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Classroom Management, Teaching Tips & Tricks, Truth for Teachers Collective   |   Jan 14, 2024

10 common problems and layered strategies for supporting dysregulated students

By Amy Stohs

2nd Grade

10 common problems and layered strategies for supporting dysregulated students

By Amy Stohs

It’s 8:28 am and you’re trying to make sure that the four chair bouncy bands around chairs are still with the correct four desks for those students who need to bounce their feet.

Sandra comes into the classroom before you can step outside to greet her, and she immediately starts telling you all about her weekend as she hangs up her backpack. Jordan, who you wish would talk to you a little, walks in sullenly and sulks at their desk with their backpack still on. You try to finish listening to Sandra but are relieved when Meg comes in and can continue the conversation. You walk over to Jordan to ask, “How’s your day going? Do you want to talk about anything?” You hear, rather than see, Dan and Jack come into the room literally bounding on all fours and neighing like horses.

Instead of getting to the root problem of Jordan’s morning, you take Dan and Jack outside to be able to discuss the appropriate way to enter a classroom and let them try again. Brody says something rude to his brother before entering the room and immediately sinks into the bean bag, and you have no idea what transpired between them in the morning. You are torn between greeting students at the door (like you’re supposed to because greeting kids can reduce behaviors throughout the day) or helping Brody right now so that he doesn’t have an outburst later (which you’ve experienced and know is likely).

Many other students walk in nicely and chat with friends as they get ready, but you hardly notice as you try to solve emotional problems that started before your school day even began.

You manage to get everyone ready to learn and start the day with a good morning meeting. The next couple of hours pass by alright with typical, minor problems. When you pick students up from lunch, however, there are a whole host of other issues. Someone didn’t listen to the monitor and stood on their chair. Someone else threw the corn out of their salad and all over someone else’s lunch in their haste and disgust.

You convene the class to discuss, yet again, appropriate lunchroom behavior; everyone seems to understand and agree with you. You purposely take a brain break before the social studies lesson, but students are calling out before you can get to the main idea. Someone is blocking someone else on the carpet; someone else brought a pencil and is jabbing a classmate and calling it an accident.

By the end of the day, students are wired and wild and can’t listen to your read-aloud which you painstakingly chose to be interesting. You manage to share highlights of the day in a closing circle for the last five minutes before the bell. Then, students are trying to entertain themselves for another 15 minutes as you wait for the final buses to come since runs take so long due to bus driver shortages. You’re spent as they leave, but they literally run down the hallway as a patrol tells them to walk.

It seems like no matter how many strategies you implement, how much time you allow for brain breaks and meditation, how many fidgets you allow, how many times you email parents, how much you discuss in class meetings how to meet expectations, and how much energy you put into solutions … it’s never enough.

I hear you. The scenarios listed above are not imaginary. While I changed names and minor details, this is my teaching life as a 2nd-grade teacher. Some days, I am truly exhausted by students. It does seem at moments (or even for a week or two at a time) that nothing I’m doing is making a difference in student behavior.

In the grand scheme of a year, though, I do see improvements or changes in behavior. I can sense what helps me on my best days. My great days are not free of challenging behaviors; no day as a teacher has zero interruptions, zero need for redirection, zero conflict between students. I think teachers have been saying for years that students are more active, seem to have undiagnosed or diagnosed ADD/ADHD, have difficulty focusing, are emotionally dysregulated, and struggle to calm down and readjust. This is a problem that’s facing teachers as a whole, but here are the ideas that seem to be helping me the most.

I would encourage you to approach these solutions with the Swiss Cheese Model in mind that Angela discusses here. These solutions are not one-size-fits-all, one-and-done, checklist-type strategies. You will need more than one solution to a problem, and you’ll need to layer those solutions. It’s important to have multiple strategies for each problem so that you can move on to a new solution when one stops being as effective. Layering solutions allow you to swap out strategies throughout the year.

The Swiss Cheese Model: Letting go of “all or nothing” thinking

One thing I have noticed about students with increased frequencies of behaviors is that they need different things throughout the different seasons of the school year. Sometimes, just specific praise works. Other times, an intense behavior plan is needed. Then, when that behavior plan feels too stale, it’s time to shake things up with a different plan.

I’m listing multiple solutions to common struggles in the classroom with the idea that you can do more than one strategy when needed. If the behavior increases, add another strategy and/or double down on what you were doing a month ago but had lessened. This list can serve as a set of reminders of strategies you probably already know and therefore you can draw from this for ideas to implement when you get worn down by the ongoing issues in your classroom.

