously, the behavior will dwindle down.

Truth #1: You can't stop kids from talking but you can provide consequences when they do.

Truth #2: If you consistently follow through, every single time a student chooses to talk during instruction, you will have fewer and fewer students do it. 


Truth #3: Kids need to know expectations and will trust you when you are consistently following through, doing exactly what you said you will do. Kids will not respect a teacher who lets them get away with things they have been told are not allowed. 


Truth #4: If you are even a little bit inconsistent, they will push and push and push to see how far they can go. Inconsistency is a recipe for a great deal of frustration for teachers and students alike. 


Several other factors need to be in place in order for any discipline strategy to "work:"


- a positive, warm classroom atmosphere where the kids know the teacher cares for and respects them, even when the teacher has to discipline them 
- engaging, interesting lessons that relate to the kids' lives
- the teacher limiting the initial instruction time to no more than 12-15 minutes as well as showing examples, non-examples, and breaking the activity down to basic steps
- the kids know the "big idea," the "why" behind the lesson



HELP! MY STUDENTS ARE TALKING WHILE I AM TALKING! ... elementary, middle, and high school advice to limit disruptive chatting

HELP! MY STUDENTS ARE TALKING TOO MUCH! ... this article lists strategies and resources to help quiet noisy classes






10/30/18

WHAT IS THE MOST POWERFUL STRATEGY A TEACHER CAN USE TO INFLUENCE STUDENTS TO BEHAVE?

Which do you think is the most powerful reinforcer a teacher can use to encourage students to behave? Here are your choices: (each of these is extremely important, but there is one that is more powerful than the others!)
1. Engaging Instruction
2. Discipline Strategies
3. Motivation Strategies
4. Teacher Attention


When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist so that I could be the one to figure out and finally interpret the language of dolphins. Failing Calculus in college changed that plan! (It was an 8 a.m. class and I failed it twice because I just didn't have the discipline to get up on time and drive the hour commute - that's my excuse anyway.)
Instead, I became an art teacher and researcher. I have been looking for the Rosetta Stone of classroom management for a few years now - what are the keys to helping art teachers improve their practice? Are there just one or two things we can do that will have an immediate and lasting impact on student behavior? I have finally found the most powerful strategy a teacher can use to influence students.... this one IS the key. It is all about focus.
We have many tools in our classroom management toolbox that we can use to influence students to behave well. We are trained to provide engaging lessons; to keep the kids too busy to misbehave. This is the first thing I see teachers ask for when they start to struggle - "What is a fun art lesson for a rough bunch of 4th (or 2nd, or 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, etc.) graders? S.O.S.!!!!" I see this question repeated in all the Facebook art teacher groups; it doesn't matter whether the teacher serves high school, middle school, or elementary school. Everyone believes that as long as the lesson is interesting and engaging enough, the kids will behave.
The second most common question I see is when a teacher has tried all the discipline strategies and failed to reach the kids. They are loud, rude, talk over the teacher, horseplay, and refuse to comply. No matter which discipline strategies s/he tries, the kids just don't care. Here are common things this teacher will list: redirect/remind, re-teaching rules and procedures, talking to the child in the hallway, moving seats, time-out, calling parents, writing kids up, referrals, discipline assignments, etc. At this point, the teacher is frustrated, burned out, and ready to give up. What can s/he do with a class full of kids who just don't care?
Third, teachers will ask about incentives. They often ask, what are some motivation strategies other teachers have used that "work" to encourage hard work, achievement, and respectful attitudes? Raffle tickets for a prize drawing every Friday? Popcorn parties once each month? How about starting an "Art Student of the Week or Month?"
All of these strategies are invaluable for teachers to encourage students to do well, but there is something much more powerful than an engaging lesson, or a discipline strategy, or even students earning incentives.
Guess what?
The teacher's attention is THE most powerful reinforcer in the classroom. Think about it - when you give more attention to the students who are doing well than the students who are acting up, what happens? What happens when you focus on the bad behavior? Of course, you don't want to ignore the disruptors, but holding them accountable while simultaneously FOCUSING on the good behavior will work wonders. I have seen this happen again and again in my classroom. Where is my attention? Am I thinking about the bad behavior or the good behavior?
Students will work for your attention, whether it is negative or positive. What are you acknowledging more of? The vast majority of students WANT to please, they WANT to be the recipient of your nurturing, your mentorship, your acknowledgment. Are you noticing the accomplishments, whether they are behavioral or academic? What behaviors are you purposefully nurturing in your classroom? The answer is whatever you pay attention to the most, whether positive or negative.
I have often wondered what is the most powerful classroom management tool, and I figured out a few years ago that there are several; instruction, motivation, consistent discipline, and the teacher's "warm-strict" attitude. I discovered recently that there is one that supersedes all the others. There is one thing that we all can develop with practice; paying attention to what we want and refusing to focus on what we don't want.
When I am doing a consultation, one of the first questions I ask is, "Are you focusing more on the good behaviors or the bad behaviors?" I have personally witnessed an inner city elementary art teacher see this strategy improve her classroom culture. She was grinning from ear to ear when I left that afternoon a few weeks ago; simply noticing what the kids were doing RIGHT transformed her teaching practice. Over and over, both in my own classroom and in hearing other art teachers' stories, I've seen the truth of this revelation.
The teacher's attention is the most powerful strategy we can use to influence students to behave.


