How to Tame Spring Fever by Marissa Rex
Spring is in the air! For many schools, March and April bring higher stress levels, increased behavior concerns, and rigorous academic assessments. School staff and students are expected to manage these concerns in addition to their other day-to-day responsibilities. As an elementary school counselor, I support my school family by providing them with a variety of services and tools that, ideally, will help smooth their transition into summer vacation. My favorite (and most successful) strategies include relaxation exercises, identifying and expressing feelings reflections, and monitoring.
I often conduct classroom-based counseling lessons to practice various relaxation techniques. I found many of my favorite exercises in 101 Relaxation Games for Children, a reader-friendly book full of excellent games.
To help students, we practice four exercises together. I like “snail gymnastics,” which involves moving extremely slowly, your muscles tightening and stretching. When you finish, you can feel the tension leave your body. Other favorite techniques are “gorilla breathing” (lightly tapping your chest as you exhale), “headphones” (plugging your ears and listening to the sounds you hear), and “super smiles” (smiling as big as you can, then releasing). All of these exercises work parts of the body that hold stress.
As we practice, students record their favorites on their worksheet (found here), describing when and how they would use each strategy to ensure that students can utilize the techniques on their own. Many keep the paper on their desk as a reminder.
Since I am a school counselor, I am a guest in these classrooms. Therefore, the homeroom teacher gets to learn these techniques as his or her students learn them.
Identifying and Expressing Feelings Reflections
I enjoy reflecting on feelings with my students. When it comes to stress, we discuss how various feelings impact our academic and behavioral performance. Bruce Boguski, author of The Testing Zone, describes feelings in terms of emotion zones. There is high positive (high energy, positive affect), high negative (high energy, negative affect), low positive (low energy, positive affect), and low negative (low energy, negative affect). Boguski believes that high positive and low positive are the best emotion zones for test-taking and other high-stress situations.
With students, I show short video clips from popular films and the students must decide which emotion zone the character is in. This is a fun test of their knowledge and reinforces the importance of a positive attitude.
Again, since these lessons typically occur in a large group setting, the classroom teacher can learn along with his or her students. In this way, my message can have a more lasting impact because each teacher can continuously draw on and remind students of the information I present.
One of the most crucial components of stress management is monitoring. As school staff, we need to be aware of how not only our students are functioning, but how our colleagues are functioning as well. I find that stress can be contagious. When not treated effectively, negative and disruptive behaviors can start to fester, infecting those surrounded by them.
I monitor my students through individual and small group counseling. I also give notebooks to students who are struggling the most so they have a daily link (if they want it) to me. I write them back, giving the students feedback, suggestions, and empathic support.
For my staff, I send notes to highlight the positive things I see them do, vary my lunch schedule to catch up with everyone, and consistently remind staff to use me as a sounding board.
All of these strategies have noticeably improved my school environment during our high stress months, in particular. If nothing else, showing your support can make a significant difference in the lives of your students and colleagues.
Here’s to a calm, manageable spring!
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