I can’t believe we are ready to discuss the fifth and final chapter of our book study!
If you missed any of the other posts, you can check them out here:
Chapter 5 is titled Managing the Effects of Toxic Stress and begins by comparing Healthy Stress vs Toxic Stress.
Adults AND children feel minor to moderate stress at times, such as an unfamiliar dog barking at us, or dealing with the first day of school. I’m about to start my 23rd year in just two weeks and I can tell you, I am always stressed leading up to the bell ringing. Once I’ve met everyone and gotten through the first few minutes, I’m fine. But I have never ever felt cool as a cucumber on the first day of school.
Our cortisol and stress level hormones rise, along with our blood pressure and heart rate, but they always return to a healthy baseline after the moment has passed.
Even when traumatic events happen, such as a death in the family or a natural disaster, children can recover if they have a strong network of positive relationships with adults who can help them cope and feel safe.
On the flip side, when children are faced with stressful events on a regular basis and they do not have the support from adults that they need, children can experience a toxic stress response.
My heart hurts just thinking about this, and several students are coming to my mind. Living in an unpredictable environment, whether it’s because of violence, addiction, abuse, neglect, chronic illness, systemic discrimination, poverty . . . whatever it is, it keeps children on high alert. They react with a fight, flight, or freeze response, even if the situation doesn’t call for it.
In other words, even if the teacher was giving constructive criticism, the child might take it as a put down. If someone accidentally bumps into them, they are ready to start a fight.
Ugh. I’ve seen this so many times in my career.
You guys, this was a hard chapter for me to read.
“The prolonged presence of elevated stress hormones in the body can harm children’s brains and other organs into adulthood, leading to increased long-term risks of physical and mental illnesses such as heart disease, substance abuse, and depression.”
But this is where we come in. Us. TEACHERS.
Healthy relationships with adults can prevent and even reverse some of the damage.
The Responsive Classroom approach is built on six pillars.
Provide an emotionally safe school and classroom
The book suggests starting the day with a morning meeting. Christina made such a cute freebie for all of us this week!!
This is such a great idea and really helps start the day off right. I love it! Grab your freebie HERE.
It’s recommended to provide a quiet time between busy activities, such as lunch or recess, or even a fun lesson.
Also mentioned is what we’ve been talking about in the rest of the book – LISTEN. Be a good listener, ask open-ended questions to encourage students to express themselves, keep your body language open, demonstrate your trustworthiness, and make a comfortable space for the time-out spot.
I get a 45 minute duty-free lunch and rarely eat in the teacher’s lounge. (My team and I go out every Friday, though.) I eat in my room at lunch time so I can keep working, and I am here to tell you that I’ve been available for a few different students over the year who needed me.
There has been a knock on the door, and my first thought is who forgot their money, who forgot their water, what now, but when it’s a child crying their eyes out, holding onto me for dear life, begging to be comforted, and being barely able to breathe, I know I’m in the right place. It tears my heart out, I want to scream on their behalf because their six years on this planet have been filled with fear and pain and panic . . . but instead, I just hold them. I listen. They know they can count on me. They know I am a safe person. And that’s because I work on my relationships with my students. Over the last few years, I’ve completely changed my thought process when it comes to teaching.
If my kids’ social and emotional needs are not being met, then academics do not matter. First, I meet their social and emotional needs to the best of my ability. Then I teach.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Although, I have known some teachers who do not feel that they have to respect their students. These teachers tend to think it’s my classroom, my rules, my way or the highway. Their kids are like little soldiers.
To me, it’s just plain sad!!
Respect goes beyond simple courtesy, although that’s important, too. Use reinforcing language – notice what students are doing well. Reinforce their strengths! And continue to use reminding language so that students know we believe in them.
Explicitly Teach Social and Emotional Skills
This section referred back to role-playing, being aware of a student struggling, heading misbehaviors off at the pass, and using logical consequences when necessary. The authors did admit that some of that might not work with a student experiencing toxic stress, which I appreciated because let’s get real.
I’m sure we’ve all been there when a student has lost control. And nothing works.
