How Do You Maintain That “Calm” Classroom Feeling?

Yesterday, a teacher came into our classroom as I left on my prep. She took a deep breath and said to me, “Wow! It feels calm in here.” These words stuck with me as I left. She had me wondering, “Why? What made it feel so calm?” I don’t think that many things happen by accident. While my teaching partner, Paula, and I might not know exactly what resulted in this feeling of calm, we know that this feeling lasted throughout the day, which had us inferring a list of things that might be to thank. Here are the possible reasons that we came up with together as we chatted and planed at the end of the day yesterday.

Moments Before I Left For My Prep

Start the day outside. The opportunity for kids to connect with each other, to engage in sensory play (a mud puddle is like nature’s sensory bin 🙂 ), and to run and spin seem to make big, positive differences. Self-Reg is a key consideration for our outdoor time, and we have to wonder about the impact this has long-term.

Have a consistent routine. Our day rarely changes. Once a week, we end the day in the gym with Mrs. Kott, so tidying up is slightly earlier than usual. Other than that, our schedule is exactly the same every other day. We have as few full-class transitions as possible: going from a short connecting time inside, to outdoors, to our meeting time back in the classroom, to play, to tidying up and getting ready for home. Children create their own transitions throughout the day — sometimes with our support — when they decide to wash their hands and eat, choose a different material in the classroom, and/or connect with another friend around their space. Since students know this routine, and the predictable nature of it we think increases comfort, the play itself seems calmer.

Reduce stressors. We love, and often refer to, this chart of Stressors In The Five Domains (on The MEHRIT Centre Website). When we are noticing behaviours in kids, we try to use our knowledge of this chart to help determine what stressor might be at play and how we can change the environment for the child and/or our choices to reduce this stress. It’s not easy to anticipate everything, and we’re constantly reflecting and changing in this area, but this chart does have us thinking regularly about kids, their environment, our responses, and their routine. Below are just some ideas that come to mind.

Biological Domain – The ability for kids to eat and drink when they’re hungry and thirsty (not on a nutrition break schedule), the ability to go to the bathroom as needed, the use of different lighting (from reduced lighting to partial lighting to full lighting), the adjustment of temperature within the classroom, a reduction of visual distractions (e.g., less bright, colourful bulletin board displays)

Emotion Domain – A consistent schedule and preparation prior to a change (if possible), provocations that show entry points for students at different levels (so that comparisons are reduced), discussions with kids around feelings and Self-Reg to help acknowledge and support different feelings

Cognitive Domain – Open-ended provocations that allow for entry points for all students, giving students control over the choices they make (e.g., how they express themselves — from writing using letter-sounds and familiar words to writing using pictures and random letters), reducing full class transitions and giving children as much time as needed for their projects, supporting cleaning up one option before choosing another one to reduce multi-tasking

Social Domain – We assign seating spaces to allow kids to connect with some of their friends while also supporting new friendships, play happens now in smaller groups, classroom set-up allows for social interactions as well as independent play, we engage in play with kids to also help facilitate these social interactions as needed and support them even more outside where there are fewer restrictions

Pro-Social Domain – We try to acknowledge different feelings and choices through our interactions with kids, and this empathy has trickled down to how students acknowledge each other, larger blocks of play tend to reduce some of this stress, as children feel as though they have time to support others and themselves

From meeting different needs to connecting with new friends to supporting each other, these reduced stressors are captured in different ways in the posts above.

Reduce the number of materials. Paula and I have taught together for a long time (we’re in our fifth year now), and while we’ve never had a lot of materials out in the classroom, we’ve probably reduced them even more with COVID. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have cabinets full of options, but what we offer kids is limited. We have paper, paint, glue, markers/crayons, scissors, recyclable materials, blocks with loose parts, LEGO, cubes, popsicle sticks, and plasticine. Our choices of materials don’t vary much day by day, but maybe that also helps with the predictability that kids crave. It also allows them to be more creative with the supplies they do have, and return to and extend the play each day. We know that some people question, “How do kids not get bored?,” but a little bit of boredom, coupled with time, often results in creativity. More materials can also lead to more dumping and less focused play, which can sometimes also be louder. Kids know that they can always write us notes for additional items if interested (from full sentences to pictures and random letters), which also might help with them slowing down and thinking about the use of these items instead of just having them as something else to add to the pile.

Connect with kids. We keep on thinking about what Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins taught us: Self-Reg starts with relationships. While we try to support kids in different ways that they can connect with each other, even from a distance, we also spend our day connecting with kids. We sit down and talk with them, play with them, and find out about things that matter to them: from a love for Halloween to a new kitten. Do longer blocks of uninterrupted play allow for more of these connections?

Try to be aware of our own feelings. We know from Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins that our responses and actions impact on kids. This doesn’t mean that we never feel dysregulated. We’re human. But we also try to reflect the tone of our voice and the content of our conversations to see if we might be impacting — positively or negatively — on how students are responding to us and to each other. A quiet voice, a gentle touch, and sometimes saying or doing nothing at all, can go a long way.

Try to react in small ways. I’ll admit that Paula is much better at this than me. Very little phases her. I continue to try to breathe deep and not let every epic spill, overflowing sink, flower explosion, and paint mess cause a big reaction. Everything can be cleaned up! By not reacting with a loud response, fewer kids are drawn to these problems, and less children lose their focus in play. This is enough of a reason for me to want to improve with quieter responses.

Wander less. Paula has also taught me that the more that educators wander, the more that kids follow. The wandering always seems to create a less settled classroom feel, so as hard as it can be to sit and observe, we both try to do this more often. When we do move, we attempt to plan first where we’re going, so that the move is deliberate and not just a case of walking around.

Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things that lead to this calm classroom feeling or maybe we’ve missed the reason altogether. What do you think? How do you create and maintain a sense of calm in your classroom? I’m not going to pretend that it always feels exactly like this — we all have our days — but knowing what is possible and why it might be this way could help us with recapturing that feeling again. When it’s time to clean up on a Friday afternoon and nobody is quite ready to go home — kids and educators alike — you realize that this is something worth figuring out.


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