In education, we talk a lot about Behavior Intervention Plans for students, and we talk about how to teach children coping skills for emotional regulation. We recognize that even students who don't have a need for special education services might have emotional needs, and that's why we employ counselors in schools and provide Tier 1 support for all students in the area of social and emotional learning. We even recognize that some students might need additional help learning emotional coping skills through Tier 2 services, never needing services from special education, but needing interventions nonetheless.
However, we rarely think about how teachers and staff cope in moments of emotional dysregulation. There seems to be an assumption that we all have the skills necessary to emotionally regulate, even after assisting students in crisis, or that we know where to go to learn those skills if we need them.
I don't know about you, but when I was in the classroom, I didn't have knowledge and skills to help me regulate my emotions when I was in distress, and I didn't even know that I didn't know!
I remember talking with my therapist one year when I was working with a student with violent, challenging behavior, and exclaiming, "DON'T THEY UNDERSTAND THAT I NEED AN INTERVENTION PLAN TOO?!" And then I laughed because it sounded ridiculous to me that an adult would need an intervention plan. I realize now that I was onto something, and I didn't even realize it at the time.
An integral part of mitigating burnout is knowing what to do when we are distressed at work. Once we are distressed, it's too late to problem-solve. When distress occurs, our brains are functioning heavily in our limbic system, not in our prefrontal cortex, the home of our problem solving and rational thoughts. We need a plan before we become distressed, and we need that plan to be easily accessible.
Creating A Plan
Step 1: Write down a list of all the things you currently do that help you calm when you're distressed. If you need some ideas, hop in the Teacher Care Network Support Community and ask other folks what they are doing! You can also find ideas here on the blog and in my book THRIVing After Burnout: A Teacher's Compassionate Guide.
Step 2: Get a fresh sheet of paper and make four quadrants. Sort those calming activities into the length of time it takes to complete it: 30 seconds, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, or 30+ minutes. Put an asterisk beside the ones you could do with students in the room.
Step 3: Print out the list and keep it in various locations that give you quick access when distress comes. Some educators like to create small pocket-sized versions, laminate them, and keep them in their desk, on their teaching cart, and in their car. Whatever works for you is best.
Step 4: When distress strikes, determine how much time you have to address the distress and if you need to do an activity with students in the room. Pick a calming strategy that fits your need, and do it!
Over time, you'll need your cheat sheet less and less, but I still find myself pulling mine out, when I get intensely distressed, to reduce my cognitive load.
Once you complete your emotional intervention plan, pop into the Teacher Care Network Support Community and share it. The best ideas come from collaboration and sharing. You never know who you might inspire to make their own plan, and what idea might be a gamechanger for another educator!
-Dr. Jen Johnson
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