Try something different, and you’ll feel like you are taking action which is a powerful motivator in and of itself. You’re in control of the strategies you choose to use, and you can make a difference.

Here are the 10 issues I’m discussing in case you want to jump down to one that stands out to you.

  1. Calling out
  2. Fidgety bodies
  3. Emotional regulation
  4. Focused attention
  5. Following directions and creating consistent habits
  6. A few students pull your attention away or are constantly seeking connections
  7. Other students are frustrated
  8. Need more space and activity
  9. Impact is from home
  10. You’re personally overburdened

1. Problem: Calling out

Strategies: Take a Break, Buddy Classroom Break, Reteach/Clarify Procedures, Repeat Procedure

  • Reteach procedures: At the beginning of the year, you will teach procedures such as raising your hand. If you skipped explicitly telling students when they need to raise their hand vs. when they are allowed to call out, take the time to do that. One of the most confusing things for students is when you are (probably unintentionally) confusing in your expectations. If you’re validating responses when some students are calling out and then getting upset when other students call out, you are not clear in your expectations. Likewise, if you are sometimes encouraging students to shout out answers and just share openly without raising hands but then other times you are telling them they should always raise their hands, that’s frustrating. Take the time to get clear on when you want students to just call out. Is there a particular activity? Can you point to the class with open hands to show them it’s their turn? Can you explicitly say “you can call out ideas” for certain times you’ll accept those responses? Will you accept calling out in a small group only?
  • Repeat procedure: When a student calls out, immediately respond, “What do you do when you have something to share?” or “Show me what it looks like when you want to share.” If expectations are clear, they will say “raise my hand” or they will actively raise their hand. You can tell them to “try again.” Then have them raise their hand, call on them, and then validate their response. In this way, you are re-training their body and mind to follow the procedure. If you keep this up, you should not have to repeat it frequently.
  • Take a break is a Responsive Classroom practice. I have found Responsive Classroom to be extremely helpful. I send kids on Take a Break as a response to calling out or being disruptive. At the beginning of the year, I read aloud the book, “When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry” and explain how Sophie is able to calm down when she focuses on nature and gets away from the upsetting scene. While students can’t climb a tree and hide, they can find a comfy spot in the classroom (I have a bouncy ball and a child-size beach chair) and practice breathing techniques. I have other tools in my take-a-break spot: a whiteboard to write down their feelings and wipe away because feelings come and go, a stress ball, a glitter wand that can act as a timer. I explain how to use these tools. We also learn about the different parts of the brain. We can get upset and not be able to be as focused in the decision-making center of our brain at the front which is like being the driver of a car. You want to be the driver of your own car. I explain that when you’re making a choice that’s showing you’re distracted or you’re distracting others, you need to take a break to get back in the driver’s seat. Later in the year, I often just have to look at a kid and they tell me, “I’ll go take a break.” You can read more from Responsive Classroom about this system here.
  • Buddy classroom break: Similar to taking a break in the classroom, students can also take a break in a buddy teacher’s room. If you have a teacher who’s next door whether they teach the same grade as you or not, try to build a system between you where if you need a break from a student, they can go take a break in the other teacher’s room. Similarly, you can be a safe space for a student who needs to take a break in your room. Often, students do not want to take a break in another classroom. I’ve had students really struggle with accepting the consequence of behavior to go to another room. I persist in this agreed-upon consequence and follow through, and it truly helps prevent repeat behaviors in the classroom. It also gives me a chance to clear my head while they are away so that I can appropriately discuss behavior with them later. If you have never tried this, I would highly recommend it. Here is an article about Buddy Teachers to learn more.

