As rewarding as teaching elementary music can be there are times when things get really, really stressful. Tension, headaches, pain, and difficulty concentrating can all result from stressful moments, and the most important thing to do at those times is to become aware of the stress and take steps to reduce or eliminate it. Here are five quick strategies you can use to eliminate stress during your classes.
Release your Tension Zones
Tension in our bodies is one of the greatest contributors to stress. When we encounter situations that aren't going the way we planned, we tend to have one or two areas in our bodies that we tense up, initiating the stress response.
Personally, for me, it is my stomach and my throat. When things go off the rails and i feel stress building, I almost certainly find that those areas are tense.
The next time you feel yourself getting stressed take a moment to scan your body and find out what feels tensed up. By releasing these areas you start the begin to take control of the way you feel and start moving things back in a positive direction.
Slow it down
One of the scenarios that causes stress is when things feel like they are going too fast to handle. When you are dealing with a class full of music students, especially when instruments are involved, a plethora of problems can arise at the same time.
I usually notice that things are going too fast when I start "teaching" (ahem... talking...) faster to try too keep up with how fast things feel like they are going. This is a mistake because more speed doesn't help the students understand better nor does it make things feel more manageable.
Slowing things down allows for everyone to get back on track and start moving in a positive direction. Things feel under control again and problems that seemed to be sprouting up from everywhere can be handled.
The next time you begin to feel stressed while teaching, take a moment to stop, take a deep breath, and slowly and precisely explain to your class what you would like them to do.
Focus on the Positive
Another stressor is the feeling that a negative thing is happening that you cannot control. This is usually the case with students that are defiant or attempt to engage in a power struggle. The worst thing that you can do is to feed into that kind of behavior, essentially rewarding it.
Disclaimer: I know this is difficult.
The best thing to do in situations like this is to find and narrate positive things in the classroom*. (*Unless of course the situation becomes unsafe, then use the procedures your school or district teaches) Every class has momentum. Things can go in a positive direction or a negative direction and when attention and energy goes to the positive, then more and more students will buy into positive behavior as a means of receiving attention. This shift in momentum may take a while but if you explain to your students that you are looking for and rewarding positive behavior then things will change.
Mind Your Breathing
I've heard it said before that "if your mind is the kite, your breath is the string." The way we breath affects how we feel a great deal. When stress begins creeping up on you during the middle of a class, you can always stop and take a few deep breaths. Even better, have your students do the same.
When we take deep diaphragmatic breaths, we send more oxygen to the brain, relax our muscles, and improve our posture. All of these things help restore clarity of thought and promote more effective actions in your music classroom.
Use a "Stress-breaker" Activity
This one if fun! If you feel like you have hit a wall during a particular lesson in music, have a "Stress-breaker" activity in your bag of tricks that can help refocus and refresh your class. This could be a quick song, dance, or game that your class really enjoys that can bring positive energy back into your classroom.
Two of my favorites are Ha-Ha this-a-way, and So-La-Mi.
Finding activities that work for your class can be the difference between a great experience for all of your students and ending the day with a stress headache. The trick is to teach these early in the year so they can be utilized quickly.
When things get stressful practice using these strategies to help eliminate stress and keep things positive.
Leave a comment and share the strategies you use to eliminate stress on-the-fly as you are teaching.