Dr. Fred Jones, Tools For Teaching (at the 16:40 minute mark)
"So, here are these kids playing this helpless hand-raiser game, and what do they get for it? Well, they get to ace 25 other kids out of your undivided helping, caring, loving, nurturing attention, the most powerful reinforcer in the classroom."


Here is a story about how powerful the teacher's attention can be from Rachel Hessing Wintemberg, The Helpful Art Teacher: "I walked into a classroom once and made everyone stand up. I declared that I was no longer going to allow the kids who were there to learn to be victimized by the ones who weren't. I put all the quietest kids (you know, the ones whose names you don't know) in the FRONT and I told them that this was THEIR art class and that from now on it would be all about them. I put all the loudest kids, the ones who were preventing me from teaching, in the back. 'You should be happy now. You get to sit with your friends. Don't be so upset. You won. You don't have to learn if you don't want to.' One boy's face fell; 'Does that mean you are giving up on us? Giving up on me?' Until that moment I had no idea how much power I really had. 'No' I answered confidently 'It means that, if you want to be a part of this class you are going to have to earn your way back in. You have a choice. You've always had a choice. Up until now, THIS is what you have chosen. Man up. Make different choices and I will notice.' The kids that are misbehaving and calling you names, they desperately crave your attention. You hold all of the power. They hold none of the power. So, since they crave your attention, LET THEM EARN IT." artedguru.com

Choose Your Response, my story of how being proactive and focusing on positive behavior transformed an impossible situation. There was no opportunity to develop relationships or have engaging lessons as I was assigned to monitor huge groups of 8th graders during RTI.

"I've had exciting lessons before but minimal student engagement, and some mediocre lessons and awesome student involvement and participation. It really depends on how you interact with the students; showing respect and attention to them. If you pay attention to your kids and show them your interest in them, it's definitely infectious and you'll have kids wanting to do stuff FOR you, if not for them. Kids love doing tasks for the teachers who show they care. ❤️ That task could be cleaning the counter or working 100% on a project." Jill Shinsky, quoted with permission from the Middle School Art Teachers Facebook group


"Focus your attention on creating an enjoyable classroom experience for your students, and refrain from speaking to individual students about their behavior or giving more attention to those that misbehave more often. Instead, follow your classroom management plan and heartily let your students know when they’re doing well." Michael Linsin, How To Stop Wasting Time And Attention On Difficult Students, smartclassroommanagement.com








The Power of Attention - Dr. Becky Bailey, Conscious Discipline


"Choose to like your students. How you feel about your students is a choice you make that deeply affects your ability to manage your classroom. And if you choose not to like them, or if you allow yourself to become annoyed by them, they’ll know it. It’s something you can’t hide. Negative thoughts about students always bubble to the surface. To create the rewarding and successful teaching experience you really want, you have to see the best in your students. You have to choose to like them, get a kick out of them, and enjoy being around them. Having a positive relationship with your students is the difference-maker that gives you powerful leverage to influence their behavior.The One Thing Standing In Your Way Of Having Your Dream Class, Michael Linsin, smartclassroommanagement.com


"Building trusting rapport is a byproduct of your consistent, day-after-day pleasantness and willingness to see the best in your students." Michael Linsin, Why You Don't Have To Be Cool To Build Rapport, smartclassroommanagement.com









10/25/18

EXPERTS SAY...


Experts say that if you have engaging lessons and your students like you, then you won't have any problems with classroom management. 