2. Problem: Fidgety bodies

Strategies: Chair Bands, Take a Break, Calm Strips or Velcro Dots, Weighted lap bands, Chair Push Up, Chair Pull Up, Wall Push Ups, Hallway Break, Brain Breaks, Classroom Jobs, Classroom Games

  • Take a break: There are several logical consequences you choose in response to behavior, but taking a break is useful for many of the typical disruptions to “classroom management.” If a student is talking when they are not supposed to be, distracted and not focused, doing a preferred task over the expected activity, take a break is a great strategy. See problem #1 for more explanation.
  • Classroom jobs: I love my classroom job system. I had always used a job system, but this was one thing the 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club helped me improve. I keep jobs for a month or two at a time and students apply for them, so it works really well to have an active job that a student is motivated to do. Some of my favorite jobs to assign my active students are:
    • Bouncer — student answers the phone for me, answers the door, closes the door as needed, turns on/off lights
    • Messenger — student is a buddy to go to the clinic, take something to the office, etc.
    • Paper Passer — passes out papers
    • Recycling/Trash — they walk around with a recycling bin whenever we cut things up
    • Manipulatives Manager/Supplies Manager — passes out calculators, math manipulatives such as counters or base ten blocks, individual whiteboards, etc.
  • Chair bands: These are like exercise bands that get wrapped around the front two legs of a chair. Students can push on the band. They can break eventually, but they last a long time.
  • Calm strips/velcro: Calm Strips are a brand name tool that is a piece of tape with texture so it has some resistance as you rub it. I have found strips of velcro to be very effective stuck to desks. They are cheaper and even tend to last longer.
  • Weighted lap bands or weighted stuffed animals: This can be used in conjunction with a take-a-break spot. For some students, this can be an effective tool to have a weighted item to calm their body and give them a sensory outlet.
  • Chair push-up: You can teach students how to get out some excess energy by pushing their hands down on either side of their legs and lifting up their body.
  • Chair pull-up: Students push themselves down as the sit at the same time as they pull up on the sides of their chair. I find this one better for frustration than the push-up. Students can alternate push-ups and pull-ups on their chairs with deep breaths.
  • Hallway break: I will allow a student to take a break in the hallway if they need an alternative spot to take-a-break spot in the classroom and don’t need the consequence of a buddy classroom break. This can be helpful for stretching out legs or pacing. We used to have an area at my school that a counselor set up that had a little walking exercise for students to do. They had to type their name on a fake keyboard, follow the winding tape in circles, then jump, then do wall push-ups, then hop like a frog, etc. This really helped a few students I’ve had who needed to go take a break elsewhere. I could call the office to have someone take the student over for 5 minutes then return. This would need to be something that the school collectively prepares, but it could be a good solution to offer to administration.
  • Wall push-up or wall sit: If a student is taking a hallway break, a good strategy is a wall push-up or wall sit. A wall push-up is where you lean against the wall and just do a standing push-up. A wall sit is where you start standing then slide your back down along the wall and put your feet out so that eventually your legs are at about a 90-degree angle or a little higher. This can help a student focus on their body and use up some energy — good if they have a tendency to want to punch or kick.
  • Brain break: Consider building in more brain breaks throughout the day. I like to have one calm quiet independent brain break (I call this quiet time) and one active brain break where we are doing an exercise or dance. I think having these two types of brain breaks are helpful. Throughout COVID, I heavily relied on how-to drawing videos for brain breaks which were fun.
  • Academic Games: Consider using classroom games to make learning more active. Here is an article I wrote for 24 classroom games that can make learning fun. These help break up longer class periods and long days with movement.

3. Problem: Emotional regulation

Strategies: Zones of Regulation, Yoga, Mindfulness, Special Place Boxes, Trauma-Informed Practices

  • Zones of regulation: This is something that the counselor and social worker use at my school to help students choose strategies appropriate to their feelings. This framework can be helpful in talking through options with students and building their own self-awareness. I like to use this as a check-in for students about their feelings and readiness for learning. You can read more about this framework here: https://zonesofregulation.com/ Below is a short encapsulation of what I’ve found helpful.

  • CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning or CASEL has a lot of information on schoolwide implementation of SEL resources: https://casel.org/ They also offer a playbook to support morning meetings and other resources.
  • Mindful schools: Many educators love using Mindful Schools and those resources. Here is their site: https://www.mindfulschools.org/ While their official trainings cost money, they have mindful moment videos for free as well as monthly community practices for free.
  • Yoga4Classrooms: Here is their website: https://yoga4classrooms.com/ While they recommend their official training which costs money, one easy-to-use resource they offer are yoga activity cards which are specifically designed for use in a classroom setting. It’s only $29 for one set and you can use them right away with limited yoga experience. If you’re looking for a set of mindfulness and yoga activities that can be used in a classroom, these are a great option that I’ve used with lower and upper elementary.
  • Special place boxes: When I taught 6th grade, I had students make special place boxes out of used Altoid tins. I collected a bunch of random craft supplies, pebbles, shells, thread, beads, different textured papers, and all sorts of tiny objects. I also printed some mindfulness strategies on cardstock that fit inside the box. Then, I let students decorate the outside with paper and hot glue objects onto it. I let them fit whatever tiny objects they wanted inside. I got this idea from a trauma-informed teaching seminar I went to as part of my professional development. Everyone in my class loved making these boxes and then they were a traveling calming corner for them. I told them to think about it as their special place and try to put things inside that would make them feel safe and loved. They carried them around in their pencil pouches and could use them anytime in any classroom. One student told me later that she used it a lot during online learning throughout COVID and it really helped her focus and feel better. That was over a year after I gave her the box!
  • Trauma-informed practice: Often, students have difficulty regulating their emotions or understanding what an appropriate response would be to a situation or feeling because of trauma. Here is one article on the Truth for Teachers site that has more ideas specific to trauma-informed teaching.

4 trauma-informed approaches that help kids with ACEs (and benefit your entire class!)

4. Problem: Focused attention

Strategies: Timers, Stations, Small Group Teaching, Teach student habits

  • Stations and small group teaching: I try to cut down on my whole group teaching as much as possible. The days I try to do more lessons and activities as a whole class are always my most exhausting days because I’m working to maintain the attention of the group as long as possible. As a goal, I keep mini-lessons to 10 minutes. I recommend a workshop model of teaching where you have students listening to a minilesson and spending the majority of a class period writing, reading, doing a science lab, practicing math skills, etc. I know it can feel like more work to plan different stations and activities for students to do, but keep in mind that you can repeat stations. Since the students are doing different activities on a daily basis, they can repeat those activities often. I have found it so much more efficient to teach in small groups than whole group because I’m able to adjust my pace in the moment with students.
  • Independent work habits: It’s imperative that students have independent work habits in place so that they can reserve energy and teach in small groups and use station models in the classroom. Set goals with your class to be on a website without interruptions for 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes depending on the age of your students. Then, practice doing worksheets as a whole class or everyone reading independently for 10 minutes without needing an interruption. Work towards the goal with small increments and let students know that you can introduce more free choice stations and games as they prove to you that they can handle independent work.
  • Timers: It can help students focus if they know how long they need to focus. If you can clarify that everyone is going to be writing quietly for the next 15 minutes then they know how much they can get done in 15 minutes. You also can teach students your expectations for that amount of time (1 page of ______ or _____sentences or ______problems). You can project a timer on the board or you can use individual timers for students at desks with only those who most need the reminder.

5. Problem: Following directions and consistent habits

Strategies: Teacher Language, Redo Procedures, Echo Instructions, Write Down Instructions

  • Teacher language: Another Responsive Classroom practice is using teacher language. This article has multiple specifics on different types of teacher language, and I’ve found it helpful. Teacher Language helps me know what to say when. When I want to reinforce a behavior, I say “I notice…” and give specific feedback. This ideally is 70% of your feedback to students throughout the day — noticing the positive. Personally, that’s a goal for me that I don’t think I’ll ever reach but it’s good to try! I use reminding language often; having go-to language such as “How do we..?” or “Show me how…” helps me stay calm and not say something I’ll regret out of frustration. I just remind the student of the expectations we have. Redirecting language is when you need to stop something. It helped me to distinguish between reminding language and redirecting language since I’m only redirecting when I need to immediately stop unsafe behavior. Now that these are part of my typical language, I think it makes me a much better teacher because students know what I will say in response to behavior which means my consistency is high which is so important with behavior management.
  • Redo procedures: One of the most effective strategies I’ve found in my classroom is just the phrase “Try again.” If a student ran to get in line, I respond, “We walk in the classroom. Go back and try again.” If the whole class is too loud coming to the carpet for a read-aloud, I’ll say, “That was not an appropriate noise level. Everyone go back to their desks.” I’ll select a few students to model if needed, then I can even ask, “What did everyone notice?” and we can discuss the few things I’m looking for. Then, I ask everyone, “Let’s try again. Show me how to come to the carpet.” The more you do this and take the time to repeat procedures and try again, the fewer times you’ll have to do it. I have also found that trying again prevents some arguments or disagreements with me over unfair treatment (someone did the same thing yesterday and you didn’t say anything!) because my expectations are very clear even if I miss something every once in a while.
  • Echo back instructions: While students should be listening to you, we know they do not always do that. It can help to have students echo back a specific direction such as where this paper gets placed, where to put something away, when it’s due, or what page they should be on. This way students who were not listening as intently will hear it loud and clear. Even if they ask you, you can ask them to think about what the class said out loud.
  • Write down essential instructions: I have a section of my board at the front of the classroom where I write a summary of directions. This helps students know where to look. While it takes those students who struggle to know what to do several weeks to get into the habit of looking there, it does eventually help a lot. I finally start seeing all students look at the board when they get confused by the end of the first quarter, and I notice that I am answering far fewer questions about what to do next, what their options are, and so on. If you teach early readers, consider using visuals with the numbers 1 and 2 next to it so they know first I do this, then I do this.

