It is really easy to talk about staying calm, about thinking positive thoughts, and remaining professional. However, in the day to day happenings of an art classroom, it is easier said than done! Some kids really know how to push buttons, and sometimes there are students or groups of students who make a game out of seeing just how far they can push a teacher to frustration. They think it is fun, and they revel in the power they think they have if a teacher gives in to frustration and cries, or yells, or even quits due to their behavior. It can be a real power struggle with certain students. How can you take back your power? How can you remain calm in the face of utter defiance, rebellious and rude behavior, disrespect, and apathy? All you really want to do is teach, to make a difference in the lives of these kids and sometimes it seems like they could care less. It breaks your heart. 

Classroom management is not something we automatically know how to do - it is not instinctual to remain calm in the face of belligerence....Classroom management is most definitely knowledge based.

We have got to have access to the thinking part of our brain when we find ourselves immersed in emotionally charged situations. I MUST remain CALM. To quote Fred Jones: "Calm = strength....Upset = weakness."

Stay calm! 

Don't let the situation get to you....

Getting upset is not about being weak or immature. It is natural and, quite simply, a human thing to do! There is nothing wrong with getting upset. The trick is, how do you prevent those negative emotions from controlling you. 

Above: Grace Dearborn, classroom management coach, Youtube

I teach middle school, which is a terrific environment (testing ground) for those of us who are a tad bit hot-headed and reactive. I have had to learn over and over not to be emotional, and on those days that I find myself near tears, I eat a Tootsie Roll. Seriously. It helps. Things that smell good help too. Like coffee, or vanilla lotion. Just don't drink too much coffee - caffeine increases anxiety!

The ability to remain positive and calm in the midst of a highly stressful, chaotic, negative situation can work WONDERS. Kids will respond so much better to a teacher they can trust to remain peaceful, not reactive. 

Tip #1: Decide. Take some advice from Michael Linsin and do what Olympic athletes do: DECIDE FIRST.

Before you get to school in the morning, take a few minutes to imagine yourself remaining calm throughout the day - no matter what happens - even if a figurative stampede of wild horses runs through your classroom you WILL stay calm. Think about a scenario that would normally upset you, but also imagine yourself remaining calm, cool, and collected. If you practice this morning routine, mentally choosing to relax regardless of circumstances, you might be surprised at how well it works! 

Tip #2: Relax. Train yourself to relax when faced with a stressful situation. One way to do this is to focus on breathing. Take a deep breath before responding to any provocation. Fred Jones also has some good tips for remaining calm in this article; Meaning Business Part I; Calm is Strength, Upset is Weakness. I will tell you how I stay calm - I do a whole lot of praying! 

S.T.A.R. Breathing Tool, Dr. Becky Bailey, Conscious Discipline

One practical thing that will help you and the kids to relax is to greet them at the door with a handshake, a fist bump, or high-five. This simple touch releases the relationship chemical, Oxytocin, which combats the stress hormone Cortisol. This simple way of welcoming students helps to build trust and respect as well! 

photo credit: facebook.com
Tip #3: Ground. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, you can practice "grounding." This is a calming therapeutic technique where you tap into the five senses. For years, I did this without even realizing it when I would eat a Tootsie Roll if I felt like I was about to lose it. Teaching middle school can be extremely stressful because we are surrounded by highly emotional and volatile students all day long. There have been a couple of times in my career where I was about to cry, but I stopped to eat a Tootsie Roll or piece of chocolate. That sweet taste calmed me down enough to keep on going. One other thing that helps me is to put on a good lotion as a form of aromatherapy. The kids enjoy the smell, too! 
my favorite lotion from Bath & Body Works

Tip #4: Pretend. However frustrated you might be, ignore the bad feelings: teachers are the best actors
Rely on your classroom management plan, redirect the misbehaving student or issue a consequence with no visible frustration. Don't let the kids see that you are upset! So, the next time little Billy throws a wad of paper across the room and talks back when you correct him, issue a consequence with no emotion (flat voice, no sighing or eye rolling, etc.) and then IMMEDIATELY focus your attention on the students who are doing their work and doing it well. Don't allow your emotions to have any power over what you say or do. Period. One fact about teaching is that you give away your power if you give in to frustration. Believe it or not, emotions can be extremely deceptive. Feelings lie! 

