Facilitating Stress Management Practice for Our Students
In the case of stress management, instructors should practice what they teach—the more you explore and practice the wide variety of stress management skills, the better. Students tend to be astute when it comes to figuring out whether an instructor walks the walk or just talks the talk. Stress management activities often go beyond students’ comfort zones, and an instructor who has experienced the process as a beginner can be more empathetic in introducing tools to students. These activities may at times seem corny or weird to the Western mentality that focuses on always producing something. This unfamiliarity may be especially apparent in light of the United States’ education expectations of accountability and deliverables (e.g., higher test scores preferred over lifelong skills). However different it may seem, stress management is an important practice; it is, in fact, something that we should practice continually in order to improve the quality of our lives. In this light, we are teaching process. As instructors we may never witness the behaviors of our students that result from what they learn with us. For example, we may not know if they decide not to smoke because of the breathing technique they learned. Our task is to offer as much practice in as many tools as we can so that students can take responsibility for their personal stress management. By modeling an intention of being open to trying out all the various tools, we can hope to encourage students to become creative in their own adoption of what works best for them.
Allowing for Student Choice
We should not expect that students will embrace and fully implement all of the stress management tools presented to them, but these activities give students the opportunity to try things and find out what works best for them. When faced with students who might resist trying these tools, you might think of your job as simply giving them a taste. Be grateful for slight shifts in their attitudes and for those times when you are privileged to witness an “aha” moment. Offer your students the intention of being open to the experience without forcing it. Emphasize that they have the option not to participate (as an alternative, they could choose to simply sit quietly). At all times, though, the hope is that the student will take what he or she needs, leave the rest with respect, and respect other students’ rights to practice their choices.
In order to best help our students become lifelong learners who practice stress management throughout their lives, we must give them opportunities for reflection. When we ask our students to reflect, they use introspection to process what they have learned and experienced in a given activity. Reflection may involve making connections with past knowledge and experiences; making and examining observations about knowledge and experiences; looking for personal meaning; developing theories or ideas; and deciding how to apply what has been learned to future choices.
Using Invitational Language
We need to set the bar high for our students, and the best way to do this is to use invitational language. Doing so means rephrasing from commanding language to affirming language, turning complaints into requests, being specific when offering compliments, and using words that allow students to make their own decisions by providing choices. Use statements that include words and phrases such as the following: consider, I suggest, would you like to help me out, help me understand, can we agree, get curious about, and explore. Here are some examples of invitational language:
- I invite you to close your eyes or soften your gaze, whichever is best for you.
- I know you are mindfully sitting when you are sitting tall and strong and looking at me with your mouth closed.
- When you are ready, slowly begin to stretch and make your way back to your seat. Can you be so quiet that no one hears you get up and move?
- If it interests you, explore the possibility of making your letter shape bigger—or choose to keep still, holding your yoga pose.
Creating a Calm Environment
Take a moment to observe your own teaching space and ask yourself the following questions (Northeast Foundation for Children, 2010).
- Is it conducive to helping students stay focused and on task?
- Do students have opportunities to self-monitor or peer-monitor? Do they know, for instance, that they can take a time-out and go to the peace table?
- Can students help or coach each other in learning stress management activities? For example, students might remind each other to take a deep breath.
- Does this space create a positive climate? Is the room arranged for inclusivity and cooperation?
- Are students responsible for their own experience and self-assessment?
- Are procedures in place so that students know, for example, what is expected when starting their day, making transitions (e.g., for lunch or emergency drills), when asking for help, and when using the bathroom?
- Do students know what behavior is expected for the task they are doing (e.g., total silence, quiet sharing, or use of indoor voices)?
Read more about Teaching Stress Management by Nanette E. Tummers