6. Problem: A few students pull your attention away or are constantly seeking connection

Strategies: Positive Behavior Plan, Lunch Bunch, Mentor, Buddy Readers/Helpers

  • Positive behavior plan for individuals: An individual behavior plan is good if you have 1-2 students that really require a ton of energy from you. The idea behind this is that you will set up an agreement between you and the student that if they meet ______ expectations then you will give them ____ reward. A couple of tips would be to ensure that the student knows exactly what you’re looking for and you have clear goals (not perfect student goals but manageable goals within the reach of this student), to have a motivating reward, and to start small. You can and should increase the goal as the student is meeting goals. The best ways I’ve found to track behavior plans are beads on a pipe cleaner or stickers on a chart. A special education teacher at your school may be able to help you create a plan or another classroom teacher who has used one successfully. I write more about how to create an individual behavior plan on my personal blog here if you are interested.
  • Whole class behavior plan: If a decent handful of students are creating daily disruptions for you, then you can set a goal as a class with rewards built in. I’ve used beads on a pipe cleaner with the whole class before if there were just too many kids who needed constant attention and reminders from me. They get a bead each time I catch them doing something well. Then, whenever they get to 30 beads they can choose a prize (fancy sticker, fidget, bag of chips, whatever). Checklists on desks can be helpful to implement whole class. I used to see it as a bit of a failure when I tried one thing and it stopped working, but now I don’t. I just readjust and introduce a new strategy to the class. It helps to try a few different small things. The past few years I’ve used the game Kerplunk at the end of the year. Each time the class does great we pull a stick and when all the marbles fall, we draw a reward from a pile such as a virtual field trip or outdoor game or extra indoor recess. It is not something I’m interested in doing throughout the whole year, but for particularly busy seasons where it’s hard to focus, this type of motivation can be helpful.
  • Lunch bunch: Often students really are seeking connection and attention. Having a lunch bunch can help. Let them invite a couple of friends and spend time with you in the classroom. I used to avoid this because I’m naturally introverted and need recharging time to myself, but I found that this was a good strategy even for me. It helped me have a positive relationship with a student outside of an academic setting and gave me energy instead of draining it.
  • Mentor: If your school or community has a mentorship program, see if you can have parents, community members, and other teachers be mentors to students who need someone to talk to and require more interaction. There is only so much attention you can give an individual student, so see if there’s a structure set up where someone can come in. High school students might be a great option as mentors for elementary students.
  • Buddy readers/helpers: I have had groups of students where I felt they needed interaction with others to develop certain skills. When older students buddy read with younger students, it actually is proven to help the older student even more than the younger student. The act of teaching how to read to a younger student can build confidence, fluency, and increase motivation and skills. I’ve had a buddy classroom a few times where we connected with another grade level. Older students would read with younger students in purposeful partnerships that I created with the other teacher. Both classes loved having a buddy. It also built excellent community school-wide because students recognized each other and students were able to interact with another teacher in a meaningful way. I’ve had a small group of students be reading buddies before. You might think it’s best to choose stronger older readers to support the younger students, but it really helps the older students, so choosing readers who actually need to work on their reading skills can be the best fit. One year with a difficult class I had them take turns supporting in a special education classroom with one teacher who knew those students. These 12-year-olds ended up practicing a lot of kindness and humility in that other space. They became more compassionate and loved helping in another classroom. It taught them skills that I could not just by talking to them about behavior.

