The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Relaxation Exercises

One of the things I have worked harder at teaching more consistently this year is social/emotional learning. For those who may not be aware of this particular turn of phrase, social/emotional learning is the process of teaching students appropriate ways to interact with others in public settings. The concept arose out of the realisation that teachers used to make assumptions about their students that were quite often wrong. For example, students would be expected to raise their hands and wait to be called on in school, yet some teachers never explicitly taught this; they just assumed their students would know this was the expectation. But students come from many different backgrounds. I have five older brothers and two younger sisters in my immediate family. Conversations in our household were often chaotic and multitudinous. We would often carry on multiple conversations at once. This is not the way conversations in classroom often go.

So teachers are expected to teach the cultural norms of the school. These are not specific to any group of people; rather, they are the norms of the school culture. We want our students to be able to travel through different environments and know how to interpret the expectations of others wherever they go. We do this by explicitly teaching social/emotional skills.

There are many different packaged programs to help with this, or teachers can work with others or on their own to decide what skills should be taught. Our building has adopted the Second Step program for SEL and this is what I am trying to use on a more regular basis. The program is divided into three units. The first unit is focused on empathy, such as listening to others, understanding body language, recognising differences, and communicating clearly. The second unit, which we have recently started, focuses on managing emotions.

As part of this second unit, I had my students brainstorm ideas about how they can quickly relax themselves and calm down after finding themselves in a stressful situation. When we discussed a similar topic last week, many students shared that they calm themselves down by finding a place to be alone. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work in a classroom environment, so we needed to come up with strategies to calm down in the classroom. Some of the ideas that the boys and girls came up with were

  • take deep breaths
  • count to ten
  • walk away
  • listen to music
  • read a book
  • draw a picture
  • think happy thoughts
  • empty your mind
  • dim the lights
  • loosen your muscles

I was impressed with the scope of these ideas. They are currently written on our whiteboard easel so everyone can see them. We will make a poster of these strategies tomorrow as we continue to discuss relaxation exercises. The students practiced several of these this morning as we did deep breathing exercises while counting to ten and listening to calming music. We will practice these exercises throughout the week and onward as we work on identifying strategies that will help individuals to calm down quickly and effectively.

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