Teachers: One Mindset Shift Guaranteed to Decrease Stress and Increase Joy

Seriously?! I just clearly laid out the directions. They’re on the board. We did a comprehension check. We’re five minutes into work time and they’re giggling and pointing at their computer screens. WTF?! Why aren’t they doing what I said?

I remember in my first few years of teaching, having a constant stream of frustration sprinkled with swear words running through my head from bell to bell. The source: students in my classroom not following my directions or doing what I had laid out for them (thoughtfully, in advance, with the best intentions for their learning….seriously….wtf?!).

Let me tell you (and my teaching peeps can chime in here) — this sort of existence is exhausting.

It is mentally and emotionally draining and just plain soul-sucking. By the end of the day, trying to control manage facilitate the learning and interactions of young humans in your classroom becomes a lost cause.

At some point, you just throw up your hands and say, “I give up”. You survive till the bell. Crank out some grading. Prep for the next day. Go home. Drink a glass or three of wine. Bitch to your teacher friends. Brainstorm. Wake up. Try again.

Now over the years, we teachers learn to take fewer things personally and have fewer emotional reactions to what goes on in the classroom.

I’ve always been strong at classroom management, but it took me years to cultivate a different INTERNAL reaction to mirror my calm exterior in order to decrease stress and minimize energy leakage.

It boils down to one simple mindset shift: be curious.

Yep. That’s it. Be curious.

It is actually the opposite of most of our instincts, which is to see what is happening, make an assumption, followed quickly by a judgement, followed up by a snap decision and action.

Generally, my assumption has been that my students are off-task for whatever reason and that is bad. I then would quickly interfere, urging them to comply through a verbal warning, a dreaded “teacher look”, or a conversation in the hallway.

(Note: I’m always thoughtful of a child’s dignity and do my best to never publicly shame or punish.)

With these methods, I had a high success rate. However, my attempts to get them back on track through coersion always ended up feeling like an empty victory. And I still felt drained at the end of the day.

So here’s the shift I’m asking you to take. Before you get stressed and force them back on track, get curious.

Here’s how you do it. Remember this phrase: Slow down, C.I.D. (pronounced “kid”). Just a few, simple steps, and you will be on your way to more joy and less stress in the classroom.

  • First, SLOW DOWN. 
    • When you notice things you don’t like or expect in your classroom, pause. Like a reaaaally long pause. Bring awareness to what is happening in your head. RESIST making ANY assumptions or judgements.
  • Next, get CURIOUS.
    • Begin to wonder what’s going on. Say to yourself, “I wonder…” without any judgement or evaluation whatsoever.
  • Now, INVESTIGATE.
    • Watch from across the room (make sure you’re not scowling at them, but sneaking peeks neutrally). Wander over. Eavesdrop. Smile and ask a question related to either class or what they are talking about. Ask directly what they’re up to—middle schoolers are incredibly blunt, honest creatures when you are direct and they aren’t scared of punishment. Take this opportunity to learn something new about them. (As I’ve practiced this, I noticed that the assumptions I would make without investigating are often wrong. Students are frequently asking questions or discussing a personal connection they are making to the work. Just as frequently, they are not. And that’s totally ok!)
  • Last, DECIDE.
    • Ok, after getting curious and investigating, you think you have a handle on the situation. Now, you get to decide how to wrangle them back in like the awesome brain children that they are. After chatting with them about that totally gross Youtube video for a minute, find a creative way to connect their conversation back to your content. Or share a story about yourself that connects to the situation. Or share a time when you’ve struggled to stay focused and a method that works (or whatever circumstance your dealing with). Or even simply lead them back in to the work with an overly dramatic, awkward segue and a big, cheesy smile.

Here’s why “Slow down, C.I.D.” works.

It takes power out of the equation. I am not convincing them to get refocused through coersion. I am meeting them where they are at. I am interested in who they are, what they are doing, and why. I am noticing and validating their needs, as well as reinforcing my own. When you take power out of the equation, the stress disappears.

It breeds connection. When I take time to listen, observe, and chat with my students (even especially when it’s off-topic) it builds trust. It builds relationship. It helps me know them better, which enables me to connect my content to them more effectively. It helps them know me better, which results in higher engagement in class.

It’s joyful and fun. Teaching is way more joyful and energetic when we spend a little time on silliness. Hearing the latest pop culture gossip or telling a funny story gives our brains a needed break (it’s science) before we get back into the work. “Slow down, C.I.D.” provides perfect windows for silliness, because kids will never be perfect and there will always be opportunities to connect and then practice the sly redirect. *cheesy point/mouthclick/wink move*

So, next time you are feeling stressed or drained due to things in class not going the way you expected or wanted, try out “Slow down, C.I.D.”

  • Slow down before reacting.
    • Get CURIOUS
    • INVESTIGATE
    • DECIDE

I still get to use this every day of teaching. For the sake of teacher entertainment, let me share today’s shenanigans. We had about 25 minutes of drafting time today in my 8th grade English class. I was conferring with students, feeling like I had this Friday in the bag—students were engaged, on-task, and writing their tails off.

Then, I came across this vision in the back corner. Yes. He was dead asleep with his body contorted into angles I didn’t think were possible past infancy and with his face smashed solidly into the wall. (His nose was bright red from the pressure when he woke up.) I mean…c’mon, people. This is hilarious.

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Due to the trust and relationship built our class from “Slow down, C.I.D.”, he readily admitted he only slept two hours last night (and most nights this week) because he’s up all hours, gaming. We had a good laugh, and I resolved to “invite” him to work at the standing desk area for future sleepy days (and advised him, for the sake of his growing body and brain to get some sleep tonight).

I’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an email or comment below.

What other parts of teaching stress you out or drain your energy and joy?

What strategies do you have in place that help reduce stress and increase joy in the classroom?


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