13 Ways to Reduce Student Anxiety

Posted by Marguerite Foshee on 1st Apr 2020

During this very strange and anxiety-provoking time, we find ourselves constantly thinking of our students and how to best help them. Marguerite, a veteran teacher, has a bag of tricks up her sleeve to share with us so we can help kick this anxiety to the curb. Most, if not all, of these ideas can be adapted to a virtual classroom.

You Got This

You got this, aka, the mantra of my teaching career. My students needed to hear these reassuring words and be reminded that I get it every day. I understand the debilitating fears that arise in school, especially for today’s students. Every day we pack classrooms to max capacity, for both teacher and student, without ample time or resources to reach every single student.

At the onset of my career, I was dubbed “the bleeding heart” of my teaching community. Every kid had an advocate in me, every student started the day with a clean slate, I was tireless in looking for solutions and resources for my students.  In thirteen years of public school teaching, I never found a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Instead, I developed multiple approaches and tucked them into my proverbial bag of tricks.

Bag of Tricks

Give students something to do with their hands. Many students resort to hair twisting, interruptions, or physical outbursts. For my students, a small amount of play-dough, a rubber band, or a squishy object often did the trick. One student, with severe anxiety, calmed down when given a rolled piece of masking tape to fidget with. I would simply place it on his desk quietly—no conversation needed.

Teach students to self-monitor. How bad is this fear on a scale of 1-10? Students respond well to a measure of 1-5 or 1-10. How angry do you feel?The worst ever anger or just a little angry?

Allow time for reflection and brain-dumping. This can be as structured as journaling, circle time, or sketching your day. It can be as small as a ‘ticket-out-the-door’ where students draw a face (think emoji) on a sticky note to tell the teacher how their day went. Students stick these to a predetermined place on their way out. The most successful approaches for me, working with adolescents, were those that offered free and authentic writing where errors and language didn’t count. Others needed one-on-one time and would come find me during the day for a snack. Something about having that available led to many heartfelt conversations.

Use a team approach. Collaborate with fellow educators to discuss solutions and tricks. Chat with parents, they know their kids’ quirks and about their daily stressors.

Be open to enlisting the help of others. Students gravitate towards educators and individuals that get them. Use that to your benefit and continue to foster that relationship. Perhaps another teacher is the go-to for that student when they’re distressed or overwhelmed. For me, this was one of the hardest lessons to learn. I wanted to be that teacher for every student. My dear colleague, Ms.Cain, taught me the value in having a village for every child.

Teach self-soothing techniques. What helps a child calm themselves? Self-soothing is a concept I didn’t truly understand until recently. Is it a smell? Perhaps peppermint or baby powder? Is it tactile? A soft blanket or nubby bear? Is it a sound? Music and songs are powerful tools. Empower students to notice and wonder what works for them, then utilize their strategies.

Have a quiet time and space. Make spaces around the room where students can step aside and manage their emotions or put on a pair of noise-blocking headphones. As teachers, we lament profusely about peace and quiet. If we feel stressed or overwhelmed, imagine how our students internalize these same feelings.

Teach breathing practice and/or meditation. In my last few years of teaching, I spent the first 3-5 minutes with my students listening to guided, age-appropriate meditations. Use inexpensive or donated old towels for students to practice on during meditation. This habit of slowing down and taking time to refocus helped my students immensely, instead of just another class to go sit thru, it became a time of day that they looked forward to.

Allow for ample transition time with reminders. Nothing stressed my students out more than transitioning from one activity to another! Noticing this, I started using a visible timer and announcing when students have three minutes to transition or ten minutes to work on this activity, etc. I gave reminders at the halfway point, then the one minute mark. I noticed my students were not only less stressed, but more focused and engaged. Sometimes, I simply gave them a quick ten count on my fingers. But I always stated the expectation and gave reminders.

Have individual and group spaces. Carve out spots to tuck away in the room for students to breathe. Use standing desks, washable bean bags, group and individual work spaces, etc.

Use apps. I’ve used and can vouch for Calm and Insight. I just learned of another fabulous app that uses a cognitive behavioral approach: ClearFear—I’m looking forward to trying this one out!

Practice what you preach! Take time for self-care, there is a reason burn-out is high for teachers.

Notice. Watch your students behaviors, both increased and decreased. Look for stress and anxiety indicators:

  • Frequent outbursts, both physical and emotional
  • Withdrawn students
  • Disengaged students
  • Perfectionism

There’s no wonder that our students are stressed and anxious. This plagued my reflective brain throughout my career, and led me to seek solutions to provide students serenity. Find out what works for you and your students, listen to one another, and we can hopefully find some harmony within our classrooms.


Written by Marguerite Foshee, M.Ed

Marguerite is a tutor at Brainspring Learning Center in Clarkston, Michigan.


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