Saturday, April 16, 2016

Classroom helpers--an antidote for anxiety?

Reference:  The Washington Post, "The surprisingly easy way to reduce your anxiety."  Accessed 16 April 2016. 

I am not a psychologist.  I do not spend my time collecting data on the emotional/behavioral health of the 1000+ students on my campus.  I do get to collaborate on a daily basis with great teachers, and observe students during lessons and check-out time in the library.  While I would like to think of the library as an anxiety-free zone, I sometimes see it in our students.  I definitely hear about it from the teachers (student anxiety, that is....teacher anxiety is a whole 'nother blog post!).

Reading the referenced article from The Washington Post, I began thinking about student anxiety in our pre-college population, and how it seems to be on the rise.  I'm sure there are a multitude of reasons for this increase--crammed curriculum, overscheduling, a lack of time to play and develop social and coping skills come immediately to my mind. Some of those things we have control over as educators; some we don't.

What can we do in our classrooms and libraries to help ease this anxiety?  According to the article, accomplishing acts of kindness may play a role in doing just that. 

While some children are "givers" by nature, not every child is hard-wired to think up such acts, much less perform them.  We can set up structured acts of kindness in our educational settings as opportunities for students to contribute to the well-being of our classroom, creating situations that make them positive contributors, putting others' well-being first, and opening up avenues for students to be on the receiving end of gratitude.

I know a lot of teachers do this already--by assigning classroom jobs to their students.

Yes, the mundane tasks of running a classroom, such as passing out paper, sharpening pencils, watering plants, straightening furniture and running notes to the office may be more efficiently done by an adult.  Yes, I know that there is a lot of curriculum that needs to be covered, that students need to be engaged in academic work as much as possible.

But when did we decide that the academic work is more important than the communal aspect of our classroom?  Brain-based research has shown us that students work best when they feel safe and accepted at school.  Anxiety has the opposite effect; true learning doesn't occur when students feel constantly on edge.  (To be clear, we are talking about generalized anxiety, not the "good kind" of stress that drives us to study harder and perform better in school.)  Classroom jobs may be the ticket for decreasing stress and anxiety and increasing learning.

If you don't have a classroom job rotation, I propose that helpers, or even class-wide tasks that contribute to the running of the classroom such as daily trash pick-up, should be a regular part of your classroom.  Yes, the plant may get over-watered, maybe the stacks of chairs might be a bit too high, maybe the pencils don't get passed out as quickly as you would have done.  But the benefits may outweigh the hassles, especially for our anxious students.

Now that I've written this, I am inspired to do the same in my library!  Let's see, they can straighten the furniture, pick up trash, look for wayward shelf markers, put the magazines back in order, turn books to face the right way, pass out lesson materials, help find display books.....

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