Offer Opportunities for Pause
These discussions can be stressful for students as they work to make sense of their emotions and stressors. Pay close attention to cues in body language and speaking tone and create ample opportunities to pause the conversation and allow for opportunities for students to re-ground themselves. If a student seems to be growing more stressed, suggest you both take a break. Sometimes it’s helpful to frame the suggestion as you needing a break yourself. This both protects students from embarrassment and provides them with a clear model of how to use breaks as an effective coping strategy.
During these pauses, allow the student to go on a short walk in the hallway, drink some water, or simply take a few deep breaths. Teachers can also demonstrate to students how to use the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique to help control their anxiety and the body scan method for promoting mindfulness.
Enact the Peace Process
When the student has had a moment to calm themselves and reflect on the situation, ask them to describe the facts and their feelings about what happened. Allow for plenty of chances to express how they feel, then ask the student to state the specific needs that were not met at that moment using just one to three words. This should help illuminate for the student exactly what they were reacting to so strongly, and it will hopefully help them realize what could be done differently in the future. Wrap up the Peace Process by asking the student what they need to make themselves and the relationship feel better moving forward. Help them phrase the answer as a request.
Close Out with a Two-Word Check-In
Before you and the student return to the rest of the day, close out the conversation with a two-word check-in. Tell the student to take a few more deep breaths and to soften their gaze or close their eyes. Then ask them to think of two specific words that capture how they’re feeling now. This step serves several purposes, from re-grounding the student back in the present to ensuring the teacher has an understanding of how effective the previous strategies were in helping the student. It could also help reveal unresolved emotions that still warrant further discussion.
We’ve all seen the headlines and know the challenges at hand: staffing shortages, teacher burnout, student trauma. But through centering social-emotional learning—and focusing on mediation and compassionate conversations over discipline—we can safely guide our students through this historically turbulent time as they make sense of the complicated emotions they are experiencing.
As a new school year kicks off, it is vital that schools work to prioritize the emotional needs and mental health of students over their punishment. We can do this.
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