Take CHARGE Day 26: Composure
Updated: Feb 10, 2020
Take CHARGE of the Moment
One of the final steps to be discussed in this blog series is actually the first step teachers should take when taking charge of their classrooms. Teachers must flex their power of composure in order to appropriately handle the behavioral concerns that arise on a daily basis. While one of the skills that teachers should give students is calming (Day 13), what's good for students is equally beneficial for teachers as well. Remaining composed in stressful situations is a key first step in minimizing classroom disruptions.
Composure is the ability to self-regulate. Without a teacher in the classroom that maintains composure, it's difficult for the students to feel safe. Students develop a sense of trust in the process when, after repeated incidents, they gain the sense of security to know that if they fly off the handle, someone is strong and stable to help them back into regulation. When the teacher cannot provide that sense of solidity, it keeps students in a constant state of anxiety as they are tossed about by the tempest of emotions.
Teachers are only ready to address the behavior, solve the problem, and/or teach the new skill when they themselves are calm. If they want the child to calm down and cooperate, they must first achieve calmness and a cooperative attitude themselves. To aid in this cooperation, teachers want students to be in an executive brain state (Day 7). Yet if teachers want students to operate in an executive state, they must first must be in the right frame of mind themselves.
A word of caution, however. Calmness and serenity is not the same as repression. Ignoring or minimizing our upset in an attempt to help students will only make the matter worse. As much as we might try to appear unaffected, our true emotional state will always show through even when we don't want it to. We can kid ourselves but it's a lot harder to fool others, especially children.
Instead of repression, we must consciously accept and befriend our feelings so we can regulate them. If we feel upset, then we should acknowledge it instead of ignoring it. With acceptance, though, comes a choice not to let those feelings define us. We feel angry but we shouldn't say we are angry. This slight distinction allows us to embrace how we feel but make a conscious decision as to whether or not those feelings should rule us. We must accept our feelings before we can empathize with children and help them accept theirs.
Our calmness or agitation in emotionally-charged situations is so important because emotional networks are contagious. Like a virus, feelings and moods are transmitted from one person to another through a score of subconscious factors. When someone else is crying, we might start to tear up or feel sad. When someone laughs a deep belly laugh, our mouths crinkle at the corners and our mood lightens. Similar to the feeling we've probably all experienced when someone in a bad mood enters the room and throws a wet blanket on the frivolity that was just occurring, our emotions can help or hurt any disciplinary situation.
Either we will catch our children's upset or they will mirror our calm. As the adults, we can (and should) make a conscious choice as to what the tone of the disciplinary interaction will be. This is harder than it sounds, however, because we are often not responsive to our own mental and emotional state. Instead, we flounder from one experience to the next, buffeted by feelings that seem to emerge on their own. Situations in which students are misbehaving are typically emotionally-charged. If we aren't careful, we'll let the child's emotions set the tone for the interaction. Emotional contagion - the internal states of others - from joy to playfulness to sadness and fear - directly affects our own state of mind.
Emotions catch. If one person in the classroom gets hijacked by his amygdala, thrown into emotional chaos, it's likely others will be infected with anxiety, resistance, or disengagement. What started as a small problem with one child can easily spread to others as the upset of one child spills over to those close by. The teacher, then, is the best solution to this problem of emotional contagion. Rather than spreading anger and upset, wade into the morass and spread calmness and thoughtfulness.
Composure drives perception
It'll be very difficult for teachers to utilize the subsequent steps of taking charge of the moment (i.e., help, reframe, give) discussed in previous posts without composure. The emotional state of the teacher will drive his or her perceptions. Those perceptions will color everything that students do throughout the interaction and will drive which options seem available for resolution.
In short, teachers can't be effective if they're not in a calm and collected state. If they're too upset to remain in control, they'll likely approach the whole interaction in a way that's counterproductive to your goals of teaching and building connection. Rather than giving children missing skills or acting as a support for their executive functioning skills that are temporarily offline, teachers driven by strong emotions will focus more on punishment than discipline. Their view will be only of the short-term, looking to stop the immediate behavior, without extending the moment to support children by helping them practice or learn missing social skills.
Remember that in order for us to be in the frame of mind to assist students, we must hold the intention to discipline and teach students rather than punish them (Day 17). This positive intention stems from our own inner calm. If we allow the emotions of the student to dysregulate our own composure, it will skew our intentions and affect the mindset we bring into disciplinary situations.
So, how can teachers remain calm? Three deep belly breaths can shut off the stress response in the body and are integral to maintaining or regaining composure. Since we breathe about 20,000 times each day, adding a few more purposeful breaths shouldn't be too difficult. By taking deep, centering breaths, we give ourselves the opportunity to pause and take a moment to reconnect with who we want to be in the situation.
By practicing breath awareness in the midst of challenging situations, teachers can find and remain in an open and nonreactive mindset. This mindset is key to achieve before assessing and dealing with the behavior problem that has arisen. To be fully present and attuned with their students, teachers must first be fully present and attuned with themselves. This acceptance and calmness will immediately begin to be transmitted to the students as well.
Additionally, some might find a visualization helpful in gaining and maintaining composure. When experiencing strong emotions, picture in your mind a tree caught in a storm. The branches and leaves may be thrashing and crashing, blown by strong gusts of wind. While the top of the tree is buffeted, the trunk remains rooted. Being mindful of who we are and who we want to be by staying rooted in our breathing helps us when experiencing strong emotions.
Action: Prepare a visualization to use during moments of high emotional stress. Whether it be a tree in a storm or some other visual that communicates calm, practice picturing it in your mind so it is available for use when needed.
Reflection questions: When have you caught the emotions of someone else? Was that experience helpful or hurtful? How will your composure during behavioral crises assist students in regulating themselves?
Bailey, R. A. (2015). Conscious discipline: building resilient classrooms. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance.
Greenland, S. K. (2010). The mindful child: how to help your kid manage stress and become happier, kinder, and more compassionate. New York: Free Press.
Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2016). No-drama discipline: the whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child's developing mind. New York: Bantam Books.
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2016). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your childs developing mind. Vancouver, B.C.: Langara College.
Srinivasan, M. (2014). Teach, breathe, learn: mindfulness in and out of the classroom. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
To read Day 27, click here.