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Control your emotional brain

Let’s go over a few key points that were discussed in the audio seminar you have just listened to.

What strategies can we use to teach students how to manage their raw emotions and enable them to access their rational brain?

Role model for emotional control

Show your students how you calm your emotional brain. Make it explicit to them that you count to ten calmly, try to control your breathing, take a step back, walk outside or repeat a mantra to yourself. Map these on the wall or share them with the students you are working with. Then they get an insight into how successful learners manage their own behaviour.

Explain your frustrations assertively

“I walked away from the situation because I was feeling cross. I gave myself time to think and work out what I was going to say to you. Now we need to have a polite conversation about…”

Examine some of your most basic routines

At the end of instructions, instead of asking if everyone understands and are there any questions, try, “Please ask questions now if there is anything I haven’t explained properly.” This makes it easier for students to ask for clarification without feeling or being made to feel foolish.

Ask yourself if there is an area in your room where children can see the strategies mapped out?

Other strategies we can use to control our emotions and model behaviour for children

  1. Verbalise the behaviour you want to see. Make it explicit in words, with actions or with notices around the laboratory, workshop or classroom. Don’t make the students guess the desired behaviours.
  2. Exercise your empathy frequently and vigorously. Remind yourself what it’s like to be a student in your class. It is inappropriate to see their reactions as adult and treat them as adults.
  3. Find a private space for conversations, particularly when you are feeling emotionally raw. If you need to speak to a student about their conduct either draw them to the side of the lab/workshop/classroom or get down to eye level so that the intervention is private.
  4. Create your own ritual for withdrawing from a conversation when your frustration takes over.
  5. When you intervene, focus on attacking the behaviour, not the child’s character.

What should you do if you lose control of your own emotional brain?

  • Explain why you ‘fell off the wagon’
  • Apologise. Be open and frank with the students. You are, after all, modelling what you want them to do.
  • Tell them what you have learned from the situation and how you are going to address your behaviour in the future.

Examine your own practice

Look out for…

  1. The tendency to make instant assumptions about students based on their emotional maturity and their emotional reactions. Remember, the Amygdala is not fully mature until 25 years old.
  2. The assumption that students will be able to empathise with your own emotional issues. Rather, explain your conflicting emotions and how you are planning to deal with them.
  3. Labeling. We all have a private voice inside us which tells us unhelpful things about a group or situation, so you are looking for the triggers which will start off your anger, frustration and irritation - and in fact some teachers look for the positives in front of the learners, only to be negative later in the staff room - this is unsustainable and can reinforce unhelpful stereotypes or labels of groups of pupils or individuals.

‘What is it like to be taught by you?’

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This article is from the free online course:

Managing Behaviour for Learning

National STEM Learning Centre