Kids and Teens

Three ways to increase student well-being and reduce stress

Three ways to increase student well-being and reduce stress

How a sixth-grade teacher fosters student wellness by stressing self-reflection, service, and safe stretch. I have been an educator for 30 years and currently teach a sixth-grade class in Diamond Bar, California, as part of the Pomona Unified School District. All of us – teachers, students, parents, and administrators – struggle with our mental challenges, stress, and anxieties. There has been an increased focus on relieving some of these tensions through mindfulness lessons, meditation, and other social and emotional interventions. To help build empathy and kindness in the classroom, I’ve developed several ways to address everyone’s social and emotional well-being.

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Three Strategies for the Welfare of Teachers and Students

Mindful Mondays: 

First, address students’ mental health by helping them feel a sense of calm and focus. There are many web resources for breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, and affirmation practice phrases, such as Belly Breathing, Rainbow Breathing, and Mindfulness Meditation for Kids. I have reserved Monday mornings as mindful Mondays to focus on these practices.

Students learn to use breathing techniques to calm down and focus, progressing to mindful breathing and mindful meditation. After they can focus, I ask them to practice reciting self-affirming phrases like the ones found here and in this video. This has helped many of my students feel better and more optimistic about their future.

Every year, I have very negative students about themselves and their potential. With Mindful Mondays, little by little, I have been able to guide them to be less harmful. Students use this time for meditation as a form of self-reflection. Practicing these skills has increased their willingness to take risks, which has led to improved academic performance. Mindful Mondays are a calm, peaceful, and relaxing way to start the week.

Thoughtful Tuesdays: 

The second strategy is one I started this year based on an idea from my wife, who teaches fifth grade. Thoughtful Tuesdays, which focuses on making thoughtfulness and kindness a part of our routine. This is a great way to build community as students take the time to realize that we all have a role in building a solid community in the classroom. Astute Tuesdays focus on living gratefully for the service others have shown, by showing notes, emails, or verbal claims, in the following ways:

  • Students to a learner for something a scholar has done for them
  • Student to student, offering a thoughtful message or phrase of encouragement.
  • Student to a trainee in other classes to create sounder relationships in a larger grade level district
  • Students with other staff members to develop better relationships in a larger school community
  • Students to former teachers to thank them for their part in helping students be who they are today.
  • Students to their parents, guardians, or siblings for an act of kindness done for them, to build family relationships.

Additionally, students write notes to themselves for acts of kindness they had done for others and email me examples of classmates who had shown acts of service to others when no one was looking. I recognize this as showing that others have seen their acts of kindness and appreciate them. Students also write terms of affirmation and proof on other students’ reports and projects using sticky letters. Students who have received these thoughtful messages have been grateful and feel a sense of validation. They think they are making a difference and are appreciated for their actions.

Feel Safe Fridays: 

The third strategy addresses the student’s feeling of being in a safe place, such as during restorative circle time or in the safe space of our classroom. Restorative Circles are highly effective at building relationships within the school and begin with a safe and supportive environment. We usually have our rotation period on Fridays. Some are longer with specific goals, while others are shorter with a short topic of thanks and complaints. Additionally, there is a safe space in part of my classroom that is dedicated to students who need personal time. It has a couch, stress-relieving items like stress balls and fidgets, and books to color or read. It is a non-judgmental space where students can take a personal break.

There is also an emotion chart where students can change their mental health color from green for “pretty good” to red for “I need some space.” Students can choose to share with me why they changed their color via email, a note, verbally, or not at all. This benefits the student by taking a break and helps prevent the teacher from becoming frustrated with that student for not participating in her learning.

As you create a routine around Mindful Mondays, Thoughtful Tuesdays, and Feel-Safe Fridays, you’ll see that students are excited about making thoughtfulness a habit. When they are guided to be more considerate of others. They learn to appreciate each other more and work better in collaborative groups. Having students who are nicer to each other leads to less conflict in the classroom. Which creates less stress for the teacher. These three strategies are a valuable part of my routine to decrease stress and anxiety and promote positivity and mental well-being for everyone.

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