And so you go home and cry.
Or is that just me?
Anyways, TEACH children skills for calming down, for problem-solving, to anticipate challenges, etc. There are some great ideas on page 123.
Incorporate Playfulness Into Learning
I loved this section because this is ME! I love love love to make my kids laugh. It is pretty much my goal at the beginning of every day to get my kids to belly laugh. 😊I act silly, I sing songs, I speak in different accents . . . whatever it takes to make learning and our classroom FUN.
I love Brain Breaks – Go Noodle is a favorite, but I also have a class i-Pod filled with all kinds of songs! If a song can teach a lesson, I will let it.
I’ve created all sorts of activities through my Listen and Learn resources where I pretty much act like a fool as I teach. We use these in centers and whole class – my kids laugh almost the entire time! Lots of teachers have left feedback telling me that their kids think I’m hilarious so I’m thinking I may need to take this show on the road! 😂😜
Learning to read and practicing our fluency has been a game changer with my Reader’s Theater packs. I can’t even explain to you how my most reluctant students will get up in front of the class to read a play. I’m not kidding. I’ve talked about it over and over, I’ve shared about it on my Instagram Stories, I’ve even presented about it TWICE at the So Cal Kindergarten Conference. They are simply MAGICAL! And I’m not saying it’s because of my plays, I’m just saying that somehow, Reader’s Theater allows the student (even those experiencing toxic stress) to become someone else for just a little bit. And . . . THEY ARE FUN!
I thought these were all great tips, and rather than re-type them here, I’ll just let you read them on this picture. 🙂
Foster Your Own Self-Care and Build a Supportive Community
Well, this should be an entire post all on its own. This is self-explanatory and I’m not going to go into it. You know what you need to do. Are you doing it? I mean, that’s pretty much it! Ha!!!
Responding to Outbursts and Withdrawal
The book talks about how we need to really get to know our students so that we can see triggers ahead of time, and so we can be prepared when a student has an outburst or withdraws.
And that sounds all nice and wonderful, but I’m not ashamed to tell you that I’ve had a couple of students who I never figured out. I never knew what would trigger them. One thing on Monday that set them off wouldn’t bother them a bit on Tuesday. So, sometimes, it’s just not realistic that we’ll be oh-so-prepared and see-it-coming.
I’ve literally had to evacuate my room with 31 students for safety reasons.
I’ve been there. I don’t know if you have, but I’ve been there. My room has been destroyed by a child more than once, and by more than just one child. And I never saw it coming.
Okay, so one thing I agreed with is that you can’t talk to the child about their behavior as it’s happening. You have to wait until they are calm. Not to mention, you have to wait until YOU are calm.
Stay calm, listen more than you talk, get your buddy teacher, your admin, the counselor – whoever. I’m sure if you’ve had students experiencing toxic stress then the right school personnel already know about it, too. Stay in communication with them. They are there to HELP. And if one (or more) is not really helpful, then find the people who are! They are there. I promise!
Also, maintain empathy for that student, even when it’s hard. Even when they’ve destroyed your room. Yes. Even then. Don’t ask what’s wrong with you?! Instead, ask what’s happening?
After the Student Has Cooled Down
Talk to the child privately and non-judgmentally about what happened. Ask for their input. This will help you understand them better, and it helps the student express their emotions.
Suggest different ideas to help avoid outbursts, or shutting down, or whatever the behavior might be. Writing in a journal, holding a stuffed animal, taking a walk to the water fountain, doing a few jumping jacks in the hall are all good ideas. Ask what they think might help, too.
Ask relevant school personnel for suggestions, too!
I feel like I keep saying it, but it’s so true.
You are not alone! We are not alone!! We are in this together.
We have such a hard job, but it is also so rewarding. I’ve seen students turn around . . . it may have taken all year, but to know a student now trusts me, and feels comfortable with me is HUGE.
Well, that’s the end of chapter five and the end of our Book Study!
Next week, probably on Saturday as always, I’ll return to my regularly scheduled never-know-what-you’re-going-to-get blog posts.
Until then . . . have a fantastic week!