How to Handle Anger Issues in the Classroom

By Andrew Hawk

How to Handle Anger Issues in the ClassroomI believe it is the intent of most educators to create safe and happy learning environments. Classrooms should be places where students can set aside the outside world. However, this is easier said than done. Every day, students from all walks of life enter classrooms carrying baggage from their outside lives. The problem is that it is tough to concentrate on learning if you are worried or anxious. In many cases, anxiety boils to the surface in the form of anger.

Anger shows up in many ways in classrooms. I have yet to encounter a teacher who does not have a story to share about an angry student. During my time student teaching, a new student was enrolled in my class. When we were introduced, he told me he liked to be called Pat. Later on his first day, when I was leading the class of third graders in a math lesson, I called on him. But I mistakenly called him Patrick. He started to scream at me that I had called him the wrong name. Days later, I found out that his father had been taken to jail the night before.

I learned that day that teachers need to be ready to encounter anger with little to no warning. Even when anger pops up unexpectedly, most situations can be deescalated. Here are some tips you might try if anger issues ever impact your learning environment.

In the Moment

  • Breathe. If you are caught off guard, take a second to gather your wits. It is better if your initial reaction is calm. If you meet anger with anger, you will most likely escalate the situation. Count to three, and then follow the next tip.
  • Evaluate the situation. How bad is it? Are the other students safe? If not, clear the room before addressing the angry student. If you have to clear the room, send one of the other students to get another adult.
  • Encourage the student to talk. Recognize that the student is upset, and ask what is troubling him. If the student tells you, encourage him to give details. This allows him to vent some of his anger.
  • Validate the student’s feelings. Never tell an angry person that she has nothing to be angry about. I guarantee this will make the majority of angry people angrier. Typically, angry students are being irrational. It is not necessary to agree with students’ anger to validate it. Simply tell the student, “I bet that would make a lot of people angry.” You cannot reason with an angry student. You have to drain off the anger first, and then talk about what to do next time.
  • Ask for something small. Ask the student to do something minuscule. Compliant behavior has a way of snowballing, but do not start off too big. If the student is standing, do not start by asking him to sit down. Instead, ask the student to hand you something or to walk to another part of the room with you.
  • Ask for deep breaths. In my opinion, taking deep breaths is the fastest way to calm an upset person of any age. The person has to comply with the request, though. Once you get your first compliant request out of the way, ask the student to take a deep breath. Encourage her by counting in for ten seconds and out for ten seconds. If your student complies with the first breath, repeat the process until she is calm.

After an Angry Outburst

  • Discuss what happened with the student. Tell the student that his behavior is concerning to you. Do not use this time to lecture. If you start lecturing the student, he will shut down almost instantly—or it may lead to another angry outburst. Make consequences logical and restorative, not punitive. If the student made a mess, have him clean it up. If the student said something hurtful, have him apologize.
  • Communicate with parents. Your first communication with parents should be something positive. This strategy can help you build a relationship with parents, which can make difficult conversations a little easier. Tell parents what happened and see if they can offer some insights.
  • Teach a coping mechanism. Many students who have regular angry outbursts lack a coping mechanism. They simply do not know how to calm themselves down. Popular coping mechanisms include deep breathing, positive imagery, and walking away from difficult situations to calm down. Whether you try one of these strategies or something else, role-play with the student so she can practice using it. Also, you will need to prompt her to use the mechanism when you see her becoming angry.
  • Collect data. The antecedent to angry behavior is not always obvious. If you have students who are angry a lot, collect data about their behavior. Pay attention to the time of day, what was happening in the classroom, and who was involved. The goal of this type of data collection is to identify your students’ triggers.
  • Plan for triggers. Once you know a student’s triggers, you can plan accordingly to help him overcome his anger. For example, if a certain activity creates frustration that leads to anger, be sure to plan a preferred activity before and after it. Tell the student about all three activities ahead of time. This kind of planning can help the student work through the difficult activity.
  • Use response to intervention. If anger problems are happening regularly even though you are doing all the things mentioned here, refer the student to your school’s response to intervention team. You can report to the team the strategies you have been trying. Chances are that someone on the team will also have a good idea. This is a great step just in case things take a turn for the worse.
  • Request a functional behavior analysis (FBA). If the student receives special education services, you can ask your school psychologist to complete a functional behavior analysis. The student’s parent or guardian will have to agree. If the analysis determines that the student’s behavior negatively impacts her learning, the case conference committee will work with the school psychologist to write a behavior plan that will become part of the student’s IEP (individualized education program). This is an important step as students change grades or schools, because the plan stays with the student. In addition, the plan will be updated annually.

