How To Sweep Excitability Out Of Your Classroom

Toes tap, knees piston, eyes dance about the room—the air hangs heavy with uneasiness and distraction. The students can barely contain themselves, all but bursting to talk and move and burn off pent up energy.

Even when the classroom is quiet, the enveloping tension can be felt palpably by anyone walking through the door—a staff member, perhaps, stopping by to pick up a child for testing or a music teacher coming in for his or her weekly lesson.

The classroom teacher, however, is in the dark—the last to know. He (or she) is acutely aware of his struggles with classroom management, to be sure, and can clearly see how excitable and prone his students are to trouble.

But what he doesn’t know is that he is the cause.

What he doesn’t know is that his tendency to become stressed and uptight is rubbing off on them. Because he is with his students every day, in the trenches, he is unable to see the relationship between his disposition and their misbehavior.

This phenomenon is one of the most common causes of misbehavior, but it can be hard to recognize in your own classroom. An outsider may be able to feel the tension in seconds, but for the classroom teacher it’s just another day of rushing around, talking over students, and putting out so many fires.

The solution can be most clearly demonstrated by that music or art teacher who comes by once a week (or who welcomes students into his or her own classroom). The very best of these specialized teachers have grown so accustomed to this phenomenon and its negative effects that it’s the first thing they look for.

It’s the first order of business upon taking over a class buzzing with restlessness and excitability. He or she must calm racing hearts, dissipate nervous energy, and restore peace to the classroom before starting the lesson. Only then will the students be open to learning.

Only then will the teacher be free to teach.

The surprise is how simple this is to do, taking nothing more than an awareness of how important it is to carry yourself with unhurried and unruffled purpose.

Leading your students with clarity and conviction, speaking softly but confidently, responding to misbehavior with grace and aplomb . . . your calm assurance will settle over your students like a Scottish fog.

Just being in your presence can cause a marked change in behavior, body language, and academic comfort.

You can also reverse excitability in the moment by taking a page from that seasoned music or art teacher. As soon you notice agitation, nervousness, or irritability rising up in your students, take a break from whatever you’re doing and sweep it out of your classroom.

Simply ask for your students’ attention, and for the next 30 seconds or so just breathe—slowly and deeply. Don’t say a word. Don’t move around the room. Be still. Smile pleasantly. Let your eyes fall upon each student for a beat or two.

After this initial exhalation, share a lighthearted story. Tell an amusing joke. Regale them in the hard-luck hiking trip you took over the weekend. Just visit and enjoy their company. Allow the calm, positive energy to fill up your classroom, sweeping away every last remnant of excitability.

Wait for shoulders to relax, furrowed brows to slacken, and appreciative eyes to rest on you.

Now they’re ready to learn.

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7 Responses to How To Sweep Excitability Out Of Your Classroom

  1. nina January 26, 2013 at 11:59 am #

    Dear Michael: I recently came across your website via “The Art of Education” blog specifically geared towards art teachers. I read with interest your comment about seasoned art teachers knowing how to sense the moods and atmosphere in the room and adjusting accordingly. I wanted to know if you had specific tips that for classroom management that are geared toward “special” teachers. As you know, most of these teachers see the entire student body of the school or schools where they are stationed. This means that we see every single student and the unique behavior challenges and issues that some students demonstrate. Additionally, we see a range of grades and ages sometimes. I have read your 4 rules for a classroom and the subsequent consequences and I think that most of them could work with a variety of ages and grades. I can see the value of having a time-out or take a break area for the younger students (k-5) but for some older students in middle and high school, I think some of these students may misbehave on purpose, wanting to get out of what they are doing, and not do the work and then have others join them at the “take a break” area. As a teacher in this situation, I have tried turning things around on myself and ask, are my projects interesting enough, am I tapping into the unique abilities of my students, am I setting clear expectations? Sometimes, I know, you cannot appeal to all of your students with the mediums and projects that you do, but you hope to spark an interest in the majority of your students.
    Also, I do see the value in sending a letter home, but when you see sometimes 300 or so students, I can be very difficult to follow up with those and communicate with parents when we have such limited time to begin with. Any suggestions or past articles in the archives that you can point to regarding art teachers would be much appreciated. As a final point, I have not read your book yet, but it is on my list to check out! Thank you so much…

    • Michael Linsin January 26, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

      Hi Nina,

      I do have specific tips, some of which I’ve written about on the Art of Ed blog and some I’m saving for a future ebook specifically for specialists like you.:) I hope you’ll stay tuned!


  2. JL January 27, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    It’s amazing how true this is – kids can completely sense how stressed you are, even when you think you’re acting normally!

    You can also really sense the tension when kids have been annoying each other, even before entering the classroom, and you can tell they are full of frustration or want to get their own back! What do you think is the best way to get rid of this excitability? Thanks for all your tips!

    • Michael Linsin January 27, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Hi JL,

      I’ll put it in the list of future articles.


    • Lola June 12, 2016 at 3:17 pm #

      They sense our stress. I hope not in a conscious way. It’s so tiring sometimes to keep track of everything. Now we have to keep our own stress under control because they sense everything, even when we are not outwardly showing any stress. It’s too much to deal with. I can’t control all my emotions, their fall-outs and still teach. I know it’s all part of it and you can’t do one without the other but I’m exhausted and frustrated. I wonder if I should be teaching. I’m only part time.

  3. nina February 4, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    thanks michael for the reply! looking forward to the ebook and will head back to the “art of ed’ blog to see your posts, thanks again! 🙂 nina

    • Michael Linsin February 4, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

      You’re welcome, Nina!