Tip #5: Focus on the positive.  Make a conscious effort to look for good things your students are doing and recognize that. Even if it is only a few kids in the class who are seated and/or working, notice it and acknowledge it! Believe it or not, you can train the students to work for your positive attention instead of negative. It sounds crazy, but it's true. You control your thoughts. Focus them mostly on the positive behaviors! If you have the mental control to ignore intensely negative emotions that are bubbling up inside you and instead focus your mind on the great things going on, your power increases exponentially! How much attention are you paying to misbehavior? Kids will work for your attention, whether positive or negative! Force your mind to think more about the kids who are doing right, One of the mistakes I made as a new teacher was paying way too much attention to misbehavior and not focusing on the "good" students enough. 
Conscious Discipline; DJ Batiste, the story of a high school teacher who changed the life of one of her (problem) seniors simply by noticing one of his gifts and encouraging him in it. 

Finally, try to smile or laugh even if you don't feel like it. Push the cheeks all the way up to the eyes; this has been proven to release Serotonin! Laughter releases Endorphins, Serotonin, and Dopamine; it truly is the best medicine!
photo credit: facebook.com

Tip #6: Plan. Be proactive! Have a fantastic classroom management plan and know ahead of time how you are going to deal with misbehaviors. Then, follow through with it consistently and that alone will cut down on a lot of behavior. Studies show that teachers who actually do something about classroom disruptions have half the number of misbehaviors as teachers who ignore kids who are acting up. One thing Marlene Nall Johnt said to me about how she survived teaching all the way to retirement was this: "I survived by being sure of what I was going to do in every class... students aren’t grumpy and frustrated when they understand what is expected from them and that vastly cuts down on unruly behaviors.The art projects had to be challenging as well. I also had a fair and reasonable discipline plan that didn’t change from year to year.  All the kids knew it and all of the principals knew it. All the parents could understand it.  They knew that behind this smiling face was a woman who was made of steel when it came to following her discipline plan, ha."

Tip #7: Wait. Be patient - give it some time. It just takes a while for some groups/students to learn to trust you. Keep doing what you know is the right thing, and wait. 

Tip #8: Take care of yourself! It makes your job so much harder if you are not eating right or staying active. Go for walks, get outside, make some art, spend time with family and friends. Stephen Covey, author of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, calls this habit, "Sharpening the Saw." It is exhausting to use a dull saw! You need energy to "do life," so to speak, and one of the best ways to beat stress and fatigue is to exercise. Also, don't make the mistake I did of drinking too much coffee. A little bit of coffee is really good for the body, but I wound up drinking 4 cups of coffee per day last year. I had no energy; I was "self-medicating" because I didn't know that my hypothyroid medication was too low. Yes, I even started having chest pains and went to see a cardiologist. It was ridiculous - all of it was due to stress. My doctor shook her finger at me for drinking so much coffee, saying that caffeine exacerbates anxiety. Who knew?

Tip #9: Avoid social media. Stay away from negative people, including social media groups if you find that your emotions are getting tangled there. Psychologists have found that spending a lot of time on social media is linked to higher rates of anxiety and depression!

Tip #10: Ask for help if you need it. We are only human, there is only so much we can do!  There is nothing wrong with asking for a short break if you are feeling overwhelmed. I admit, a few years ago I found myself in a situation that got the better of me. A student who I had a great relationship with viciously turned on me, attacking my character after I needed to correct her behavior. I sat in the counselor's office and cried for a few minutes after asking the assistant principal to watch the next class. She understood, it didn't take long for me to calm down, and she never mentioned it afterward or asked me why I was crying. I am very grateful that I had such a great support system!

Why does it feel like my brain shuts down when I am upset; like I just can't think? 

