"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there." - Rumi
Before you can take an honest assessment of the pulse of the classroom, it important for each staff member to take their own pulse. Life is full of stressful experiences such as health issues, pending due dates, interpersonal conflict with others and these experiences impact our ability to be emotionally ready and present for our students and each other. More adverse experiences such as substance use, untreated mental illness, death or violence can create an unhealthy or toxic living situation for us. This can impede our ability to educate our students well. Here are some things you can do to help take care of yourself.
Develop a Self-Care Plan This plan can include physical, social/emotional, mental and spiritual activities that help keep you feeling well. These activities are highly personal and it may be a good idea to track how you are feeling as you do these activities regularly. Here are some examples.
Physical Examples - 20 minutes of exercise a day, regular diet of fruits and vegetables, drink 6 to 8 cups of water per day, two 10 minute breathing exercises a day, regular stretching exercises. It could also be reducing or limiting caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or other unhealthy substances or foods that you are allergic to. Hiking and sports may also be great.
Social/Emotional Examples - Spend time with friends or with your kids, have a movie night, initiate conversations with your neighbors or join a social club or group. You could also be volunteering at your local non-profit or social services agency. You can also play video games. Yes that's right! Video Games.
Mental Examples - Develop Mindfulness or Mindful Self-Compassion or other meditation practice. Routinely strengthen your mind with crossword or jigsaw puzzles. There are many online games to strengthen your mind as well. Daily affirmations is another way to strengthen your thinking.
Spiritual Examples - Meditation, spending time in nature, gardening, church, reading the bible or other spiritual book. Giving to others or practicing daily gratitude,.
Develop a Safety Plan The day may come when we ourselves become emotionally overwhelmed and Flip Our Lid. To maintain safety for yourself, your students and others, you should develop a safety plan. This plan will get you through the emotional overwhelm as quickly as possible significantly reducing or eliminating harm to yourself or others. You can list between 3 to 5 items. Here are some examples.
Excuse myself from the situation "I think I may be about to flip my lid, if you'll excuse me"
Reach out to another person for help (arrange ahead of time and be specific about how they can help you)
Partner with someone each class period who can provide coverage if needed. You can do the same for others.
Walk around the campus or run in place
Free form write on a piece of paper
Say a prayer or read calming literature.
The last part of a safety plan can be to look at the situation, identify how you were triggered and to plan how to manage a similar situation in the future. You may want to find someone you trust to help you gain some perspective.
Because we know that learning occurs from the bottom up (information must pass through the brain stem and the limbic system before it can reach the cortex), it is essential that each student's brain stem and limbic system remain calm and receptive to learning.
This is why taking the pulse of the classroom is so important. If you don't know how your students are feeling, you may not be successful in teaching them. We often educate our students on how to physically prepare to learn, but rarely do we talk about how to emotionally prepare to learn. Physically preparing to learn can include:
Arriving to class on time
Arriving with materials such as paper, pencils, books
Completing required reading or homework the night before
Going to the bathroom or getting a drink of water before class
Taking their seat and beginning bell work
Consider sharing these ways for students to emotionally prepare for class:
Have them take a moment to check in with themselves on how they are feeling (anxious, excited, sad, so-so)
Have them write down one goal for the class or for the school day. What would they like to get out of their time?
Have them designate another person in class that they can go to for help either during or after class. It may be the teacher or a peer.
Take the pulse of the whole class to guide your teaching Ask your students to raise their thumb up if they are feeling great, sideways if they are feeling so-so or down if they are feeling poorly.
Many or all thumbs up means you probably have access to everyone's cortex and may begin sooner with complex material.
Many sideways pointing thumbs may mean you will have to focus more on positive engagement to increase access to their cortex.
Many thumbs down may mean you will want to focus in on a positive story or uplifting quote. You can also do some class breathing exercises using a breathing ball or youtube video to help calm the lower parts of the brain. You may want to acknowledge that people are feeling down today and that you will do your best to consider that. You may want to take the pulse of the classroom again during the class to see if there has been improvement.
Other Ways To Support Your Students
Talk about the power of feelings and how they can overwhelm us. Share your safety plan and what you will do if you "Flip Your Lid" and encourage them to develop a safety plan in the event that they "Flip Their Lid" and share it with you.
Talk about the importance of good eating and sleeping habits and good mental health. Refer them to the school counselor or other resource if they believe they could use some additional support. Poor sleep is a big indicator of a larger physical or mental health issue and will reduce their ability to learn and can adversely impact their health.
Plan for the inevitable "Flipping Their Lid" scenario. How will you manage the situation in a way that maintains the physical, social and emotional safety of the student flipping his lid, the other classmates and yourself? You can normalize the situation by stating that it appears they are upset and that you are sorry about that. How can you help make the situation right? Create a plan and share it with your colleagues or a principal.
Build in regulatory activities daily. This is useful for all student but especially for those with trauma histories or adverse experiences because they may not have had the opportunity to develop regulating habits.
a) Greeting students or offering handshakes at the beginning of class b) Regular cortex breaks with access to positive sensory, emotional or environmental stimulation. c) Square breathing d) Patterned and predictable activities (Bell work, games, quizzes) e) Regular use of technology such as Chromebooks to answer questions anonymously using apps like Kahoot, or Quizez among others.
The 6 R's- Traumatized and non traumatized students learn best in environments that are respectful, relational, rhythmic, repetitive, relevant and rewarding.