7. Problem: Other students are frustrated

Strategies: Sharing Emotions, Quiet Times, Calm Classroom

  • Empower students to share how it affects them: I let other students share how they feel when someone/a group of someone’s is not meeting expectations. I might share honestly that I feel frustrated right now when I can’t finish the lesson. Then, I might ask anyone if they would like to share an I feel … statement. I did not use to do this because it felt like I would just be blaming a student or shaming them,  but I think it was helpful for some students to understand the impact of their behavior on others. Try to model the “I feel…” statement in a calm voice for students to set the expectation that this is a productive sharing time and not a complaining time. “I feel [emotion ] when [description of action occurring]. While some particular students may wish that others made no noise at all or never touched them on accident, that’s unrealistic. There is, however, a range of control each child has, and they can work within their own range of control. I talk to kids 1-1 about that in behavior conferences, too.
  • Quiet time: I have a 10-minute quiet time in my classroom every day. This is often midday after lunch or recess or specials classes depending on my schedule that year. Students can read, draw, play with play dough. It might double as a snack time or time to catch up on unfinished work depending on the time of day. It’s a choice time and if students can handle the freedom, then I allow them to move in the classroom to read in the library or sit somewhere else. This time is essential for me, too. It gives me a chance to check in with a student if needed, solve a peer conflict, input a couple grades, sort some papers, or check my email. I love this 10 minutes and have gotten so used to having it. Students also understand the idea of “quiet time” and can do it if I suddenly get called out of the classroom for a moment or my meeting goes long and the sub needed an extra activity.
  • Calm classroom: There are many ways to create a Calm Classroom. Here is one article with some ideas you might find helpful. One of my favorite ways to infuse calm is by playing quiet music or using the site Noisli which plays different sounds such as fireplace or ocean waves.

8. Problem: Need more space and activity

Strategies: Get Outside, Brain Breaks, Flexible Seating/Standing

  • Get outside: If there is a space on your school grounds to get outdoors, this is a great way for students to burn energy, express themselves, and learn about their world without you having to put as much energy towards anything. You will need to set up parameters, boundaries, and expectations, but once students are out, often the activity will be far more exciting and engaging than if it had been indoors. Some activities might include writing outdoors, monitoring plants, doing a mindful search for something (ex. living vs nonliving things), measuring objects, taking notes on the weather, growing plants, reading outside, observing forces such as push/pull, and so much more. Here is a Truth for Teachers article that talks more about teaching outdoors.
  • Brain breaks: My second graders love YouTube videos that are indoor obstacle course runs. Coach Corey Martin is a favorite in my classroom, but there are tons of other videos. Go Noodle is a popular site with many dances. With older students, a 5-minute free choice time to just talk might be what they desire most. I like to share drawing videos from Art for Kids Hub which can be applicable to a wider range of ages. I previously mentioned the Yoga4Classrooms cards. I have found older students to be more engaged with the visualization exercises from that deck.
  • Flexible seating/standing: Even in tight classrooms, there’s often some space available for students to sit in a different location (on a floor, bean bag, stool, fuzzy bathroom rug, etc.) or stand at a tall table. Flexible seating doesn’t have to be fancy; just having a different option other than a desk can be quite liberating for many students and offer movement.

9. Problem: Impact from home

Strategies: Communicating Needs to Parents

  • Talking points: One point of frustration and difficulty can be communicating with parents. I have found the site Talking Points to be enormously helpful for students with home languages other than English. Here is their site https://talkingpts.org/ where you can create a free teacher account. This is a translation service that translates to 150+ languages. While not perfect, I’ve found it to be a pretty good translation. Families can communicate with the teacher by using a text feature on a phone or using the app. Sometimes we as educators don’t want to overburden parents who might already have a lot on their plate or aren’t sure how to communicate misbehavior in a way that builds rapport. This service can make it really easy to stay in communication with parents in a way that’s at their fingertips. It can truly help that family-school partnership stay strong.
  • Sleep: Sometimes students are just tired even if they appear hyper. Ask students casually about when they go to sleep and when they get up. You can discuss their schedules and with older students you can even problem-solve together. Some parents may not be aware that their child isn’t getting the sleep they really need due to work schedules. Instead of jumping to criticism, start with curiosity. You might be able to educate parents on the importance of sleep and let them know that their child is tired and not doing well because of it.
  • Screen time: While we as educators can’t dictate to parents what to do in their homes, we can provide resources to them and educate parents on the negative impact of screen time and the developing brain. Parents love their kids and want to make the best choices for them. As a teacher, I have used their digital citizenship curriculum to teach students about how to be a good digital citizen; these are age-appropriate lessons that are ready to use and can give students the strategies they need to set their own boundaries. They also have a parent toolkit for early childhood (ages 0-8) and a wealth of articles for all ages across topics such as screen time, cell phones, and social media. We do have some influence, and we can use that to support healthy habits.
  • Social workers and other professionals: I know that different schools have varying amounts of access to counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists. The wellness team, as they call themselves at my school, can be an excellent support system for you and can help communicate. They might be able to have a lunch bunch with students, do a 6-week-long intervention and give you strategies to implement, come discuss some ideas with your whole class, or just be a listening ear and sounding board.