It all has to do with the "fight or flight" response in the brain. In her book, A Retired Art Teacher Tells All, Marlene Nall Johnt describes a conversation she once had as a young art teacher with the shop instructor. In an attempt to describe the teenager's brain, he said it is like a partially baked biscuit. It looks done on the outside but the inside is still soft and doughy. This is a funny story, but there is a whole lot of truth therein!

collaborative installation piece, 7th/8th grade
It turns out that part of the "primitive" brain stem, the amygdala, matures at a faster rate in adolescents and the frontal cortex matures more slowly. The amygdala is where powerful emotions lie, such as aggression, pleasure, and fear. The frontal cortex, the large piece at the front of the brain, is where people think through things rationally. Studies show that when the amygdala is fired up, the frontal cortex is NOT, so to speak. It has also been shown that at puberty kids' brains are changing and their rational abilities are truly hampered. They really just don't think! [BTW, studies also show that they know what they're doing when they make those really bad decisions - so they don't have any excuses. (Check out this National Institute of Health article about the adolescent brain.)]

Teachers, too, can be shackled by the amygdala when we get upset by our students' misbehavior:

On the website Education World, Fred Jones says:
"It takes roughly 27 minutes for adrenaline to clear the bloodstream. During that time, your brain 'downshifts' to the brainstem. Even with mild upset, you are in 'survival mode.' In 27 minutes, you'll be back into your cortex. Then you can think and reason again....Now, let me give you a piece of advice about managing a classroom. You will do a much better job with a cortex. When you downshift, a classroom suddenly becomes thirty cortexes manipulating one brainstem. Those are not even odds. As the saying goes: My life is in the hands of any fool who can make me angry." Fred Jones, Tools For Teaching

"What separates successful teachers from their colleagues is not the curriculum. The difference is classroom management -- discipline, instruction, and motivation -- organized into a unified and efficient whole. Successful teachers must know how to make independent learners out of helpless handraisers. They must know how to teach to mastery with constant monitoring. They must know how to mean business so discipline management is low key and non-adversarial. They must know dozens of complex skills and procedures, and they must do it all while having fun with learning. 
When you watch long enough from the back of the classroom, you realize there is a game going on. It has fundamentals and plays and offense and defense. It is dynamic. It is not a static collection of variables as described in the research literature. In this game, the teacher wants hard work from the students, but students want an entire range of other things. How will the tension be resolved? It is a fast game with a lot of players in action at any given moment. To succeed, the teacher must be automatic with a broad repertoire of complex, nuanced, and interlocking management skills.”  Fred Jones, Tools For Teaching
7th grade "Word Expression" painting, "Play"

Sometimes you need a little help from the teacher across the hall! Principal Gerry Brooks speaks about the behavioral management technique of the "Prearranged Silent Pledge" in this Youtube video:

Principal Gerry Brooks talks about dealing with negative people: 

photo credit: Personalized Mugs 4U  


Drowning in Empathy: The Cost of Vicarious Trauma | Amy Cunningham | TEDxSanAntonio

"No matter how much of a super mom I think I am, I can not live without oxygen. And yet every single day we do the same thing.. I put your mask on you, and your mask on you, and your mask on you...and I don't care for myself. But you see, we can only give what we have. We give out of who we are, and if I don't care for myself, I certainly can not care for you. So I'm going to ask you to do some homework for me. Every single day for the rest of your life, take 10 minutes just for you. 10 minutes to put your mask on you first. 10 minutes to pray, or meditate, to exercise or take a walk. 10 minutes to care for you first."

Michael Linsin's articles dealing with stress and remaining calm (smartclassroommanagement.com):

Articles from Managing the Art Classroom (Anna Nichols): 

Here is a terrific article about getting the kids to calm down: 7 Ways To Create A Calm, Focused Art Room, by Anne Marie Slinkman, theartofed.com

Articles about anxiety:

Other Articles: 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

1 comment:

Shelly Bailey said...

Fantastic article Anna!