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The Anxious Classroom: How SEL Can Calm Middle School Angst

The Anxious Classroom: How SEL Can Calm Middle School Angst

It's first period, and your middle schoolers shuffle in, looking anxious and overwhelmed. Before you've even started algebra, one student is crying because of friendship drama, another is nodding off after staying up too late gaming, and a third just failed last night's history test that he forgot to study for. Sound familiar?

If you want to transform your classroom into a calmer, more positive environment, read on to learn how social emotional learning can empower middle school students to manage stress and challenges.

Why is Middle School So Hard?

The middle school years are a time of monumental transition and upheaval in a child's life. Students are dealing with changing friend groups, raging hormones, increasingly difficult academics, and growing social and family pressures. It's no wonder anxiety and stress levels are skyrocketing among middle schoolers.

In fact, an American Psychological Association survey found a staggering 31% of teenagers regularly feel sad or depressed. Additionally, 36% are concerned about their mental health consistently, and 44% say they feel anxious.

As an educator, you have a special opportunity and responsibility to provide stability for students and teach them critical life skills during this formative time. That's where intentionally designed social emotional learning (SEL) comes in. SEL curriculums focus on developing self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. When woven seamlessly into everyday classroom life, SEL can transform your classroom into a calm, compassionate environment where students learn to understand and manage their emotions healthily.

The Benefits of SEL for Middle School Students

By implementing SEL programs, educators can proactively address the anxiety, stress, and mental health challenges often faced during the volatile middle school years. SEL helps create emotionally intelligent students who are in tune with their feelings, make smart choices, and form healthy relationships.

The academic and personal benefits of SEL for middle schoolers include:

  • Reduces anxiety and stress by teaching healthy coping skills
  • Helps students identify and understand their own emotions
  • Promotes kindness, inclusivity, and positive social behaviors

Additional lifelong benefits of SEL include:

  • Improves student-teacher relationships and classroom community
  • Boosts academic achievement and focus
  • Decreases disciplinary issues by improving self-control
  • Builds confidence, resilience, and problem-solving skills
  • Encourages responsible decision making
  • Sets students up for success now and in the future

By implementing SEL curriculums, middle schools equip students with invaluable life skills that positively shape their mental health, relationships, and overall well-being. SEL leads to more emotionally intelligent and successful human beings.

Strategies to Bring SEL Into Your Middle School Classroom

An SEL curriculum can't just be tacked on as an afterthought. Weaving it into everyday interactions and classroom culture is the key to success. Here are 5 highly effective strategies to bring more calm and emotional intelligence to your middle school classroom:

  1. Start each day with a check-in. Gather students together and have them share how they're feeling that morning, as well as any worries or frustrations they may have. Listen attentively and offer empathy and encouragement. This helps students reflect on their emotions and feel heard.
  2. Teach mindful breathing techniques. Set aside a few minutes daily to lead students in deep breathing exercises designed to center attention and calm the mind and body. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, and exhale for a count of 4. This can be done anywhere.
  3. Set up a dedicated calm down corner. Use a corner or area of your classroom to create a space with calming items. Include beanbag chairs, headphones, stress balls, coloring pages, positive affirmations, soothing books, and anything else that helps students decompress. Train them early on to use it independently when they feel upset or overwhelmed.
  4. Regularly role-play healthy conflict resolution. Use real-life scenarios of conflict among middle schoolers to practice de-escalation, managing anger, compromise, forgiveness, and other relationship skills. Help them prepare to navigate social challenges.
  5. Assign weekly gratitude journals. Have students reflect on 2-3 things they are grateful for that week. This encourages focusing on the positive and has been scientifically shown to improve wellbeing and life satisfaction.

By integrating small SEL practices into your classroom routines, you are helping equip students with the tools needed to manage life's difficulties and truly thrive. Your classroom can become a safe haven and training ground for handling the challenges of middle school...and beyond.

Empowering Students with SEL

The middle school years are filled with change and uncertainty. An intentionally designed social emotional learning curriculum delivered consistently in the classroom can provide stability for students. With the right SEL skills, they can better manage stress, anxiety, and difficult emotions. They'll gain valuable life skills like self-awareness, responsible decision making, and healthy relationship building.

SEL helps create a calm, compassionate classroom environment and sets students up for success academically and in life. By teaching SEL, you empower students to overcome challenges and live mentally and emotionally healthy lives well beyond middle school.

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