I am a teacher and I get it. Teaching is a complex profession, in fact I think teaching is an art. The art of teaching is complex because we need expertise across many areas; juggling multiple relationship dynamics, human development, specific skills and knowledge in a range of disciplines, social and emotional skill development, research, problem solving, specific learning differences, planning for individual needs... and the list goes on.
No wonder teachers get stressed.
Too much stress, however, negatively impacts teacher effectiveness. One of the things that can tip the scales with stress is managing complex or difficult behaviours in the classroom. Our frustration levels rise as we see that learning is also disrupted when behaviour is. We can feel overwhelmed and anxious.
With that in mind I thought I would share three reframes that have helped me reduce stress and reclaim my power. Power here is about having the ability to choose how we respond in a situation, how we manage the impact of our presence on the environment. When the stress gets too much we lose this personal power and I am sure that the impact of this on teacher effectiveness is evident. Just to be clear I am far from perfect, I am definitely a work in progress and so I don't get it right all of the time but using these reframes has meant that I get it right a whole lot more often than I used to! The impact of these reframes has been part of the journey of reducing stress in the classroom and making me a more effective teacher.
Behaviour is communication
It is easier for me to believe that all behaviour is communication, often about an unmet need. When we become overwhelmed it is harder for most of us to access the language needed to clearly communicate our feelings and needs- this is more evident with children and young people. So it makes sense that they will communicate their distress, frustration, fear through whatever means they have; some of these behaviours will look defiant, aggressive, rude. In this moment our initial reaction may be to get annoyed or frustrated, we might feel that they are doing this deliberately to upset us, we might growl or even yell or throw our hands up in despair. I know I have done this in the past, it was my lack of knowledge and inability to manage the stress I was under... as Maya Angelou says 'when you know better, do better'. Instead now I remind myself that 'all behaviour is communication' and so I ask myself what might this young person be trying to communicate. As long as everyone is safe I observe, managing the situation as best as I can. I consider what has happened before the behaviour changed. I then choose how I respond, from a powerful position as described earlier.
Attention seeking has a negative connotation, it is seen as manipulative behaviour to hog the attention or control others. If we return to the idea of behaviour is communication it means we shift the lens from judgement and condemnation to curiosity and empathy, so we see connection seeking instead of attention seeking.
The children who need love the most will always ask for it in the most unloving ways- Russell Barclay
When we see connection seeking then we have the opportunity to choose the best response to the need that is being expressed. When you think about it, if the underlying need is connection then denying attention will reinforce what we don't want. We are now in the powerful position to address the need in the moment and make a plan for the future.
Behaviour can communicate a skill deficiency
Our job is to teach. When we see a student struggling with reading we put a plan in place to support them to develop the skills they haven't mastered yet, and when one strategy doesn't work we will try another one. We seek expert support if we get stuck. We keep trying because it is important.
This is the same with behavior. If we choose to believe that behaviour is communication then we need to become behaviour detectives and use our observations to identify what skills need to be developed. Disruptive behaviour doesn't come from nowhere and no-one really likes feeling out of control. There might be a social skill need, an executive functioning need, an academic need. Just like reading once we have an understanding of the need, we create a plan and choose the best strategy we can, and if it doesn't work we try another one.
We seek expert support if we get stuck. We keep trying because it is important.
These reframes help to put us in a confident position to improve the learning environment and make powerful decisions for the benefit of our learners.
I know some of you might ask, 'how do we calmly observe when it feels overwhelming or chaotic?' A simple strategy I use is stop, breathe, think, and do. I share this with learners as a tool to help manage big emotions, but the pivotal difference is made every day each time when I choose to use this. It helps me pause, so I can observe and respond appropriately instead of falling into a reaction that I will later regret.
Stop tells me to press pause, don't say or do anything that will inflame the situation. If it is safe and I need to I physically step back from the situation to give myself some space and create a sense of safety within.
Then I focus on my breath, slowing it down (not audibly sighing around the learner as that could be interpreted as impatience or another negative cue). I breathe deep into my belly and let the air out slowly, at the same time I drop my shoulders and reduce the tension I am holding in my forehead and jaw.
Then I am in a space to observe, reflect and think. I work through options for how I could respond to what I am noticing. I make a decision.
Then I take action, I do what I decided. It might be a short term, initial response which is followed up later.
Reframing is a powerful tool. Embracing it as part of your resilience toolkit can transform the energy in your classroom. Use reframing to reduce your stress and reclaim your power.
Megan Gallagher, is a mum, teacher, coach, speaker, PLD facilitator and consultant. She weaves her teaching experience, intense interest and curiosity about the brain, and coaching skills together in all that she does.
She specialises in coaching for children, families and educators, and shares her expertise in wellbeing, curriculum design, and impactful teaching and learning as a speaker and facilitator.
One of her greatest pleasures in life is seeing others shining and this is the basis of the work she does with Ignite Your Spark.
For more information please check out meggallagher.nz. You can contact her at email@example.com