They also say that if you keep students "busy," they don't have time to misbehave! 

My experience says otherwise - after teaching for 13 years at a relatively high poverty middle school, I know that it isn't enough to be likable. 

It isn't enough to have a great classroom management plan and consistently hold students accountable. It also isn't enough to run a tight ship, with engaging lessons and clear, predictable routines. 

If you are a top notch teacher and do all of these things, you will have FEWER problems, but they won't go away completely. 

I was an award winning teacher at my last school; My colleagues honored me with the "Second Mile Teacher" award during my 4th year there and the "Teacher of the Year" award a few years later. I had a reputation as a great teacher.

I still struggled with student behaviors. 

It got a little bit easier as I learned to wait, to give students time to get to know me and the art room procedures. My last year at that middle school was amazing. There were hardly any major rebellious behaviors that I had to deal with. Were there still times that I had to discipline students? Yes: every single week there were infractions.


Now that I teach at a private school, I have had zero problems with behaviors at the middle school level. ZERO. I haven't needed to contact a single parent due to out of control student behaviors and the only time I entered a demerit was due to dress code. DRESS CODE. Changing schools has been heaven!

Don't let the "experts" make you believe that your classroom management problems are due to something you did "wrong." Yes, there are things teachers do that can exacerbate problems, but the bottom line is that students make the choice to behave or not to behave. We can't make that choice for them.

"Teachers who make decisions based on feeling sorry for students and their sometimes-awful circumstances can cause behavior to worsen. The most compassionate thing you can do for a difficult student is to hold him or her accountable."
How To Turn Around Difficult Students (Part 2), Michael Linsin



article by Mrs. Anna Nichols







10/13/18

GRADE LEVEL CHARACTERISTICS; MY OBSERVATIONS

Here is a 6th grade group showing off some paper mache masks a few years ago when I taught strictly middle school. 6th grade is still one of my favorite ages to teach! 















What was most challenging about the switch from being a middle school art teacher to teaching PK-12th grades?

For me, after teaching middle school for so many years, it was both kindergarten and upper level high school. I found it easy to teach grades 3-10. My younger students were a challenge as were 11th and 12th graders. You need an entirely different skill set for these ages! Some of the older high school kids were apathetic and did not want to be challenged, while a few of my youngest students had a lot of impulse and emotional control issues as well as attention span difficulties. Elementary and middle school students will only respect you if you "mean business" so to speak, but too much emphasis on structure/rules will make me lose a group of high schoolers. What "worked" with middle school absolutely kills the dynamic of a high school group and vice-versa. I am learning as I go! 

ELEMENTARY ART STUDENT CHARACTERISTICS: (Generally Kindergarten - 4th Grades)

Elementary artists are enthusiastic, joyful, eager to learn and to please, creative, energetic, and talkative. They love to help and they love all kinds of art; they are not critical of me or the class. There is less impulse/emotional control with younger students so they need more patience, repetition, and specific coaching in a task.
Extrinsic motivation is also needed in the form of consistent consequences and incentives for behavior. Also, and perhaps more importantly, routines and procedures provide much needed structure. This sense of predictability makes kids feel safe and secure. Instructions need to be clear and exact; the teacher needs to make the invisible visible for a smoothly run class.

Potential Roadblocks: (Time!)
Classroom teachers and administrators view the specials classes as break time, not a time of valuable learning. Students view specials classes as another form of recess, not a time to buckle down and work. The art teacher's leverage to expect good behavior (and studious, serious thought, planning, and reflection) is not as strong as the classroom teacher's because our opportunity to build classroom culture and student/teacher relationships is affected by time resources. Our ability to cover all standards is also limited due to time constraints.

Teacher Attitude:
The elementary art teacher's persona can quickly morph from serious and stern to warm and nurturing; the teacher must "mean business." You need a lot more energy to teach younger students and keep their attention. The teacher's language is focused on positives; we look for what the students are doing well and provide tons of feedback, authentic praise and encouragement. My favorite thing about this age group is they help me to feel validated as a teacher because they literally love everything we do in art and hardly ever find fault with me or the lesson. It is nice to be the "celebrity art teacher" on campus!

