Safe & Civil Schools Newsletter
Just about everywhere, school is out for the summer. Teachers around the country are enjoying sunny, carefree days—no more tests, no papers to correct, no more misbehaving students. Life is stress free!
So, why talk about relieving stress now?
While it is true that stress management is especially appropriate when a student’s behavior is upsetting and distracting, it is also appropriate to think about dealing with stress, and setting up a plan to rein it in, before you find yourself in the throes of tension. Summer is the ideal time to relax and think about strategies to reduce your stress levels, and to rehearse relaxation techniques so that, during the school year when you need them, you will have a practiced set of strategies to call upon.
The following menu of stress reduction techniques provides a series of procedures to consider when you’re dealing with the daily pressures of teaching.
In this article, I’d like to focus on the first in the list. Learning this physical skill is a useful way to deal with the pressures of teaching. If you practice deep muscle relaxation every day now, by the time school starts in September, you will be able to put your body into a relaxed state quickly and easily.
Tension and relaxation are at opposite ends of a continuum used to describe the physical state of muscles in your body. Learning to keep your muscles in a relaxed state can help you improve your performance no matter what you are doing—hobbies, teaching, or learning. Consciously focusing on staying relaxed gives you the added benefit of using less energy to accomplish the same tasks, meaning you will be less tired at the end of the day.
Though people tend to associate tension with a state of mind, it is also related to the physical state of the body. As teachers respond to the pressures of the day, muscles can become more and more tense. Physical tension can drain your energy until patience wears thin and little is accomplished. As stress builds, it becomes more difficult to keep classroom problems in perspective. This carries over into the rest of life and has a major impact on general health and well-being.
Relaxation is not a mystical phenomenon. It simply involves knowing how to relax your muscles. However, learning this physical skill is like learning any new skill. It requires daily practice. Like learning to ride a bike, it is initially awkward and may be difficult to use during stressful interactions. However, once learned, deep muscle relaxation can be a valuable lifelong skill. Learning to relax can increase your effectiveness with students, your enjoyment of teaching, and your appreciation of each day.
To begin, you must first learn how to tense and relax your muscles:
Note that the tension level goes up when you make a fist and then drops to a lower level of tension as you release the fist. By consciously tensing and relaxing your muscles, you can learn to reduce tension throughout your body.
Next, schedule daily practice sessions. Plan to practice deep muscle relaxation at specific times of day so that you can begin to make the process more natural and beneficial. Conduct these sessions in a quiet place, as free from interruptions as possible. Try to fit in one to three sessions daily for three to five minutes each.
And finally, you may find it easier (especially at the beginning) to practice relaxation exercises by following a script like the one below.
Think about the muscles in your feet. Slowly tense those muscles. Hold for five seconds. Now slowly let those muscles relax. Let the muscles release until they are more relaxed than when you started. Focus your attention on how those muscles now feel.
Now do the same thing with your calves. Slowly tense those muscles. Hold for five seconds. Now slowly let those muscles relax. Feel how relaxed your calves and feet are in this relaxed state.
Focus on your thighs. Slowly tense those muscles. Hold for five seconds. Gradually let go of the tension. Take 10 seconds. Feel how relaxed your legs and feet are.
Now concentrate on your lower torso—stomach, lower back, and seat. Slowly tense those muscles. Hold for five seconds. Gradually let go of the tension until there’s no more tension in your lower torso. Feel how relaxed your lower body is. Pay special attention to your lower back. Let those muscles release.
Now concentrate on your hands and arms. Make fists. Tighten your biceps and triceps. Hold for five seconds. Gradually release. Let the tension go. Let the muscles go until they are more relaxed than when you started.
Focus on your neck, shoulders, and chest. Gradually tense up. Hold for five seconds. Release.
Concentrate on the muscles in your face. Close your eyes as tightly as possible. Scrunch up your face. Hold for five seconds. Now let go. Relax those muscles. Don’t frown. Don’t smile. Simply relax the muscles in your face.
Now take a few moments to concentrate on your breathing. Breathe easy and evenly. Each time you exhale, think about letting the tension in your muscles dissolve away. Take 10 seconds. Think about how relaxed your body feels. Take a moment to enjoy the sensation and be aware that you can recreate this relaxed state at any time.
Now begin the rest of your day.
You may wish to make an audiotape of your script and play it during your daily practice sessions, or you may prefer to read through the script, following each instruction as you read it.
In the script above, the relaxation process begins with the feet and progresses up to the head, but you may wish to experiment by reversing the order, going from head to feet. There is no right or correct way to practice this skill. Your objective is to learn to relax the muscles of your body, and thus reduce tension.
With practice and experience, you will be able to use this skill without depending on scripts or tapes. You can then use deep muscle relaxation while sitting in meetings, while standing in a checkout line at a store, or while waiting for your students to return from lunch. Once the skill is mastered, you will be able to achieve a relaxed state within 10 to 30 seconds.
So, find yourself a comfortable chair, sit back, and begin the relaxation exercise.
—Excerpt from Interventions: Evidence-Based Behavioral Strategies for Individual Students
Additional De-Stressing Tips
This article describes just one of the stress reduction techniques outlined in Interventions. We encourage you to read Intervention Q – Relaxation and Stress Management, which is designed to help the classroom teacher deal with frustration, burnout, and out-of-control classrooms. The Interventions book includes additional strategies for dealing with chronic or severe student misbehavior.
For more information about stress and how to deal with it, consider one or two of these sites:
Noted educator, Leah Davies, M.Ed., has written a one-page inventory, Coping with Stress – Tips for Educators, in which she delineates steps we can take to increase our emotional strength and resilience, thus enabling us to manage stress more effectively.
A visit to the Mayo Clinic Stress Center might be an excellent way to develop a stress management program. On this multipage site, you will find information about stress awareness (what is stress and how do you identify it?) and stress prevention strategies.
Author and educator Joy Jones has written a short, entertaining article about how she reduces professional stress through journaling, quiet time, and creativity.
A final article on Stress Management for Teachers offers a short list of steps educators can take during the day to relieve stress.
Take our survey — Tell us what you think about stress in education. Go to our website and take our survey! We'll let you know the results in our next newsletter!
Our annual Safe & Civil Schools National Conference ended last week to rave reviews! Here's a quick recap...
This year, 310 educators from across the U.S. and Canada arrived at the Hilton Portland to attend our National Conference. Our roll of presenters increased to 13 and enabled us to broaden our content scope with offerings in areas such as bullying prevention and the delivery of instruction.
Participants came from 29 states and 4 provinces: Alberta, Arizona, British Columbia, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Ontario, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
A broad range of educators attended. Here's a partial list: Teachers, Instructional Coaches, School Psychologists, Counselors, Principals, Assistant Principals, Area Directors and Coordinators, Behavior Specialists, Curriculum Directors and Facilitators, Deans, Title IV Coordinators, Superintendents, Assistant Superintendents, Prevention & Safe School Specialists, Special Education Supervisors and Coordinators, Staff Development Coordinators, Student Services personnel...
In many of our conference sessions, we ask participants to jot down a "best idea" as they leave the session — something from the presentation that struck them as particularly applicable or effective. Here's a smattering of what you wrote:
To identify the bullies in a classroom, ask all students to write down the names of children they consider to be bullies. Anonymity is essential if you want the children to be honest. —From Bully Blockers
Be proactive. The sooner the teacher and the school start to work with a student, the greater the likelihood for a positive change in behavior. —From RTI
Most valuable tool in the box – Listening actively! —From ADR
The moment you begin to argue with a child is the moment you begin to lose. —From Tough Kid
The "red flag" process is a great starting point for Interventions teams. —From Interventions
At the end of each session, we ask participants to complete an evaluation. We use your comments to check on our performance – how did we do and how can we make it better. You said:
Thank you for bringing this essential training to educators in a way that allows learning to really “soak in.” This content is so needed by all of our country’s schools for teachers and kids! I’m very excited about being part of the district team that will be assisting with training and implementation.
Gave me training tips and strategies I plan to use.
Excellent, well planned, well executed presentations!
Please keep both train-the-trainer and general sessions at future conferences. It’s nice to have TTT and get to see other things as well.
Conference schedule and food were well planned. Just the right amount of training time each day and healthy food options.
Now that the conference is over and we can breath again, the entire staff of Safe & Civil Schools would like to thank you all for attending and graciously sharing your experiences, your insights, and your camaraderie with us. We're already looking forward to our visits with you at next summer's conference in Eugene, Oregon!
Take our latest survey!
Is teaching an exceptionally stressful profession? Take our survey and you could win a copy of CHAMPs!
You can also visit our website to find the results of our survey on class size.
Thought you'd like to know...
Next summer, our annual conference will be held in Eugene instead of Portland. Come visit us in our hometown and discover a different side of Oregon!
SCS Fall Conferences
Randy Sprick will be in Humble and San Antonio, Texas this fall with a combined seminar—two back-to-back one-day workshops, one day on CHAMPs and the next day on Interventions.
On November 4 & 5, Randy will be in Humble, Texas.
On November 6 & 7, he will be in San Antonio, Texas.
Sign up for the first day (CHAMPs) or the second day (Interventions), OR register for both days and save!
Registration information will be posted on our website later this summer.
Latest Releases from Pacific Northwest Publishing
We are pleased to announce three new releases from our publisher, Pacific Northwest Publishing.
Visit the Pacific Northwest Publishing website to order your copy of Bully Blockers and to find out more about the availability of both DVD programs!
Randy Sprick and Safe & Civil Schools consultants continue to provide presentations across the country. Some of these include open registration. Registration may be limited and/or may involve a fee. Contact information is provided for each on our website.
All of us at Safe & Civil Schools hope you are enjoying a relaxing and invigorating summer and we look forward to working with you in the fall!