Following lockdown and the closure of schools across the country, returning to the classroom may have been a difficult transition for some students. This may have led to new behaviour patterns that you had not encountered prior to lockdown, or increasing behavioural issues that existed but were manageable. Or perhaps they’re just struggling to sit still for an extended period that they haven’t been used to for several months. These reactions to extreme changes in routine, as well as ongoing changes to life as we know it, can undoubtedly result in a child’s stress and anxiety manifesting in poor behaviour. But how can educators respond to this? Is it possible that mindful behaviour management can be the key to a positive learning environment?
Stop and take a breath
Any adult who has researched methods of coping with their own anxiety or stress would have come across breathing techniques to quiet the mind and regain composure. What if we implemented this practice into our teaching? Mindful breathing exercises at the beginning (and end) of a lesson could allow students a moment to centre themselves. After a hectic morning at home or a distressing breaktime drama, a few minutes of deep breathing could be all they need to let go of whatever might impact their behaviour for the next hour or so.
Share a personal story
Building a connection with students where they can see even you, the teacher they couldn’t fathom having a life outside of that classroom, has experienced a learning moment could be the motivation they need to think about their own actions. Of course, privacy is crucial, but a story where you exampled a trait you want them to express such as listening and why it was important for you to listen, might draw them in and dispel that reluctance to participate in the lesson.
Take a walk tactic
At a time where change is unconditional and necessary, young people who have suffered from trauma, have ADHD or are on the autistic spectrum can find this extremely difficult to adapt to. If a student is struggling with a situation and you’re fortunate enough to have an assistant in the room, perhaps ask if the student would like to take a walk with them. More often than not, removing themselves from the situation and taking a walk outside in the fresh air can give them time to ground themselves before returning, or have the opportunity to articulate what’s upsetting them to someone without the eyes and ears of everyone else in the room.
Create a calming environment
Young people are incredibly intuitive at times and can instantly pick up on your energy or the energy of the room. From experience, if I’d had a particularly harrowing morning, my next class would know without even asking. Meditation techniques, calming music or visualisation methods can help restore a sense of calm, both to you and your students. Maybe the first five minutes could be spent visualising what you’re learning today. Whatever your lesson is about – mountain ranges, electromagnetic waves, or abstract art – ask your students to close their eyes and visualise these topics. They’d not only be focusing on the subject, but also creating a peaceful learning environment.
Turn a behavioural problem into a teachable moment
As we get older, we become more self-aware. Self-awareness facilitates behavioural management: how we react and respond to certain situations and individuals. If we can teach self-awareness from an early age, they can learn how to manage their own behaviour before we need to get involved. This means more time teaching, and less time focusing on discipline. When having a conversation with a student about their behaviour, ask questions such as: Was that a mindful decision? Did you think about your choices there? What could you have done differently in that situation? How would that situation have gone if you had done that instead? These questions can foster a mindful response and rather than feeling frustrated with their behaviour, they can learn from it.
By implementing these strategies into our day to day lives we can cultivate positive change. Is it time for schools to start taking mindfulness seriously and begin incorporating it into our pedagogical practices? With the world feeling under pressure throughout this pandemic, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate how we teach our children to cope with their own behaviour.
About the author
After completing a BA in Creative Writing and a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of Winchester, Tammy worked as a Learning Support Assistant, with a focus on helping students develop their literacy skills. She then taught as an English teacher at an all-boys comprehensive school in Berkshire. Now she has turned her sights to a career in marketing, with writing at the heart of it.