MIDDLE LEVEL ART STUDENT CHARACTERISTICS: (Generally 5th-9th Grades)

Students at this age are socially motivated, moody (hormonal!), insecure, but still enthusiastic and highly energetic. 5th-7th graders are responsive to extrinsic motivators in the form of consequences and incentives but fewer 8th/9th graders are. 8th/9th graders are more responsive to relationship building attempts much like older high school students. They still need those extrinsics, though! Structure and routine are just as important as with an elementary art classroom, whether the students admit to it or not!
Middle school kids are more likely to defy authority than elementary kids. They need a lot of reassurance that they are capable of achievement in art. Students love to manipulate hands on materials such as paint or clay rather than spend time drawing. They are generally there to have fun, although most genuinely appreciate learning to improve their art skills to make more "realistic" art, not "baby" arts and crafts.

Potential Roadblocks: 
The intrinsic value of what students do in art class is not well understood by the community at large. Art is seen as play time, creative time, or time to just mess around with materials. The rigor of making art is not perceived as real at all. Students are surprised when asked to do anything remotely "academic" in an art class; they don't understand just how academic (intellectual) art truly is.

Teacher Attitude:
The middle school art teacher's attitude needs to be serious and stern (stoic) most of the time when dealing with the group as a whole, but when dealing one-on-one the teacher is very warm and nurturing. Attempts at humor during the lesson can backfire; many students will use any and all excuses to get silly and cause the lesson to completely fall apart. Just as an elementary art teacher focuses on positive feedback, a middle school art teacher will do the same. However, the difference is that a middle school art teacher has to keep praise on the "down low," so as not to embarrass a student. If not, the paradox is that behaviors will get worse after the teacher publicly praises a student.
The best thing about teaching middle level artists is they are still enthusiastic and open like elementary kids, but they can also produce some amazing art, especially 7th - 9th grade students. To see artistic growth in a student at this age can be astounding.

HIGH SCHOOL ART STUDENT CHARACTERISTICS: (Generally 10th, 11th, 12th Grades)

At this age, students are calmer and more mature, knowledgeable in the ways of the world, but still in need of adult mentorship. Many are extremely insecure, apathetic, and plagued with anxieties of all kinds! To dispel this potentially negative atmosphere, humor is an absolute necessity when teaching high school! Students at this age need a strong teacher leader who is quick to laugh and share light stories. They are not as responsive to extrinsic motivators but ARE much more responsive to the teacher's attempts to build authentic relationships and connections. They have tremendous capability to create much more sophisticated and meaningful artwork if they can surpass the general feeling of "not being a real artist." They definitely want to learn more "grown up" techniques and improve their skills in realism. They tend to see this style as more impressive and worthy of esteem than other styles. They need us to teach the value of artistic expression of all kinds, though, not only realism. Many students will excel when given the opportunity to express their ideas through sculpture or non-objective painting rather than realism.
Most 10th-12th graders don't dare show it if they are enjoying the projects. They have to be cool and behave as if nothing matters. Once I figured this out, and how to successfully phrase academic feedback in my older high school classes it got a lot easier. The "comment sandwich" (positive, negative, positive) that always worked for my middle school kids did not go over well with my Art II/III kids. The timing for feedback was different, too; with middle school I could make suggestions all day long, but not with 11th and 12th grades. No suggestions were taken in a favorable light until I made sure to say things like, "I see that you have met your goal of ___________. The detail work is amazing and your ___________ technique is fantastic. Would you like some feedback about ways to make it even better?" 

Potential Roadblocks:
The value of the arts is not perceived as real; art is a frill, it is something you do as a hobby. Or, art is a farce. High school kids tend to view visual art as something they did when they were younger and have outgrown. High school students are also much more cool and distant than younger students. For me, it was difficult to know when a lesson "hit home" because of this aloof mask.

Teacher Attitude:
The teacher's attitude with this age group can be much more relaxed than with elementary or middle school kids. Although, there still needs to be an internal steeliness; a supremely confident and "no-nonsense" attitude. We can be "real" with older students and have wonderful discussions.
My favorite thing about teaching high school artists is that I don't have to spend so much time dealing with immature behaviors. Also, the artwork they are capable of producing is awesome to see!




Editor's note: The idea for this blog article came from an online survey done by Ann Marie-Aubin Slinkman. I completed her survey and decided to publish my responses here. In addition, a few weeks ago a respected colleague and friend asked me to write about my observations. I hope this helps anyone out there who is considering which grade level they would like most to teach!





