Calming the Beast: 4 Stories of Classroom Success

Calming the Beast: 4 Stories of Classroom Success

Last week in my Classroom Management course, my student teachers all chose a social or emotional skill to teach their class. The purpose for this is to help prevent behavior problems. Many children act out because they don’t have the ability to express themselves appropriately, to control their impulses or to calm down. By proactively teaching these skills, we can create a calmer classroom with more mature behavior.

I am going to highlight four of my students’ work because they had good insights into what the students in their classrooms needed and they came up with creative approaches to teaching the children how to calm down. It just so happens that all of them are working in first grade classrooms.
Soothing Sounds by Vanessa Sanchez: Every time after lunch, the students know they are suppose to enter the class room and put their heads down so they can relax. At this time the lights are turned off. When I first started my internship I saw how well each child listened to the instructions and how well they went with putting their heads down and relaxing. Lately, I was seeing students drawing or play with their pencils, as if a space ship were flying around their desk in slow motion. I decided to continue and follow up with their heads down because I did not want to change the skill that the students already knew. I just thought it would be a great idea to add in the soothing music for about two to three minutes.
The first day the kids came into the classroom and I told them to please put their heads down and relax. The lights were already turned off and I told them that I would like to show them something that will help them relax and calm down and it is called soothing music. I told them there will be times in which I will ask them what they heard and there will be times in which I will not ask them. I went on the SmartBoard and connected on to YouTube and played a relaxing piano piece. At first they began to smile and I could tell by their faces they began to enjoy it. The next day I searched on YouTube for relaxing/soothing music and I found one on river sounds.
The more I kept on reinforcing this new strategy, the more the students began to keep their heads down and they seemed more relaxed. It is as if the students look forward to hearing what I will play. Coming up from lunch some students would ask me, “I wonder what calming music you will show us.” With a smile on my face, I replied “I can’t tell you but I’m sure it will be something calm and relaxing.” I have seen how well it works for the entire class that I decided I will not just do it for a week. It is something that I will continue to do until my internship is done. 
Time to Think by Ibelis Gonzalez: In my class the children always seem to be extra noisy after lunch.  Because the weather has been cold, the first graders do not have a chance to go outside and are not permitted to use the gym for recess. They stay in the lunchroom for the whole forty-five minute period where they can basically be as loud as they want.  To get the children to relax and transition back to classroom time I created a stillness time when they return from the lunchroom. 
Before we go to the lunchroom I ask the children to give me a few topics that they will like to think about during relaxation time.  I put a few topics on the board and leave them there until we return. When we come back the children can pick one of the topics and think about it with their heads on their hands. The first time I did this I started with one minute but when I asked the children to pick up their heads they actually said “Ms. Gonzalez, that’s not enough time to think!”  I gave them two more minutes and decided to stay with the three minute period.  After we walk into the class and everyone settles down, we read the topics as a class, and then I start a timer and say “Ready, Set, Think!”  When the timer goes off, I use shuffle cards with each child’s name on them and randomly call on a few students to share what they were thinking.  After the children share what they were thinking their card goes to the bottom of the stack so this way each child will have a chance to share at least once a week.  
When I first started doing this I explained to the children that the topics they choose should be relaxing topics because the reason we are doing this activity every day after lunch is to relax our minds after we fed them. As a class the students discussed what kind of topics and scenarios would be considered relaxing. We also discussed that what one person may think is relaxing may not be the same for someone else. The children are not limited to choosing one of the topics on the white board; they are free to think about whatever they like. They are also free to just relax with their head down if that’s what they feel like doing for that three-minute time frame. This strategy has definitely made the transition smoother and also gives my cooperating teacher and myself a few moments to relax ourselves and prepare for the next lesson. 
Stillness Time by Vanessa Franco. Stillness Time is a skill that actually worked out perfectly because our weekly reading connection was based on imagination. Before I began this skill I had already taught the students to close their eyes after the reading to imagine the scenario of the current story. At times I would ask students to close their eyes as I read two pages. I would then ask them to open them. My children had done great in closing their eyes, maintaining quiet, and demonstrating a sense of using their imagination to visualize what we had just read. 
I was then able to incorporate this in the morning lesson right before our read aloud. I now approached the students with using the same technique of closing their eyes to not only imagine but to listen. The response of a few students was interesting. Some students responded with, “I can’t listen with my eyes closed” or “Closing your eyes is to imagine or dream only.” This was the point that I felt was difficult because I had to find a way to keep the children on task and convince them this was going to be just as fun. Eventually the students closed their eyes as I walked them through listening to the quietness of our class and the quietness of how well we are working together to feel relaxed as a whole class. Somehow, this skill had worked as planned. I began with the starting point of one minute to now starting at three minutes. Perhaps the use of imagination helped me enforce this skill!
Counting Breaths by Jessenia Acevedo.  A child I will call Victor is an eight-year-old boy in my first grade inclusion classroom. He is very bright and friendly, but when he is angry or bothered he is quick to become aggressive both verbally and physically. Most of the time, Victor is a charming student and has a lot of friends. He enjoys helping his classmates and loves working in groups, but if other students don’t agree with him he becomes angry and snaps at them.  After he reacts in an unkindly manner, he removes himself from the group and sits in a corner alone. 
I decided to help Victor to learn to control his outbursts and to keep his hands to himself.  One day I took Victor to the side and told him, “Victor you work well with your friends and you always help others when they ask you for help. That is excellent but sometimes you lose control and yell at your friends or hit them, how do you think that makes them feel?”  Victor responded, “I know. It’s just sometimes I get frustrated and I yell at them. They don’t listen to me.”  I told Victor that I wanted to help and would like for him to try a technique to control his frustration.  Victor was very excited and was willing to try this new deep breathing exercise.  
I explained to Victor that being able to control your breath is the easiest and most effective way to keep calm. I told him that whenever he felt himself getting frustrated or angry, to think of a number from one to ten, say it aloud, and take that many amount of breaths to help keep him calm. If he was really angry then he would have a high number of deep breaths to take and if he was not so angry then he would take a fewer amounts of breaths. I modeled this technique with him and role-played a few situations with him by using the flower and candle method.  
Victor did well during the role play but when a real situation occurred he still had outbursts. The first two days I stood close to Victor when he was at group and when I saw that he was growing frustrated I shouted a number and he began to take deep breaths. At the end of the day, Victor said “Ms. Jessenia that felt good. It really relaxed me and I didn’t yell.” On the third day, Victor had an incident with one of his classmates and he shouted “Ms. Jessenia – Seven!” And he took seven deep breaths. I walked over to him and gave him a high five. The following day, Victor was taking breaths on his own every time he had a situation where he felt he was feeling frustrated. When he did react in an inappropriate way he said “I apologize” right away and added, “I’ll count to 10 next time!”  By the end of the week, Victor was controlling his frustration by the deep breathing exercise and was extremely proud of himself.  
I want to deeply thank my student teachers for sharing these ideas. How about you? Please share in the comments any ideas you’ve tried for keeping your classroom calm!

Need more advice? Check out The Positive Classroom book for more ideas, techniques, and strategies!