Testing can be stressful for everyone. For teachers and administrators, tests have implications for evaluations, school funding, placement, and course scheduling. Student placement depends on their scores, and their scores on different assessments can even affect their graduation eligibility and college acceptance. Parents notice this stress at home and may find it difficult to help their children overcome that stress.
What happens to the body under stress?
Stress has cognitive, emotional, physiological, and behavioral effects. We can recognize many different stress symptoms, such as anger, worry, hopelessness, confusion, headaches, sore muscles, crying, and so many more. These symptoms are the results of stress-induced disruptions in the body’s systems.
Let’s begin with the brain. It is the control center that sends signals throughout the body to control all kinds of chemical reactions. Under stress, the brain sends signals throughout the body that initiate the release of hormones. These hormones trigger the heart to beat faster and blood vessels to dilate in order to increase blood flow to certain areas, elevating blood pressure. Stress also affects the digestive system and liver, which controls blood sugar. Stress may also have physiological effects on the brain’s neurons themselves which would lead to a negative impact on classroom learning. Obviously, prolonged stress only enhances these effects which could become more serious for the child.
What can you do as a teacher?
You know there is no way around standardized tests. Instead, consider ways to help students cope with stress through relaxation. Many professionals recommend relaxation techniques to reduce muscle tension and improve blood flow. When you address stress at the physiological level, it can have positive impacts on emotion, cognition, and behavior.
Yoga is an ancient art form of exercise, stretching, and meditations that have been highly recommended for dealing with stress because it focuses on the mind and body. And here’s a disclaimer: You do NOT, I repeat, do NOT have to be a trained yoga instructor! Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that yoga is easy. Many yoga poses are very advanced and not recommended for beginners. Remember, this art form took centuries to develop! But today there are countless available videos, images and even apps created by professionals to guide you through a range of poses.
I recommend searching for poses that can be done within arm’s length and do not require mats or acrobatic movements. In fact, look for seated yoga poses so that students can do them easily at their desks. You might even find simple poses that students can do with both feet on the ground, although ‘downward dog’ might be a bad idea since it requires students to touch the floor. Do what works best for your classroom space, your class size, and your students’ abilities.
Finally, make yoga a classroom norm. Try to incorporate yoga and breathing techniques throughout the school year to get students and yourself into the practice rather than introducing it right before testing. Start with simple poses and maybe begin challenging students as the year progresses. You might observe students practicing independently, and some students may offer suggestions for new poses. You may even find special requests for additional yoga time during stressful periods. These practices will work especially well if you have a flexible seating classroom. Moreover, as you do your own search and practice for different yoga poses and breathing techniques, you might even notice the feelings of relaxation in yourself!