For my continuing education units this year, I have been looking into stress in schools. I started by watching a video series called "The Frazzled Educator" (AKA, "me") and then branched out to related topics. Below are some websites, handouts, articles and videos that I have rad/ watched and found to be useful in my learning.
Helping Students Deal with Test Stress
Interestingly enough, many schools are using dogs to help kids deal with test stress.
Here are some other resources I found:
1. Here's a site for kids from PBS that explains the rationale for testing, how not to panic, and how to prepare. It's well organized and has some games, too.
2. This is a discussion of test anxiety from Teens Health, with links to test-taking and homework tips, as well as health tips on everything from eating right to puberty. (There are also tabs that lead to section for Kids and Parents. You might not want to send the little ones here by themselves.) Students are reminded that "a touch of nervous anticipation can actually help you get revved and keep you at peak performance while you're taking the test" and that everyone makes small mistakes--they probably aren't going to be perfect. (This year, I've really worked on getting some of my students--both eighth graders and AP seniors--to move on and not fixate on one question.)
3. Suggestions from the NEA, with a realization that we can't expect kids to be stress free "after telling [them] all year long just important these darn tests are."
Teacher Shari Chu from California tells her sixth-graders, ""Come on, guys, you know the material. Relax and do your best." (For the record, teacher Shane Marshall tells his eighth-graders almost those exact words, too.)
Like many of the articles below, this NEA article mentions having students do stretches and move on test day.
4. A nice PDF handout of advice for students, covering how to prepare for exams and standardized tests and what to do to cope with stress while taking them.
5. An article for parents, with other links to topics such as "Middle School Stress." Joseph Casbarro offers symptoms and possible solutions for test stress in students.
As I read the above articles, I started wondering about the difference between test stress and test anxiety. The American Test Anxiety Society estimates that 16-20 percent of all students suffer from high test anxiety, with about 18 percent having moderate-high anxiety.
1. If you only have time to read one article on this page, take a look at "Relax, It's Only a Test" by Annie Murphy Paul, from February's issue of Time. Paul gives background about high stakes testing and reminds the reader that "this [test] anxiety can expand over time into any situation in which a student is conscious of being evaluated--from a class presentation to a college-admissions exam like the SAT--and can lead to diminished self-esteem, reduced motivation and disengagement from school" (emphasis mine).
2. She also wrote some follow-up advice at her website, The Brilliant Report. In a nutshell, she suggests having students write about their anxiety for ten minutes, or having them write about things that are important to them to remind them that they are more than a test score, and, especially for younger students, having them complete relaxation exercises.
3. Over at the Motherlode blog at the NY Times, KJ Dell Antonia addresses test anxiety from a parent's point of view, summarizing tips from a couple of recent books. Especially important is the idea that we must "Watch for when 'stress' turns into 'distress.'" Stress can be a motivator, and even "energizing," but she recounts the story of a student who lost sleep for a month over taking standardized tests. One pattern is that stress is still focused on performance, while anxiety becomes focused on failure or avoidance.
4. For students, one cause of stress and anxiety is simply that they don't prepare correctly to take tests. (During final exam prep, how many of your students told you "Well, I finished the review, now what?" I found myself discussing the fact that A.) the review should be STUDIED B.) the review was set up much like the exam structurally and C.) the earlier tests and quizzes we had taken had some similar elements to the exam.)
That being said, this page from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign boils down several strategies for preparing for tests in order to not have anxiety in the first place, and also discusses dealing with it if it comes creeping in.
5. This link goes to a video of nice pictures and soft music, called Test Stress Busters 101. Perhaps students could create their own?
Helping Students and Teachers Deal With Overall Stress
1. If you like to cut to the chase with a list, here you go: 101 Ways to Cope With Teaching Stress. # 11 is "CHOCOLATE." Judy Wyse was right! On the other hand, #4 is "Snack right," and #11 does say "a little piece of chocolate."
2. Dave at Gradhacker reminds us: " The techniques I’ve used to calm down students are simple ones: make them smile, make them laugh, and, if I can, remove a stressor."
3. US News discusses strategies that both elementary and high schools have been using to reduce student stress. One of those strategies is visualization, used both to pre-visualize success at a goal and to center oneself by imagining a calming place before taking a test, speaking, etc.
4. This Master's Project by Marcy Kusz presents an overview of stress in elementary students. Page nine sums up what many of us have seen: "Today’s children face many pressures from outside sources, such as environmental dangers, media exposure, family issues, school problems and often times internalization of stressful events and situations."
Kusz also points out the relationship between media saturation and stress in students on page 11. School is discussed on page 15.
Kusz offers several strategies for helping students, starting on page 16. While much of what she has to offer is an overview of broad approaches, she also reminds us:
"Allowing time for students to receive adequate exercise, time for relaxation, journaling, and giving structure-free time are just a few ways to help lessen the stress for children. Encouraging a stressed or anxious child to find a physical activity that they enjoy is an easy and effective coping strategy for teachers and counselors to implement. Exercise is a body’s natural way of fighting stress and anxiety" (18).
5. Here's a pretty heavy-duty article about teacher/professor stress. Rosalyn King discusses the findings of Robert Kraft: "There is an isolation or aloneness and emotional sterility in faculty life that seems dangerous and perhaps toxic - a paradox since teaching is supposed to be a most rewarding enterprise."
(I'd say those teacher get togethers and our potlucks are good ideas, eh?)
This quote jumped out at me: "Our passion [for teaching] can lead to overwork if we aren't careful." One of the rules in the "Frazzled Educator" series is to be willing to let go of perfection. Cut yourself some slack.
. . .And if you're feeling stressed about your Smartboard crashing, King reports that 67 percent of teachers report that keeping up with technology causes them stress.
She also offers several strategies for coping; several of them apply to elementary and high school teachers, while others are for professors. One major idea is "Appreciate the Joy of Teaching and Learning."
6. This pdf file of a "Teacher Stress" presentation by Ken Mrozek has some nasty typos and grammatical troubles, but once I got past them, I found a lot to like--and to scare me (Check out the long term health effects of too much stress!). His "Ten Commandments to Control the Work Environment" sums up a lot of what I've watched and read pretty nicely. (#7: "Thou shalt switch off and do nothing--regularly.")
7. Beth Lewis provides a few tips for preventing teacher burnout. My favorite in this list is "Don't play the teacher at home." Have you ever used your teacher voice or look at home? On the other hand, it can be tough--because people seem to think I can correct their bad writing and discipline every kid I see. . .but I try really hard not to do so.
8. I also stumbled across this page about Pinterest causing moms stress because--here the theme is again--everyone wants to be perfect, or at least make the perfect cake. Personally, I liked the other page mentioned in the article--Pinterest Fail, "Where good intentions go to die." I know we aren't all on Pinterest, but the idea is the same: we're going to fail sometimes.
9. Wondering if you're stressed? Here's a quiz you can take. I thought some of the questions brought up areas to think more about. Just remember, though-- a little stress is a good thing. It's why we get out of bed in the morning. No stress, no achievement.
Youtube Video #1
Here's a short video that reminds us to try to see things in a positive way and start each day new.
Youtube Video #2
Tips for stress relief from the BBC. Their final solution? Bubble wrap!
Youtube Video #3: Coping with Overload in School (for students)
He's Australian, but the tips make sense. . including telling kids to get off social media and go to bed!
More on Teacher Burnout, as well as some humor. . .
. . .can be found on the next page, "More Teacher Stuff."