Above all, try to stay positive. A strategy might work fine for days or months then, without warning, stop working. This can be frustrating, but if you keep working at matching the right strategy to the needs of the student, you can help most students be successful.

Andrew HawkAndrew Hawk has worked in public education for sixteen years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.

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Overcoming Shame and Building Resilience in the Classroom

By Liz Bergren

Overcoming Shame and Building Resilience in the ClassroomShame is hard to talk about. It’s a complex emotion, and many of us don’t know how to verbalize its existence in our lives. Dr. Brené Brown, a New York Times best-selling author on the topic, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Like any emotion, shame has some purpose: It can maintain our moral compass, and it can regulate our social behavior by helping us forgive and accept wrongdoing.

However, any emotion that goes on too long can become toxic. Donald Nathanson, founder and director of the Tomkins Institute (until his death in December 2017), said that shame can easily become toxic because of our brain’s inclination to relive shame experiences. Early shame experiences in our lives can play out over and over again, leading to long-term feelings of worthlessness. In a 2003 report “The Name of the Game Is Shame,” Nathanson lists shame triggers: “matters of size, strength, ability, skill; dependence/independence; competition; sense of self; personal attractiveness; sexuality; issues of seeing and being seen; wishes and fears about closeness. Failure in any of these areas triggers shame, just as success brings on a moment of pride.”

Many of our shame experiences happen early in our lives and become unforgettable. Some are so tragic that we suffer long-term mental health issues as a result. Children experience shame through the words and actions of those who care for them. An insensitive teacher can have a devastating impact on children’s early educational experiences. Certain pedagogical practices can either increase shame responses or decrease them. For example, grouping lower achieving students together can ultimately lead to exposure of students’ weaknesses—a trigger of shame. Exchanging papers and having peers grade them exposes weaknesses as well. Certain strategies used for classroom management can also lead to shame, such as facing a student’s desk toward a wall or yelling demoralizing statements at a disruptive child.

To help eliminate or alleviate shame triggers in school, model and teach empathy and include lessons on emotional intelligence. Dr. Brown’s work on shame resilience revolves around authenticity, vulnerability, and empathy. In a 2015 interview, she urges adults to teach children to dig in to their emotional experiences. Avoid the temptation to fix something that goes wrong for kids, but rather let them feel the emotions produced by failure.

Maybe you see one of your students really struggling to understand a certain problem or concept, or you have a student with persistent behavior problems. You can tell by her facial expressions that she is frustrated or not fully comprehending. Approach that student quietly, assess her understanding, acknowledge the emotion you’re observing and validate it and reassure her. An important step that we can often neglect is to allow an emotion to persist, feel it, and then let it pass. Often, we want to immediately stop the feeling or do something to numb it. Instead, we can teach kids to face an uncomfortable emotion, name it, learn from it, and keep plugging away. Don’t let students connect their mistakes, failures, and wrongdoings to their core identities. There is no such thing as a bad kid, only bad behavior and poor decision-making.

Common classroom practices like ability grouping can have detrimental effects on children if not done in a way that encourages problem-solving and critical thinking. According to Robert J. Marzano, Debra J. Pickering, and Jane E. Pollock in Classroom Instruction That Works, effective learning groups must have at least the following elements: “the work must involve every member of the group; each person has a valid job to perform with a known standard of completion; each member is invested in completing the task or learning goal; and each member is accountable individually and collectively.” Keep your grouping as flexible as possible and allow students to have some input.

Regarding classroom management and discipline, allow students to have a say in classroom rules. Design and brainstorm rules together with them so that there is a common understanding of consequences for certain behaviors. Make sure to privately discuss individual behavior issues, avoid techniques that include public statements that point out a single student’s wrongdoings.

Dr. Brown’s work has been transformative for me as a practitioner, individual, parent, and educator. It has led me to think about how to integrate shame resilience into my work with kids. I encourage you to do your own research on shame. Practice vulnerability in your life and make empathy the foundation for your teaching. Be warm and approachable to students so that they can come to you when they struggle. Regardless of the subject you teach, use teachable moments to build students’ emotional intelligence or work social-emotional learning into your curriculum.