10/7/18

COMBATING CORTISOL






There are many things you can do to combat the stress hormone, Cortisol. As teachers, we are constantly bombarded by stressors, whether they are coming from demanding administrative edicts, bad behavior from students, or parents who just don't understand that we have their children's best interests at heart. Teaching can be stressful!

Michael Linsin published an important article yesterday; How Not To Feel Resentment Over Difficult Students. One thing I will add to his ideas is that when kids are ugly to each other or to the teacher, this has the potential to create a toxic atmosphere (especially if the teacher is reactive).

I have always been extremely sensitive; I soak up people's emotions like a sponge. I used to think I was a bit of a freak until I heard about an empirical study done on sweat (kind of gross!) where scientists found that people can actually smell fear! Check out Vanessa Van Edwards' Ted Talk, "You Are Contagious."

It is a scientific fact that people spread emotions just like we spread germs. When we are training to be teachers, nobody prepares us to deal with the negative energy that can so easily overwhelm us. How can a teacher overcome all that negative junk and create a positive atmosphere, especially immediately after a student has a meltdown? 


A while ago I learned that "highly sensitive people" are born with a longer form of the Serotonin carrying gene. Simply put, it takes much longer for our bodies to produce Serotonin after a stressful event and calm down. It was a huge relief for me to learn that there is nothing "wrong" with me. I am just wired this way; a highly sensitive person is actually gifted in the areas of detailed planning and "what-if" scenarios BECAUSE we suffer from so much anxiety. My greatest curse is also one of my greatest gifts, as my dad always told me.

As a highly sensitive person who has battled anxiety for many years, I have found some things that can help reduce Cortisol levels significantly. Anyone can release Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, and Oxytocin with these tips.

Here are a few ways to create a safe haven for students (and yourself!):

1. Shake students' hands or give them a high-five when greeting them at the door. This simple touch releases Oxytocin, the relationship chemical, and it also builds trust. It will help both you and the kids to fight the stress hormone, Cortisol, keeping all of you calm! 


2. Find something to smile or laugh about! This releases Endorphins, the calming chemical Serotonin, and it also releases Dopamine (the happy chemical). If you can discipline your mind to focus on GOOD things instead of on all the bad, you can change your internal barometer right back to happy and calm instead of allowing it to fester in anxiety, anger, fear, or resentment. It isn't easy to find something to smile about, but if you can do it, you will be amazed at the change in the classroom dynamic. It literally feels like a beam of sunshine just swept through the room and it is such a relief! I have seen it happen time and time again, just because I made the choice to find something positive to focus on. 


3. Have things that smell good, like a nice lotion or even essential oils. Also, I have found that eating a bit of chocolate helped to reduce the stress and anxiety; eating releases Dopamine! Just a small piece of candy can stop the flood of emotion. Teaching can be overwhelming, especially when you have a lack of support and are serving kids with trauma; there have been several times that I needed that strategy! (Editor's note; be careful when using strong scents in the classroom as they have sometimes been found to be a migraine trigger. This has not been my experience, personally, but it has for others.)


4. "Sharpen the Saw:" using a dull saw takes a ridiculous amount of (wasted) energy. Don't make the mistake of neglecting your health; eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and drink lots of water. Spend time with friends, get creative, avoid social media, and start regularly writing in a gratitude journal. Change your mindset to focus on the positive. 



Note: if you are in a situation where you do not feel safe, I highly recommend that you consider leaving the school. It is not worth your safety, whether physical or mental, to remain in a position where you feel you are in danger. There are plenty of other jobs out there!

Take care of yourself.

Click on the links to read the articles, "Staying Calm" and "Avoiding Burnout:" there are many more tips here. 

Managing the Art Classroom Playlist; Burnout, Youtube

Secondary Traumatic Stress For Educators: Understanding and Mitigating the Effects, by Jessica Landers, KQED News

Hacking Into Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Serotonin, Endorphins, and Oxytocin, by Thai Nguyen, theutopianlife.com

Boost Your Natural 'Feelgood' Chemicals, psychologies.co.uk

Vanessa Van Edwards on Impact Theory, YouTube (How To Liberate Yourself From Social Anxiety), Tom Bilyeu
"Learn from the certified fraud examiner, body language expert, and author as she shares practical insights for decoding human behavior in this episode of Impact Theory with Tom Bilyeu."

Simon Sinek has a wonderful piece on leadership, Cortisol, and the "happy" chemicals here: 
Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek, YouTube



Also, Tim Feriss has a couple of great Ted Talks about fear: