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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and author of Meditation in the College Classroom: A Pedagogical Tool to Help Students De-Stress, Focus,...
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Teachers: A “New” Way to Respond to Stressful Situations in the Classroom

Teaching can be frustrating, stressful, and high-pressure. Teachers are always “on.”

They must constantly respond and interact throughout the school day with students. There is little room to breathe.

But that’s exactly what is needed.

The technique I’m about to share with you can be life-changing, professionally, and personally.

First, some context. Teaching can trigger the fight-or-flight response, sometimes many times in the course of a school day. What this means is a teacher’s mind and body are reacting as if faced with some physical threat or danger. This is ok if you were being chased by a wild animal in the forest but not healthy in the classroom.

Triggering this response can cause high levels of stress. Reacting also is not the best response to students as it will be infused with anger, stress, and other negative emotions.

The alternative involves meeting teacher situations with a creative response, operating from a space of restful; awareness, where you can move ahead with compassion and mindfulness.

How exactly do you do this during the process of teaching? I’ll offer up two methods:

Three Breaths

This is a variation of a technique recommended for teachers by mindfulness expert Patricia Jennings. When you are beginning to feel stress or overwhelmed, pause and take, three long, slow breaths. When first practicing, you can put your hand on your abdomen and feel it rise on the inhalation and fall on the exhalation. As she advises “feel the flow of the air as it fills your body from your nose to the bottom of the lungs. Repeat this three times.” From there, feel how your body feels and proceed. You can implement this technique throughout the school day or perhaps when faced with a stressful situation in the classroom.


Spiritual expert Deepak Chopra recommends the acronym STOP to help you respond, rather than react, to situations and challenges:

S- Stop what you are doing.

T- Take a few deep breaths

O- Observe your body and smile

P- Proceed with compassion, kindness, and awareness

This technique is similar to Jenning’s method, emphasizing the importance of pausing when you feel a reaction coming and taking some breaths. He adds that smiling can change the chemistry of the body. I also like the idea of proceeding with compassion and kindness. This helps you consider responding more positively to every situation and others involved.

How might the STOP method look in the classroom? Imagine a child causes a major disruption, yelling out, knocking over items on their desk, etc. Your first reaction might be to yell, to act aggressively, to “punish” the student. But often, this makes matters worse. Instead, you pause, take a few deep breaths and smile, observe the sensations in the body, and proceed with compassion. Calmly, you might interact with the child, first trying to determine what caused he or she to act that way. With kindness, you might realize the best thing to do is give the student some space, perhaps some time in another part of the classroom. Later, when the student is calm, you could take about their actions and discuss what might be appropriate consequences or a new plan of action going forward. This is a whole new outcome for both teacher and student—and the teacher doesn’t trigger a stress response, ruining their whole day, and possibly impacting their health and well-being.

Practicing one of the above Pause techniques will make you more aware of your responses and reduce the impulse to react. Over time, it could change your entire teaching experience.

With Peace and Meditativeness,