Stress is a fear of the unknown, and whether we like it or not, part of the human experience. Stress is our response to a perceived threat, and can be either good and bad, depending on how prepared we feel to tackle the threat. Good stress readies students for performing at a high level, be it taking a test, giving an oral presentation, or working with others on a complex problem. Good stress is temporary, and alleviated through resolution of the perceived threat. Bad stress is another story, and unlike good stress, is chronic and contagious. Bad stress lingers, eliciting anxiety and other undesirable outcomes.
Rational or not, a fear of the unknown can debilitate students, rendering some as learner helpless. So what can we as educators do to reduce the “unknowns” in our classes, and lower stress levels for our students? It’s really quite simple. Make the “unknowns” known through rubrics, essential questions, daily agendas, formative assessments, prompt feedback, affirmations, demonstrations, sharing of exemplars, etc… Clearly communicate one’s expectations, and give students ample opportunities to rethink and revise their understandings. Offer retakes on exams, extra credit for extra work, one on one time….
People often do their best work when deadlines loom, and we can thank stress for that. However, people can also do their worst work when deadlines loom and they have no clue for what is expected of them. How did we manage our first years of teaching? Our first classroom observation? Our certification exams? We managed by preparing ourselves for the unexpected, and so it goes for students. It’s our role as educators to remove the uncertainties in our instruction and de-stress our classrooms. To clearly communicate our expectations to students and allow them to see failure as part of the growth process. To add levity and lightness to our classrooms through humor and play. We won’t eradicate stress in the world, but we can certainly make it manageable for our students in our classrooms.