Take CHARGE Day 28: Calming yourself first
Updated: Feb 12
Take CHARGE of the Moment
If you are a frequent flyer, you sometimes feel as if you could give the safety announcements yourself. Yes, you know where the exits are. No, you aren't going to try smoking in the lavatory OR disabling the smoke detectors. And yes, you know that in the case of an emergency, oxygen masks are going to drop down. You should put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. Make sure to breathe normally even if you don't see the bag inflate.
But when you stop to think about it, one of those injunctions is actually counter-intuitive. If the cabin of the airplane began to fill with smoke, the oxygen masks would drop down all across the plane. Let's assume you are sitting between your ailing, 87-year-old mother and your sleeping, 4-year-old youngest child. In a split second decision, whose oxygen mask would you put on first? Unlike classic moral dilemmas, however, the answer is not obvious.
Put on your own mask first. Then help others (now you have to choose which family member to assist before the other).
The instruction to put on your own mask first seems obvious now, but in high pressure situations, our instincts kick in. We immediately go into helping mode, assisting others while ignoring the fact that our own lungs are filling with smoke. If we put our own masks on first, we can help both people sitting next to us. If we start with them first, there's a chance that we'll only be able to help one before we succumb to the smoke ourselves. In order for us to help others, we must see to our own needs first.
In Teach, Breathe, Learn, Meena Srinivasan shares a self-calming strategy using the acronym B-COOL. When facing serious disciplinary situations, teachers must first put on their own oxygen masks, in this case calming themselves, before having the capacity to help students with their emotional regulation. The five steps are listed below.
--Breathe. More than anything else, breathing is the most powerful and accessible tool at our disposal to help regulate our own emotions. Take three deep, slow breaths before jumping into the conflict. Deliberately taking a moment to breathe helps give you the separation you need so that you do not become engulfed or overwhelmed by the feelings of the students you are about to assist.
--Calm yourself down. As discussed yesterday (Day 27), sometimes we are thrown into a self-induced spiral of despair by the trigger thoughts that are shouting at us. Also, sometimes the shark music (also Day 27) is turned up too loud and we need to replace that soundtrack with something more idyllic.
--Know that the situation is Okay. This, along with the next two steps, is the essence of mindfulness. As discussed on Day 16, mindfulness is an awareness and acceptance of the present moment. What is happening is already happening and it will be alright. You shouldn't stress about an event that has already occurred.
--Observe what is happening inside. Instead of ignoring or minimizing the thoughts and fears creeping up inside of you, step back and observe them objectively. They aren't you, they are simply your feelings. As simple as this sounds, it's vital to separate your emotions from your identity.
--Hold it with Love. The natural resolution of mindfulness is to accept your natural reaction as it is. So you want to yell at Susie because this is the third time in ten minutes that she's called out the answer in class. That's a natural reaction. Hold it with love, but choose a better response instead. By accepting your first instinct, you can take a moment to choose whether or not it should be acted upon.
In Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond provides a different acronym to use when your emotions get triggered. SODA, which stands for Stop, Observe, Detach, and Awaken, is a tool that teachers can use to put on their own emotional oxygen masks before trying to put on the oxygen masks of their students.
--Stop. When an incident occurs, our reaction is to immediately intervene. Instead, we should do the opposite. If we pause for a moment instead of instantly responding, we give ourselves space to make sure we are ready to approach the situation with care.
--Observe. Take a deep breath (or three) and count to ten. Give yourself a considerable space to not only quiet your own inner turmoil but take a look around. You might have seen a pencil fly across the room and went into an immediate rage. Yet what happened before that? Was there a reason the pencil was thrown?
--Detach. Remember that this incident is not about you. The behavior you are witnessing and that has already occurred is (probably) not about you. Instead, shift your thoughts to a more pleasant or inspirational image or narrative. Choose to enter the situation with lightness and serenity rather than being dragged in against your will by the strong emotions of others.
--Awaken. Shift your perspective to the other people involved. As an extension of the Observe step, think about what they hope to gain from the interaction. Is there a short-term goal they have, regardless of whether or not throwing a pencil is a feasible method of obtaining that goal? When we can see the feelings of others without being controlled by them, we are ready to enter the disciplinary moment.
Finally, Dr. Becky Bailey in Conscious Discipline offers yet another set of steps to help calm yourself in tense situations. Using a sequence of "I" statements, teachers can move through the following steps in short order to ensure that they are not overwhelmed by their own feelings.
--"I am..." First, we feel angry, sad, upset, disappointed, or some other variation. Rather than fight it, accept the initial response. I am angry. I am sad.
--"I calm..." Next, breathe and notice your internal state. Let the emotions bubble up and exist instead of pretending that they are invalid. Before shifting from them, you must take a few deep breaths and acknowledge your feelings.
--"I feel..." Identify the feeling but shift the verb. Instead of saying, "I am angry," say, "I feel angry." This slight adjustment is the first step in calming yourself. Feeling angry is natural but it doesn't define you. You might feel angry, but you are not anger.
--"I choose..." Now that you've separated the emotion from your identity, relax and choose a different approach. Reframe the problem so that you can approach it without threatening your identity. You might feel angry, but are going to choose to not bring that anger into the situation.
--"I solve..." With inner calm, you can now address the problem itself. You can work with the student or students to solve the situation, looking for win-win solutions rather than doling out punishments.
No matter which method or hybrid you choose to employ, calming yourself is the first step in taking charge of the moment. If you don't put your own oxygen mask on first, you'll most likely suffer the consequences and be unable to complete the task before you succumb to the smoke of your students' emotions. Make sure you are ready to enter the fray by self-regulating. If you can take a moment to do this, you have a much better chance of helping those around you.
Action: Review the three sequences above (BCOOL, SODA, and I am...). Choose the one you think would work best for you and write the steps down on an index card. Keep the card on your desk, ready to reference when you need it.
Reflection questions: Have you reacted instinctively in disciplinary situations rather than calming yourself first? What was the result? How would self-regulating have changed both the dynamics of the interaction and the outcome?
Bailey, R. A. (2015). Conscious discipline: building resilient classrooms. Oviedo, FL: Loving Guidance.
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.
Srinivasan, M. (2014). Teach, breathe, learn: mindfulness in and out of the classroom. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press.
To read Day 29, click here.