Liz BergrenLiz Bergren is Free Spirit’s education resource specialist. She is a former teacher with 15 years of classroom experience. In addition to being a teacher, she spent five years working for Park Nicollet’s Melrose Institute where she counseled and taught classes to patients who struggled with eating disorders. She has a B.A. in health and secondary education from the University of St. Thomas and an M.Ed. in family education from the University of Minnesota.

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How to Help Your Students Manage Schoolwork Deadlines

By Janet S. Fox, author of Get Organized Without Losing It (Revised & Updated Edition)

How to Help Your Students Manage Schoolwork DeadlinesWhen I was in my early teens, I realized—the night before the project was due—that I’d forgotten to prepare an oral presentation, essay, and poster on a South American country. My mother was furious, I was frantic, and the presentation I put together in the dark of night was a disaster. I don’t remember my exact grade, but I’m sure it was pitiful and I was deeply embarrassed.

This was a true life lesson, and is perhaps one small reason why I love to help kids manage their schoolwork deadlines so they don’t experience such stomach-churning moments. Here are some tips that I hope will help you and your students with the essential skill of time management.

The Tool to Use: A Student Planner
First, I recommend that all students have a personal planner or calendar. Some schools provide students with planners, but if yours does not, there are hundreds of options to choose from—both hard copy and digital.

  • An online search for “student planner” will pull up a range of options available to purchase or as a free download.
  • Planner apps, complete with alarms to signal deadlines, are available for smartphones and can be synced with other devices.
  • A simple 12-month calendar can be repurposed as a planner, as long as it is large enough to record notes on individual dates and small enough to fit in a student’s binder.
  • I recommend stocking up on colorful stickers, colored pencils, and sticky page tags to mark important dates.
  • Planners should be portable, so students can record dates as soon as they are announced in school. However, a secondary large wall calendar or dry-erase board (for noting reminders) in the student’s room can be useful.

The First Skill: Using the Planner
Now that your students have some kind of planner, how should they use it, especially for long-term projects?

  • As soon as the project due date is announced, record it in the calendar. Highlight it in color, set an alarm, or flag it with a sticky note or sticker.
  • Make a list of all the steps needed to complete the project. In the case of my country project, I should have noted deadlines for research, buying supplies (poster board, glue), finding pictures, writing the essay, making the poster, making presentation notes, and practicing the presentation.
  • List the order in which these steps should be completed. Record which steps require specific times or places, such as library research and supplies purchasing.

The Second Skill: Time Management
Long-Term Project PlannerNow comes the hard part—setting up each of these steps and allowing enough time for each at the right time.

  • Without experience, no one has a clear idea of the time required to complete a task. Teachers and parents can help their students understand how much time is required for each of the steps in a project timeline—which is an invaluable life lesson.
  • At Free Spirit Publishing’s website, you’ll find a free downloadable “Long-Term Project Planner.” Use it to help students organize the steps and the time needed to complete them. Add specific dates for those mini-deadlines. Leave plenty of extra time for unexpected additional work.
  • Don’t forget to note conflicts or interruptions to project work, like soccer tournaments, tests and assignments in other subjects, or (important!) rest and free time.
  • To break down the steps into even more manageable bits, make a task timeline for each step. For example, it might take an hour to plan the essay, two hours to write it, and another hour or two to revise it. Note those times in the planner, so they don’t become overwhelming and so the student can allow for breaks.

The Third Skill: Thwarting Procrastination
Using these strategies will also help mitigate the urge to procrastinate. Procrastination is probably the principal reason, aside from learning differences, for a student’s difficulty with school. Here are a few tips to beat procrastination.

  • Make certain the student checks his or her planner every morning at the beginning of the school day and every evening before beginning homework.
  • All work and no play make for poor performance. Students need time off. Good planning includes break time, free time, brain rest time, physical exercise time, and healthy sleep time. Having planned breaks will actually help reduce procrastination.
  • Good nutrition is also key to student performance and the ability of a student to focus when focus is required.

I had to learn how to plan ahead the hard way, but there is no reason that your students need to suffer in the same way. With only a few minutes of class time or a bit of parental guidance, your kids can learn how to manage schoolwork and long-term deadlines—a skill that will aid them throughout their lives.

