It was a typical end to the day during winter testing as young people rushed to their after-school activities. Elijah walked somberly into the teacher’s lounge, where I was grading papers, and burst into tears.
“I’m so tired of all this testing, Ms. Hubbard! I just need a break.”
My heart shattered from the heaviness that had been brewing in Elijah’s mind. Ten years old was far too young for the level of stress that he carried.
Elijah’s tears made me realize something big: maybe my own test-related stress was partly to blame for his upset. Was I worried about what my students’ test scores would say about achievement in my school? Was I concerned about what they would say about my performance as a teacher? What message was I sending to Elijah and his peers, and which of my words, actions, or behaviors were they emulating?
Keep it simple by starting today with what you have: your love for teaching, yourself, and the students you serve.”
I decided we all needed a shift in perspective if we wanted a successful testing experience—and a productive school year!
Save yourself, then save others
Just as adults are told to put on their oxygen masks before they help children on a plane, it’s important for teachers to tend to their emotional self-care so that they are better equipped to support their students. However, the life of a teacher can be so busy that it’s hard to find time for self-care.
Here are a few simple techniques you can use to incorporate self-care into your classroom in a way that can be mutually beneficial for you and your students.
- Shake it out. Move what’s weighing you down.Taking a one-minute dance break helps to release tension and move pent up energy. Plato said that music gives “wings to the mind,”and this short exercise can help free up space in the mind so that both you and your students can think more clearly, thus being more productive.
Just as you know when there’s a high level of anxiety among your students, they can also sense when you’re stressed. Take either of these as cues that it it’s time to have one minute of movement
- Talk it out. Allow space to release. You and your students need a safespace to share your thoughts and feelings, particularly about situations that may be stressful. The “Yes, and…” technique allows everyone to have their words either affirmed or reframed, both of which encourage a positive perspective.Begin by sharing what you feel. Then someone replies by saying “Yes, and…,” followed with a positive reframe (if it was a negative feeling) or added context to affirm what was stated (if it was a positive feeling). The simple act of saying “Yes, and…” validates the person’s feelings without judgement. I find that this exercise is a great way to transition between activities, or when dealing with something new
- Cut it out. Carve space for support.You have the responsibility of helping your entire classroom succeed, which can feel like a lot of work! It’s important to establish structured roles within the classroom community so that the onus of success is on everyone.
Assigning roles to students not only helps with classroom management, but it also instills a sense of confidence and pride. Consider having roles that support everyone’s emotional well-being, such as an Accountability Partner a student checks in with regularly to assess their progress toward goals or a Champion Partner who provides encouragement and support. You can model this practice by first assigning roles to people in your life
The data don’t lie
Each of the techniques I’ve suggested provides an outlet for your stress and anxiety—and your students’, too. Researchers have found that when kids express their thoughts in a healthy manner, their test scores significantly increase, “particularly for students for whom test anxiety had become a habit.” Another research study revealed that “Students with low-stress teachers had the highest test scores and the best behavior.”
Testing can be stressful for everyone. So can the daily process of teaching and learning. Make self-care a priority for yourself and your students. Keep it simple by starting today with what you have: your love for teaching, yourself, and the students you serve.