I think 75% of teaching is managing the mood within our classroom walls. Most years, I am looking for strategies to bring energy and excitement to pep up my groggy Little Darlings. But not this year. This year, we all need more calm. It’s no secret that this year is tough: bang your head against the wall tough, ugly crying during prep tough, quitting (in my head) at least three times a week tough. It’s not just me, right?
My dear friend JJ Epperson really hit the nail on the head with her post, Why is this so hard? To sum it up, everyone’s brains are freaking out, we’re living in a perpetual state of Fight, Flight or Freeze and nothing productive is going to happen until we can all just calm the heck down. And we’re not just talking about the students here. Teachers, too. Especially teachers. Before you read on, you really should first read JJ’s post, because she explains it much more eloquently, with science.
After one particularly awful day of teaching, (among other things, a freshman girl interrupted class to announce “This class is so F—ing miserable! I hate it!“), I called my 4 year old niece to ask for some advice. (It was a moment of sheer desperation. But she is very wise, for a 4 year old,)
“Coralita, what does your teacher do when the kids are bad at preschool?”
“Well, Tía Ra Ra, they have to take a little break and sit on the stool. Then the teacher asks, “Are you OK?”.
They need a break.
Then ask “Are you OK?”
How simple is that?! They need a break! We need a break! We need a place and time where we can settle in and slow down and give our out of control amygdalas a chance to cool off so our thinking brains can take over and we can engage like regular pre-pandemic humans. (Amygda-WHAT?! I told you, read JJ’s post!)
So….here are three things we can do to invite calm and create space for them (for us!) to settle down. Oh, and our Interrupting Foul Mouthed Little Darling? The following class (and after much prayer!), we had a moment. As I greeted her at the door, on the patio of my Little Portable, a monarch butterfly flew into her hand. You guys- it was the most amazing, miraculous thing! We were both stunned! It was the most beautiful, precious shared moment. And no outbursts since then, so fingers crossed!)
Soaring into class
My usual go to is peppy music to welcome my Little Darlings into class, but I have stumbled upon PURE GOLD and I love it so much….AND SO PERFECT FOR LANGUAGE CLASSROOMS!
You can find a whole slew of “Flying over ___________ Drone Footage” on YouTube, accompanied by relaxing music. It’s just so mesmerizing. And calming. And cultural! As kids enter I point out where we’re flying over and it’s a nice, easy way to start class. If there are school announcements, I just leave it on, playing quietly. I don’t really dedicate any class time to it, but it just adds a little something to their way in. It’s great playing in the background while they’re transitioning between activities or working quietly or even during a “Celebration of Knowledge” or quiz.
Here’s my playlist of Flying Over Spanish Speaking Countries. I’m sure there are a thousand more videos to be added here, but it’s a good start!
In another moment of desperation, (I’ve sure had a lot of these this semester!) JJ Epperson talked me off the proverbial ledge and convinced me that I needed to start class with some breathing intervals. I dove in the following day….but totally unsure HOW and not feeling very comfortable with it, but knowing we needed to try SOMETHING, ANYTHING, if I (we!) were going to make it though this year.
I thought the best course of action was to leave it to the professionals, so I signed up for Headspace’s Free for Educators account. They’ve got “guided meditations” (which I’m not crazy about that term, but really it’s just a dude named Andy with a pleasant accent telling us to breathe deeply) and so we started. Here’s how I set this up:
Guys: We are going to try an experiment. For all of October and all of November we’re going to start class breathing with Andy. It might be dumb. It might feel weird…. But it might be kind of nice. It might give our brains a little “time out” so we can settle down and take a break. Let’s try it. Here are the rules: Participate as much as you can. You can close your eyes, but you don’t have to. Breathe deeply if you can, but you don’t have to. Please don’t look at anyone else. Please don’t interrupt anyone else. If you can’t participate, it’s OK to just sit still and be silent. Let’s try it every class for 2 months, and then we’ll vote. If you like it we’ll keep doing it, if not, we’ll try something else.
We’ve been at it for a month, and here’s what I have observed:
I was right, it was weird. And I was also right, it is a nice break. For the most part, my Little Darlings are being good sports and playing along. I’ve noticed that sometimes they’re fidgety at the beginning but usually settle down by the time we’ve finished. We’ve tried a few different lengths. The 1 minute recordings are too short, they don’t give us enough time to settle down. The five minute exercises are waaaay too long. 3 minutes or so seems to be the sweet spot. Per JJ’s recommendation, we debrief after each session: Notice how you’re feeling now and compare that to how you felt when you walked into class. Think about situations or places where it would be helpful to take a few deep breaths. Sometimes we discuss, sometimes I just tell them to think about their answers….then we move into regular class, a bit calmer 🙂 The key is that we’re teaching a skill that will serve them in real life too: recognizing how you’re feeling and having tools available to help regulate when life feels messy.
The other nice thing about Headspace, it has several language options, so it is easy to switch it back and forth. I started ALL my classes with Andy in English, but after a few classes, I switched over to Spanish speaking Andy for my AP, Heritage and Spanish 4s. Even if they don’t understand every word, they get the idea: Breathe.
We still have a month left in this experiment, but I just couldn’t resist surveying my AP Little Darlings:
So…that’s our experiment. I’m really loving the few minutes of quiet and calm to start every class, and I think the Little Darlings do too.
One last trick, that I’ve held in my back pocket for years, that’s getting a lot of game time this year, is turning off the dang florescent lights. When kids are amped up, those hash buzzing lights aren’t doing anyone any favors. Generally our window light is plenty, but early in the morning or on cloudy days, I switch on a floor lamp and a table lamp. It gives us just enough warm light to carry on, and helps everyone to chill out. I haven’t stopped using the overhead lights completely…I leave them on for most things, but when they need help calming down, I’m thankful for another tool in the toolbox. Hit the lights! It works!
OK, one more:
I was only going to write about 3 ways to encourage calm, but now I want to write about 4, and I have no energy to redo the blogpost image that I already created, so let’s just call this one a bonus.
You know about Dictados, right?! They are my silver bullet of classroom management when everything goes awry and I need a few minutes to pull it together. What about Write and Discuss? It’s a predictable and controlled way to give the Little Darlings input, while bringing the energy level down and turning up their focus. These are two more tools that are getting a lot of use this year, because we (them and us!) all need more calm and focus and quiet.
Hang in there, my friends! I’m over here, doing my best to hang in there too. Let’s keep hanging together and encouraging each other, because, my goodness, this year is tough.