Janet Fox Janet S. Fox writes award-winning fiction and nonfiction for children of all ages. Her published works include the nonfiction middle grade book Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit Publishing, 2017) and three YA historical romances: Faithful (Speak/Penguin Group, 2010), Forgiven (Penguin, 2011), and Sirens (Penguin, 2012). Janet’s debut middle grade novel The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle (Viking, 2016) has received starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Janet is a 2010 graduate of the MFA/Writing for Children and Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in Bozeman, Montana.

Get Organized Without Losing ItJanet is the author of Get Organized Without Losing It (Revised & Updated Edition).

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Talking with Kids About Touching Safety

By Allison Wedell Schumacher

Talking with Kids About Touching SafetyAs a parent, the last thing I want is my child coming to me, teary-eyed and shaking, and telling me that someone has touched her inappropriately or raped her. I worry I would fall apart—maybe not on the outside, but on the inside. It would be horrible.

But here’s what would be even more horrible: Finding out that my child had been sexually abused for days or months or years because she didn’t know how to tell an adult or felt she couldn’t.

Now, talking to her about this stuff is no picnic. I’d kind of rather chew tinfoil, if you know what I mean. But it’s something I have to do to protect her. So, starting when she was two or three, I checked all the boxes. I taught her the proper names for all her private body parts, and I make a point to use them instead of euphemisms whenever the subject comes up. Why? Because sexual predators are more likely to prey on kids who are afraid or embarrassed to talk openly about their bodies.

I taught her that no one is allowed to touch her private body parts except to keep her safe and healthy. I taught her that if she is ever uncomfortable with the way anyone touches her—even if it’s just a hug that lasts too long—she can tell me, her dad, or another trusted adult.

I taught her the difference between secrets and surprises. Surprises—like “We’re getting this gift for Daddy for his birthday, but don’t tell him yet because it’s a surprise!”—are okay. The idea is that the truth will be revealed soon. But we don’t do secrets in our family, and we let everyone know that—even if it’s just a secret about getting ice cream before dinner.

But perhaps most importantly, I taught her that if she ever has something to tell me, I will always believe her, I will never be angry with her, and I will do something about it. And if she tells another adult and they don’t do anything, she needs to keep telling adults until someone does.

These conversations are ongoing. I wouldn’t expect my daughter to be able to do math after just one math lesson; she gets them every day. In the same way, I talk to her regularly (and casually) about touching safety. A great by-product of this is that the more often we have these conversations, the less awkward and uncomfortable they get.

Also, I try to keep the lines of communication open all the time and listen to her—whether she’s babbling about which character she likes best in her latest graphic novel or how she skinned her knee on the playground. I figure that if she doesn’t think she can tell me about the little things, there’s no way she’ll tell me about the big things.

A great way to start these spontaneous conversations about touching safety is with books. The good ones have not only engaging text and pictures for kids, but also a reading guide and additional resources for adults. My Body Belongs to Me by Jill Starishevsky, for example, is a great resource to get the touching safety conversation started with your early elementary kiddo. (My daughter, upon reading it, pronounced it “a good and important book,” so there you have it.)

The fact is that we can’t wrap our kids in Bubble Wrap and keep them on a tether in the name of protecting them. But we can talk to them and teach them—even when it’s uncomfortable or awkward—about their bodies in ways that will help them stay safe.

Allison Wedell SchumacherAllison Wedell Schumacher is a freelance writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on child abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, fitness, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at,, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.

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How Mean Behavior and Bullying Affect Academic Performance—And What to Do About It

By Jonathan C. Erwin, M.A., author of The School Climate Solution: Creating a Culture of Excellence from the Classroom to the Staff Room

How Mean Behavior and Bullying Affect Academic Performance—And What to Do About ItThe Problem
Bullying, defined as an act of repeated physical or emotional victimization of a person by another individual or a group, has been an issue in schools for decades. In recent years, bullying—which children and adolescents might have previously experienced on the bus, in the cafeteria, on the playground, in the school restroom, or in the hallways—has grown to reach kids by way of the internet and social media. In other words, it’s practically everywhere.

The statistics are deeply concerning. According to various national surveys (Hirsch et al., and Erwin) conducted in the last several years:

  • 1 in 10 students reported being physically victimized on a regular basis.
  • 1 in 4 students reported being excluded or emotionally hurt by another student on a regular basis.
  • 75 percent of students report being bullied at least once during the last ten months.

