I can’t believe how much I have changed in my teaching since I learned to be more emotionally skillful in my classroom. I have taught for 30 years and classrooms are so much more challenging and heart-consuming than ever before. What I have learned ---- about connecting rather than controlling, about giving kids emotional space, about how to regulate my own emotions --- helps me every day to be a better teacher.
When we look at the dynamics in our classrooms, many blame the environment, social issues, technology, abandonment, and so much more. The fact is, what these kids really need is connection. They need the adults in their lives to be there for them in ways they never have before.
Just the other day, one of my students expressed to me that our class feels like family. I’ve never heard that before! Maybe it’s because I try to find opportunities to connect as often as I can. For example, one day this student was having a hard time managing their emotions. I validated how that student was feeling. I listened and empathized rather than trying to problem-solve or fix their situation. Like all of us, students need to feel heard and seen before they can learn. It doesn’t mean that every day is great, and I try to make sure students know they have room and space to grow and that I am willing to give them that space. Maybe that is why our class feels like home to this student.
I am pleased to be able to share these skills with other educators through a workshop called Transforming Classrooms run by The SILA Skills Group, a non-profit I helped to co-found. Workshop participants tell me how they struggle with some of the difficult behaviours in their classrooms. They tell me they have been sworn at, hit, ignored, yelled at and so much more. They tell me how hopeless and lost they feel when students engage in ‘turtling’ (pulling a hoodie over their head), leave suicidal notes or images, and so many more challenging things.
I totally understand where these educators are coming from. When I reflect on how I would have responded to my challenging students before I learned these emotion regulation skills, my reactions would have exacerbated many of the conflicts that occur in my classroom every day. Now, I use emotion regulation skills to respond effectively and I am finding that student reactions are less severe and shorter in length.
Transforming Classrooms provides skills training to help every educator gain the tools to support themselves with their own emotions when students react the way they do. Educators also learn practical ways to respond to their students effectively and in a timely manner. The skills are based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which was developed by psychologist Marsha Linehan. We are constantly told to make connections with our students . But nobody ever showed me how to do it until I took a DBT-skills based program. Now I am using these skills in my classroom every day.
And now I am such a different teacher.
A recent example of this is when I was working with a couple of students on individual assignments at a table in the classroom. When it was time for me to start teaching the next subject, they didn’t want to return to their seats. Before I learned these skills, I would have demanded that they comply and return to their seats. I would have seen their refusal as disrespect and be concerned about what the other students were thinking. This desire to be in control would likely have escalated the situation and there would have been more conflict. This time, however, I used mindfulness to stop and pause and think in order to respond more effectively. I recognized that the students weren’t hurting anything by not returning to their seats and that they may need time to transition. The fact is, I was right. The crisis never occurred and all of the students had a good class.
Sometimes we as teachers need to learn that we don’t always have to intervene and problem-solve --- that sometimes we just need to give students space to deal with their emotions. One day one of my students became very upset over the volume of noise in the classroom. Normally, I would have stepped in. I would have tried to fix things. I would have asked them to leave the room so we could talk about it in the hall. Not today. I just waited. That was so hard!! But the student calmed down on their own. The rest of the class became silent, watching me and how I responded. I validated everyone. I said that some days it’s hard to concentrate when things are loud. “Let’s all try to work on our assignments more quietly,” I said. Later I talked to the student about how hard it must be to be upset like that. The student felt like they were being heard rather than being fixed. It was a win-win situation for them and for me.
Our students’ behaviours don’t have to define them. Our responses can help them be a better version of themselves.
These skills work.
Register today for a workshop to learn how you can transform your classroom too.