As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, children thrive (both academically and emotionally) in environments that are predictable, safe and loving. It helps when thinking about classroom environments – that we are “tackling” the work with a variety of tools which help us to play offense (being proactive) and defense (being appropriately reactive).
The amount of physical and mental resources that educators put into their work are impossible to measure fully. Let’s face it – the work is fulfilling but can also be exhausting. Science shows that when we do not have the proper amount of proactive planning, we spend a large amount of our energy reacting to the day’s events and we experience was is referred to as ego depletion in the field of positive psychology.
What is ego depletion? Ego depletion refers to the idea that our willpower supplies are limited, drawing on a limited pool of mental resources. When our energy and willpower supplies becomes depleted, it not only affects us in that moment, it also makes it difficult to apply the same amount mental or physical resources to other areas of our lives.
Here are some examples of the effects of ego depletion:
- Trouble sticking to the gym after work as planned
- Failing to keep to a healthy diet
- Losing patience with students or family members
So what can we do about this? Fortunately, there are things that we can be doing to maintain our willpower supplies and off-set the effects of ego depletion. Self-care is huge but also approaching our work with offensive (prevention) strategies verse playing defense (reacting) will go a long way in reducing our stress levels.
When we think of prevention strategies, it’s important to think beyond simply being organized. It’s also important to take into account how our student’s brains are wired in relationship to their attention spans. This critical shift in how we approach our work will put us all in the position of anticipating our student’s needs before they arise. Creating dynamic classroom cultures that align with our student’s brain functions can significantly reduce student outbursts. As a network we have embraced many such strategies like morning meetings and brain breaks etc. However, as the year goes on we all need to be consistently adding more layers.
Brain Based Strategies:
The Novelty Effect: Our brains like novelty. Exposing our brains to new sights, sounds and ideas hones its ability to pay closer attention and plays a huge role in preventing student dysregulation. We know that predictability and routine matter but so does a consistent dose of novelty. Predictable routines and novelty may sound at odds but they can actually complement each other and it’s important to do both. Think about novelty as the spice to add some flavor to the main course, not the main course itself. Novelty can come in the form of humor like wearing a silly pair of glasses or a wig during a lesson or by changing up the format in which you deliver your message like using technology or teaching your lesson from a completely different part of the room. You can read more about novelty in the classroom here.
Create Moments: Big or small, certain experiences have a profound impact on our lives. Companies like Disney build their customer experiences with the focus of creating memorable moments. Educators are at the forefront of so many of our student’s successes that we should be engaging students on a day-to-day basis with the same focus. Be cognizant of the experiences that you are creating for your students and be sure you are celebrating your student’s accomplishments and life events in a way that makes them memorable. In the book The Power of Moments the identifying traits of what makes an impactful moment are explored.
Spread Kindness: We all have a basic need to contribute to something bigger than ourselves and to be a part of a team. Facilitating a kindness projects with your students can reinforce school values, create links to the world outside the classroom and give students the satisfaction of helping others. Science tells us that showing kindness boosts our self-esteem and overall happiness. Something as simple as writing get well cards for someone in the community who is ill, organizing a ‘mentor day’ between two classes (one older and one younger), planning a fun event around silly holidays e.g. World Thank You Day (January 18th), Compliment Day (January 24th), Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17th) all can have a profound impact on your students well-being.
Although educators will always need to play defense when it comes to managing a classroom, having a strong offense reduces our need to be reactive and can help preserve our precious emotional, mental and physical resources.
Bob and Jennifer