A change in the weather, an upcoming event, a minor shift in the daily schedule–every teacher knows that sometimes it takes very little to get kids riled up and to turn a normally well-ordered class into a madhouse. At times like this, getting anything productive accomplished can feel like an exercise in futility. Instead, sometimes it’s better just to ditch the routine and give the kids (and yourself) a chance to pull it together–a chance to hit the reset button. Here are a few strategies to get your class back on track when the day gets crazy.
1. A two-minute tidy
Ever look up and wonder when a herd of buffalo stampeded through your classroom without you noticing? Paper and pencils are all over the floor. Jackets have fallen off the backs of desks. A chair has tipped over. Supplies are lying around. Backpacks have drifted into the aisles. Your classroom isn’t just messy. It’s quite possible a safety hazard. That’s when it’s time to stop everything and call for a two-minute tidy. Set a timer or play some fun music, and tell your students that at the sound of the alarm or the end of the song, you expect to see the floor clear, desktops tidy, and everything in its place. It’s amazing what kids can accomplish in a short time. And that quick burst of energy followed by the soothing sight of a well-ordered environment can have a tremendous calming reset effect on everyone.
2. A call for silence
When my son was in preschool, his teacher began every story time with a moment of silence. One student was asked to hold up the silence wand to get everyone’s attention. Then the child in charge would turn the wand over. Everyone had to be perfectly quiet until all the glitter floated to the bottom. The effect was nothing short of magical. The children weren’t just quiet. They were mesmerized and calmed—which made proceeding with story time much easier. For older children, an hour (or five-minute) glass would likely have the same effect. A set of these two-minute timers could also be a great way to help individual students or an entire class learn to sit still and be quiet.
3. Shout it out!
On the other hand, sometimes what kids need to calm down isn’t silence, but to let go of some frustration. When you sense your class is struggling with a lesson or overwhelmed with the hecticness of the day, try letting them blow off some steam vocally. It’s probably best to give the other teachers in your hall a heads-up and/or take this activity outside, but try giving your class a word, phrase, or sentence that they can shout to unleash all their pent-up frustration. WE DO NOT LIKE SPELLING TESTS! THIS DAY IS TOO LONG! WE NEED A BREAK NOW! Or simply, Arrghhhhhhhh!!! Seriously, try it. You and your kids will be amazed at how good it feels.
4. Sing it like you mean it
When it comes to banishing a bad mood, nothing, absolutely nothing, works better or faster than singing. I admit, that sometimes it can take some cajoling and positive peer pressure to get everyone to participate, but when an entire class sings along to Sweet Caroline, Party in the USA, September, I Will Survive, or any of these other school-appropriate songs, your entire day will definitely get better.
5. Try some art therapy.
I have zero artistic talent, and I am obsessed with this website. There are dozens of drawing and coloring projects for kids arranged by subject, grade, season, or artist. So tell your class that if they are going to act like little monsters, they can just draw them. Or maybe you want them to be as sweet as kittens or as quiet as mice. Whatever you decide to have them draw, they will have fun, and you will get a few minutes of blessed peace and quiet and some cute drawings to brighten your classroom. It’s a win/win!
6. Fill each other’s bucket.
There are a lot of resources available to teach students to be bucket-fillers. But my favorite activity is to simply give each child a bucket, have them put their name on it, and then pass their papers around for the other kids to write down compliments. Of course, before returning students’ papers, I take them up and read each one to be sure no one has written anything unkind and to be sure every child gets plenty of positive comments. But this has rarely been an issue. Every time I have done this my students have risen to the occasion and found something kind to write about everyone in the class.
7. Reset the mood with the power of a story.
Kids of every age love a good story. On rough days, why not treat your students and yourself to a little downtime to reset with a good book? Better yet, dim the lights, let everyone find a comfy spot, turn on an audiobook, and let someone else do the reading so you can relax too.
8. Declare a get-it-done hour.
The school day is busy. Sometimes classroom stress is the result of everyone feeling overwhelmed. On particularly rough days, there is nothing wrong with taking a break from your usual routine to reset and let everyone do the things they need to do–clean out their binder, study, organize their notes, or maybe even just read. And this goes for the teacher too. Organize your desk. Grade some papers. Return some emails. Any lost instruction time will be more than made up for when both you and your students are less stressed and more productive.
As teachers, sometimes we can get so caught up in sticking to the schedule or covering all the material that we don’t even realize our nerves are shot and our class is unraveling until somebody (maybe the teacher) loses it. Before that happens, it’s better if we find ways to hit the reset button to improve the class’s mood and stress level. When we do this, everyone is happier and more productive.