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The Impact of Stress on Learning
Stress causes changes in the body-brain system and actually inhibits learning. John Medina states on his website Brain Rules that, “Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function.” This has tremendous implications for teachers.
What Happens in the Brain
You are probably already aware of the physical symptoms of stress. The quickened heartbeat, increased respiration, dilated pupils, your mind not working as quickly as usual. Recalling a stressful encounter, you may have lamented, “I should have said (fill in the blank) to her!” The reason you didn’t think of your snappy comeback was because your mind was in fight or flight mode. In response to stress, your brain released a hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol helps people deal with short bursts of stress. The problem begins when a person is under constant stress because the cortisol can damage cells in the hippocampus, causing problems with learning and memory. Cortisol also gets in the way of the brain’s neurotransmitters making it difficult to access existing memories, or to lay down new ones. This has obvious ramifications for the classroom.
Tips for Reducing Stress in the Classroom
Some tips for reducing stress in the classroom are:
1. Post a daily schedule to reduce uncertainty.
2. Keep a clean and organized classroom.
3. Respond to disruptions calmly and privately.
4. Maintain a positive and safe learning environment.
5. Make sure to give students ‘brain breaks’ to process learning.
6. Teach and model stress management skills in the classroom.
Be sure to talk to students about extending the use of stress management to other areas of their lives. Stress management is a lifelong skill with benefits across a wide spectrum ranging from health to family relationships. We can’t control what happens to our students when they leave our school, but we can give them the tools to respond in a healthy manner.
Lori Lite of Stress Free Kids is dedicated to teaching children how to handle stress. I am using her products to help my students learn these important life skills. I highly recommend other teachers look closely at her products.