How To Keep Your Cool

How To Keep Your CoolAmong the traits that make a great teacher, enthusiasm is near the top. Your passion for delivering captivating lessons and activities to your students largely determines your success in motivating students.

We’re all attracted to people who live their lives with zeal, and students are no different.

One of my favorite movies is Braveheart, which tells the story of William Wallace, a 13th century knight who fought for the resistance in the Scottish Wars of Independence. His rousing speech to his fellow freedom fighters tingles the spine.

Although we don’t need to bring this level of intensity to our classrooms, there are times that call for us to rally our troops and remind them of the importance of their daily task.

Motivational speeches, to be sure, can be a well-needed shot in the arm.

But when it comes to classroom management, it’s better to be more like Gordon Cooper than William Wallace. Gordon Cooper was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, and he gave new meaning to the phrase “cool as a cucumber”.

On the morning of May 15, 1963, Cooper squeezed into a tiny capsule—about the size of an old Volkswagen Bug—perched 10 stories off the ground. Beneath him was the 255,000 lb. Atlas rocket, which was little more than a reconfigured ballistic missile.

While waiting for launch and listening to the rumbling of the rocket beneath him, Cooper did something remarkable.

He fell asleep.

While most of his fellow astronauts, vetted for being calm under the most trying conditions, were sweating in their pressurized suits and failing to keep their heart rates under control, Cooper had to be awaken during countdown.

Think of sitting on a roller coaster as it clicks upward to the top of the first breathtaking drop, and then multiply your nervous anticipation by 1000.

Cooper’s cool-headedness saved his life later in the flight when major mechanical problems disabled his navigational instruments and forced him to make manual calculations to avoid burning up in earth’s atmosphere. Using the stars as his guide and sketching on a small window, Cooper guided his craft to a near perfect splashdown.

Although we’ll more than likely never have to face a circumstance as daunting as being launched into space, classroom management poses its own unique challenges. Students disrupt class, rules are repeatedly broken, incidents happen, and we have to be able to remain calm and clearheaded to resolve them effectively.

I realize this can sometimes be a challenge to put into practice, so I compiled a short list of strategies to help you stay cool when students raise your ire.

1. Trust your classroom management plan. In a related article on the main cause of teacher stress, I wrote that when teachers rely on their words to curb bad behavior, they become stressed and angry. Having faith in your classroom management plan and allowing it to do its job will help you be a picture of cool.

2. Rather than using willpower to stay in a peaceful state, think of handling behavior and classroom management issues with cold detachment. When a student breaks a rule, enforce it with the same matter-of-fact way a mail carrier might deliver your mail.

3. Consider golfer Annika Sorenstam. The winner of 72 LPGA events, Annika is personable and outgoing off the course. On the course is another story. Showing little emotion, even after a bad shot, Annika crushes her competition with a peaceful smile on her face. She has long been called machinelike and robotic. But this is the most effective mental state for golf—as well as classroom management.

4. Act like firefighter. Firefighters are quiet and appear to walk casually when arriving on scene. This often surprises bystanders. They expect them to rush to the aid of the injured, yelling excitedly into walkie-talkies like they do on television. But what they’re doing is purposefully staying calm so they can think clearly and make correct decisions. If their adrenaline is pumping, they inevitably make costly mistakes.

5. My friend Rick Morris recommends pretending that the offending student’s parents are standing right behind the student as you speak to him or her. Or think of having a camera on you, broadcasting your every move into your students’ homes and throughout the school.

Handling classroom management without getting worked-up and feeling angry or stressed is a great benefit for you and your students. Try these strategies and let me know what you think.

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