George Lucas Educational Foundation
Classroom Management

The Power of Keeping Your Cool

Photo credit: US Department of Education via flickr (CC BY 2.0)
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Many of us have done it. After losing patience, we've become a bit snappy with a room full of students or raised our voices a level or two higher than we should have. It happens. The longer you teach, the more probable an incidence (or two) becomes.

Responsive, Not Reactive

Once a teacher loses it with a class or student, it takes some time to rebuild that feeling of safety and trust within those four walls, so it's wise to avoid heading in that direction early. If you are a new teacher, it's important to develop good habits around routinely using a calm and appropriate voice level with your students. (We've all heard the explosive teacher down the hall in another classroom. It's not pretty -- and far from conducive to learning.)

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When you feel on edge, here are some ways to be responsive rather than reactive:

  • Take a few breaths. Step right outside the door. You are offstage, and this can help shift emotions really quickly.
  • Count. Before responding to a student, count to three . . . or five . . . or seven . . .
  • Ask a question. Instead of giving a declarative statement, try, "How might you rephrase that comment so it's more respectful to your classmate?"
  • Pause and think before speaking. It's OK if they are waiting for your words. The silence creates a space that is calming and contemplative for everyone.
  • Smile. This is the best cover for unpleasant feelings. It can melt tensions, or at least suspend them.
  • Wait for the right moment. New teachers, especially, please know that you don't have to address bad behavior right in that very moment. You can wait until after you are done direct instructing or just before or after the class is excused (for their next class, recess, lunch, etc.) to address that child one-on-one.

Staying Healthy

As the new school year gets underway, let's recall some of the basic personal care that helps us stay calm and cool in the classroom:

  • Get lots of rest. How many hours do you need? Some of us need eight (me). Stick to this number no matter how busy you get.
  • Watch that coffee (or soda) intake. Too much caffeine can make the calmest of souls super edgy.
  • Take mini breaks throughout the day. Teachers hit the ground at a hundred miles an hour in the early morning and often don't stop until getting in their cars to go home. Avoid this all-too-common habit. Close your classroom door for a few minutes and put your head down on your desk, do a quick meditation, make a phone call to a friend, or listen to a short podcast or a soothing song.

Calm, Cool, and Collected

By the way, calm doesn't mean using a flat or monotone voice. When reading aloud, posing a question, or explaining the exciting choices your students will have for an upcoming project, continue to be your dramatic, upbeat self.

Students mirror our energy. If we stay calm when teaching -- giving instructions, addressing individuals or the whole class -- it's amazing to see that this, too, happens with them. Whether we want the responsibility or not, we are constantly modeling for the children we teach ways to be out in the world.

We want them to see that kindness, flexibility, and a tranquil approach to others are vital skills to develop. Using one of the oldest and best practices in our business -- Show, Not Tell -- is the way to guide your students to emulate these very actions.