10. Problem: You’re personally overburdened

Strategies: Seek Support and Advocate for Yourself, Mindfulness, Give Yourself Credit, Positive Closing Meetings

  • Get support: Advocate for yourself. If that means asking a counselor 5 times to talk to the same kid until they finally clear their schedule and make it happen, do that. If it means going to your administrator and asking them to observe something, come to a parent conference, or pay for a resource you really need, be ready to propose your solution to them and ask for what you need. If you still don’t get support where you are after asking directly and being solution-oriented, maybe it’s time to find other administrative support in a different school or district.
  • Embrace resources provided/free resources: While I’ve listed several resources throughout this article, I recommend focusing on one framework vs. pulling from a million places. It can be overwhelming to go in too many different directions or get too many resources. Start with one website or framework that appeals to you and go from there. That one resource will likely give you a ton to work with. It may not make sense for you to try a particular program or resource because it requires training that you don’t have and can’t pay for or it requires more time than you can offer. Almost every paid program out there has some free resources associated with it. Use what you can and if you end up wanting the resources or professional development that requires more funding, you can look into scholarships and grants and ways to make that happen. If your school has already picked one particular program, lean into that and try to make it work. The resources are there for you and hopefully a support system of other people who are also trying it out.
  • Positive closing meetings: I had been doing closing meetings intermittently in my classroom for years. I often liked to have a reflection question to discuss or a “highlight of the day.” My teammate did “peaks and pits” at closing meetings. A peak is something that went well and a pit is something you wish was better. I have also used “rose, thorn, and bud” where a rose is a positive thing that happened, a thorn is something that wasn’t good, and a bud is something you’re looking forward to. I used to do “thank you’s” in my class where I put one popcorn kernel in a jar for each example that someone could give for being helpful or kind or supportive that day. They could also notice a kind act that someone else did for another person. They could also point out that the whole class did well with an activity or transition throughout the day and I would put one popcorn kernel for each person in the class (ex. 27). These closing meetings are such a nice way to end the day as an elementary teacher. If I taught middle school, I might do them at the end of the week only. I am often surprised by students when they say they “have no pit” or “My peak is that we had a good day as a class.” My first reaction might be to think, “But you were so cranky this morning” or “The class was so loud in math!” Their interpretation is that the day was great and they literally can’t think of anything to complain about. Why can’t I take that interpretation to heart as well?! I can embrace that mindset. Even if I feel tired or a little annoyed about one part of our day, if everyone in the class is listing how positive their day was, I should take some credit for that. I helped our class function and flow. It’s important for us to end on a positive note; it personally gives me fuel for another day.
  • Mindfulness: I mentioned mindful strategies for students, but you can also use mindfulness for yourself. In Angela’s new daily encouragement podcast she offers weekly mindful moments. There are lots of meditation and mindful moments online for free through YouTube. There are podcasts dedicated to this practice. Headspace and Calm are both apps that offer mindfulness and meditation strategies.

Finally, give yourself credit

I see posts on Facebook about how teachers are stressed out with the expectation for students to make a year’s growth in reading and math and how impossible that feels, yet these teachers who are saying they’re not doing enough are also saying in the same breath that most of their class DID make a year’s growth. So are you truly not doing enough? You are honestly succeeding. That is what success looks like.

Trying different strategies and adapting to student needs is a success. You made it through another year or another day with a group of students with hugely diverse needs, and you taught them so well that despite their challenges they learned a whole year’s worth of material. If you’re thinking that you wish you could have done more or you wish you could have done better at this one thing or many things. You are right. Of course, hypothetically you could have done more or done better at something, but in reality, it wasn’t possible.

You did what you could do. Look at what you DID. You are amazing. You have done enough, and you are enough.


Amy Stohs

2nd Grade

Amy Stohs is currently a 2nd grade teacher in Northern Virginia. She was named Teacher of the Year in 2019 by her coworkers while previously teaching 6th grade. Her passions include great books for all ages, the workshop model, Responsive...
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