Brianne Gidcumb | February 2016

Tips for Easing Student Anxiety

In teaching, you can’t do the Bloom stuff until you take care of the Maslow stuff.”- Alan Beck

This quote popped up in one of my social media feeds recently. It’s not often that I repost something, but this one, I did. It is crucial that we do what we can to help take care of our students most basic needs! The threat of stress and student anxiety in the classroom is very real among our students, potentially compromising the needs of the Maslow hierarchy: their health, their feelings of safety, of belonging, of esteem, and self-actualization.

Last month, in “Happy Teachers, Happy Students”, we discussed the importance of maintaining your physical and emotional health as an educator. The stress of teaching can take its toll, and we must be the healthiest versions of ourselves, in order to be best for our students. Today, we will take a look at ways we can help maintain the physical and emotional health of our students as well. Below, there are a few tips for fostering an environment of emotional health among our students struggling with student anxiety in the classroom.

Tips Include

  1. Set the example. Be transparent about the presence of student anxiety in the classroom, and share techniques and strategies for how you and others you know manage their stress. Often, there is a sense of shame that accompanies student anxiety. By sharing with our students (within reason) our own experiences of anxiety, and its very real presence in our world, we can help diffuse the stigma, allowing our students to seek means of relief.
  2. Foster a growth mindset. It is important that we as educators encourage our students to develop a growth mindset. In our culture of high-stakes testing and increasing rigor, students feel the pressure to succeed. By fostering that mentality of process-based learning, and by reinforcing with our students that everyone stumbles on the road to success, and that the most important characteristic for any learner is the desire to grow, we can create a safe environment for our students.
  3. Practice mindfulness. Give students permission to acknowledge their feelings of stress and worry, and practice techniques that work for them in alleviating that stress. You can even have students create a menu of options of how they might manage their anxiety when they find it necessary. This allows students to differentiate for themselves how to alleviate stress, while still maintaining productivity in the classroom.

Strategies That Can Help Student Anxiety

  • Daily Mantras: Have students write a mantra for the day on an index card/post-it, and keep it on their desk through the day.
  • Movement Breaks: Yoga breaks are a fantastic means of stress relief! You can see an example of what this looks like in a 2nd grade classroom HERE, but you can easily adapt for any grade level with a few simple poses.
  • Coloring: Coloring as a means of stress relief is a huge trend right now- tap into it! Provide coloring pages. You can even provide sheets that support content and concepts.
  • Listening: Create a listening corner where students can go, and listen to peaceful music if they feel stressed.
  • Arts-based differentiation: If students are struggling with a task, see if you can offer arts-based differentiation for the task, giving students a chance to express themselves creatively.
  • Role Play: Check out Deirdre’s article, Behavioral Literacy through Drama, for some wonderful ideas of how we can use the power of drama to help students understand behaviors and emotions.

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: