Last week, we explained how being mindful of your thoughts can change your experience in the classroom. You can read that post here. This week, we’re teaching how to manage our emotions in the classroom.
Specifically, we’re going to talk about how to get into the habit of choosing actions that help us to shift our emotional state from stressed/overwhelmed/frazzled (you know, all those big emotions that we feel as teachers on the regular…) to calm and in control.
In this training series, we’ve been diving deep into habit formation and looking at how our habits of action, thought and emotion influence our experience in and out of the classroom.
If you missed our first post of this series where we explained how habits are created and how to work with your brain when creating new habits or breaking old habits, you can go back and read it here.
To start today’s lesson, let’s review the four stages of the habit loop, as explained by James Clear in his book Atomic Habits and apply it to our habits of responding to emotion in the classroom.
The cue is a situation or feeling that triggers your brain to initiate a behaviour. It notices something in your inner or outer environment and leads to a craving for a specific reward.
Example: It’s been one of those mornings where everything is chaotic (is it a full moon or something?!) and you’re constantly putting out fires. By the time the bell rings for your break, you feel frazzled and stressed. This feeling of stress and lack of control leads to a craving.
The craving is the motivational force behind the habit. It’s the change in state you want to achieve.
Example: You don’t want to feel stressed and frazzled anymore. You crave feeling calm and in control. This craving leads to your brain looking for a way to achieve that feeling.
The response is the actual thought you have or action you take to satisfy your craving.
Example: Instead of taking a break and getting out of your classroom to recharge, you start to organize your classroom and then you complete some tasks on your to-do list. Before you know it, the bell rings and you didn’t even get the chance to go to the washroom.
The reward is the end goal of every habit, it satisfies your craving and/or teaches you something. If the response satisfies your craving, you will learn that the response was worth doing again in the future and it can become a habit. However, if the response took too much energy or wasn’t satisfying enough then your brain will learn that it isn’t worth doing again in the future and will resist making it a habit.
Example: When you organized your classroom and skipped your break, you regained the sense of control you were craving.
The problem with this response is that it didn’t satisfy your craving to feel calm and didn’t reduce your feelings of stress. You didn’t get to reset your emotions before your students return to your classroom. Which, as you learned in last week’s training, is likely to lead to more chaos like you experienced in the morning all over again.
Let’s look at how we can create a new response that will help us to shift our emotions in a healthy way and how we can make that response a habit that will help us to avoid teacher burnout.
But first, we have to understand how emotions actually work.
Emotions don’t just happen out of nowhere. They start with a thought. Your brain thinks a thought and then communicates that thought to your body as an emotion. Once your body feels the emotion, your brain and body can now work together to properly understand your environment.
Close your eyes and use your imagination to go back to the best day of your life. Remember how that day looked. Notice all the details you can remember of what you could see on that day. What could you smell? What could you hear? What was the temperature that day? Can you feel it on your skin? Do you remember any tastes from that day?
As you formulate a detailed memory of the best day of your life and you get all your senses involved in the memory, can you feel any warm and fuzzy emotions? Our emotions are how the brain communicates with the body. You can learn even more about how our thoughts create our emotions in this podcast episode.
So now that you understand how thoughts create emotions and you understand that a cue in our environment triggers a habit loop of thoughts and emotions, let’s look at how we can intentionally use this knowledge to create better feeling emotions during the school day.
Let’s go back to our example of it being a crazy morning that leaves you filled with stress, frustration and a feeling of loss of control. While you’re still in your classroom, your brain keeps getting the same cues that trigger the same habit loop of thoughts and emotions.
This means that by staying in your classroom during your break, the environment keeps telling your brain to relive what stressed you out this morning in your imagination which sends the same difficult emotions into your body. When your body is feeling the emotions of stress and frustration, it signals your brain to keep thinking stressful thoughts and you get stuck in a loop. Over time, this habit loop of negative emotion can lead to teacher burnout.
To shift out of the difficult emotional state you’re in, you have to get off the ferris wheel.
We’ve created a free Emotion Tracker worksheet to help you track your emotions over the next week to see which emotions might have become a habit.
To get out of the cycle of stressful thoughts and emotions you need a NEW CUE. The best way to signal to your brain to start thinking new thoughts and creating new emotions is to give it new information to take in so that it stops focussing on the thing that was stressing you out. A great way to do this is to take an action that feels fun, good and uplifting.
Teaching is difficult. As teachers, we deal with so many emotions! Our students’ emotions, our emotions, parents’ emotions, colleagues’ emotions. It’s a lot to take on! Our break during the day MUST be a time for us to reset our emotions so that we can enjoy our job rather than get burned out by it!
So, during your break, what action can you take that feel fun and uplifting for you and gets you into a new environment. Here are some ideas:
Come up with a list of realistic actions you can take during the day to help you get out of negative thought and emotion loops that could lead to teacher burnout. We’ve created a free Emotion Tracker PDF for you to help you track your emotions by time of day and make a list of actions you can take to reset your emotions.
When you’re feeling a big emotion, your brain wants to conserve energy by falling into old habits of thought and action. Keep this Emotion Tracker PDF on your desk or in your lesson planning book so that you have easy access to ideas that will help you create new habits to manage your emotions in the classroom and avoid teacher burnout.
Take what you’ve learned about managing emotions a step further and share it with your students using Educalme Classroom.
Educalme is your clear roadmap & simple action plan to prioritize social-emotional development so that your students are ready for calm and focused learning. Get a full year of ready-to-use audio, video and printable mindfulness lessons for the classroom. No prep required! Try it for free.
To go even deeper on this topic, listen to our episode on The Balanced Educator Podcast below.
The Balanced Educator Podcast episode 65: How to structure a mindfulness practice into your school day.
Let us know in the comments, what are some actions you’re going to take to create better feeling emotions this school year?
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