In addition to bullying, which emphasizes repeated physical or emotional abuse, even more students (54 percent) reported being subjected to meanness, or relational aggression. Based on my personal experience as a student, parent, teacher, and educational consultant, that figure seems low. I’d argue that virtually all students have been targets of or witnesses to name-calling, exclusion, threatening, or rumor-spreading. This discrepancy in statistics is likely due to students not reporting meanness. Or perhaps relational aggression has become such a norm in many schools that students don’t recognize it when it happens.

The Impact
What results from bullying and meanness? The emotional consequences are horrific. Two of the main reasons students list for dropping out of school cited in a 2013 survey are “not feeling like they belong” and “fearing for their safety” (Doll et al.).

According to the 2012 book Bully: An Action Plan for Teachers, Parents, and Communities to Combat the Bullying Crisis, 30 percent of children who reported having been bullied said they sometimes brought weapons to school (Hirsch et al.).

And we have all heard of students who have taken their own lives as a result of bullying at school or on social media. In one highly publicized case in 2011, Jamey Rodemeyer, who was known for his activism against homophobia, hanged himself as a result of homophobic cyberbullying.

While most students who experience meanness or bullying don’t drop out, bring weapons to school, or commit suicide, the stress caused by anticipating meanness or bullying causes students to lose sleep, be absent from school, or skip classes where they may be targeted. It’s well known that when a person perceives a threat, the brain’s hippocampus goes into high gear, sending the person into the fight, flight, or freeze response and inhibiting the capacity of the cerebral cortex (the thinking and learning part of the brain). It stands to reason that when students are sleep deprived, absent, or in fight-flight-freeze mode, their ability to learn and perform is significantly reduced.

According to an article in Public School Review, bullying and meanness have a powerful negative impact on student learning. Author Kate Barrington cites a UCLA study that concludes, “Students who are repeatedly bullied receive poorer grades and participate less in class discussions . . . They may get mislabeled as low achievers because they do not want to speak up in class for fear of getting bullied . . . Once students get labeled as ‘dumb,’ they get picked on and perform even worse.”

One Solution
Despite the fact that many anti-bullying books and programs are being used in schools, the statistics on incidents of bullying are not improving at the rate we would like. This might well be because “organizations move in the direction of the things they study” (Cooperrider and Whitney). If we put too much focus on bullying, bullying may become a bigger problem. Instead, my suggestion is to focus on its opposite: social responsibility, empathy, and kindness.

Research shows that when schools focus on creating a positive school climate and culture, students are far less likely to bully or engage in mean behavior. Schools can involve every member of the school community (parents, teachers, students, and staff) in creating a safe, connected, and engaged climate and culture by

  • developing a shared vision based on shared positive values
  • teaching social-emotional skills
  • giving a voice to every stakeholder
  • integrating social-emotional learning and character education into the curriculum

When we do that, we make schools places where students feel accepted and connected and want to learn and work. Creating this kind of culture takes time, effort, and intentionality. But our students’ emotional wellness and academic success are well worth the effort.

Barrington, Kate. “How Does Bullying Affect a Student’s Academic Performance?Public School Review, May 17, 2016.

Cooperrider, David L. and Diana Whitney. Appreciative Inquiry: A Positive Revolution in Change. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2005.

Doll, Jonathan Jacob, Zohreh Eslami, and Lynne Walters. “Understanding Why Students Drop Out of High School, According to Their Own Reports: Are They Pushed or Pulled, or Do They Fall Out? A Comparative Analysis of Seven Nationally Representative Studies.SAGE Journals (October–December 2013): 1–15.

Erwin, Jonathan. The School Climate Solution: Creating a Culture of Excellence from the Classroom to the Staff Room. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing, 2016.

Hirsch, Lee and Cynthia Lowen with Dina Santorelli, eds. Bully: An Action Plan for Teachers, Parents, and Communities to Combat the Bullying Crisis. New York: Weinstein Books, 2012.

Author Jonathan C. Erwin, M.A.Jonathan C. Erwin, M.A., has been a secondary English teacher, a professional development specialist, a college professor, and the director of training and curriculum for a federally funded character education program. His previous books include The Classroom of Choice (ASCD, 2004) and Inspiring the Best in Students (ASCD, 2010). Jon is currently an independent educational consultant, a senior faculty member at the William Glasser Institute, and a trained HealthRhythms facilitator. Jon’s work focuses on providing research-based approaches to teaching, managing, counseling, and training that appeal to people’s intrinsic motivations and help children, adolescents, and adults develop physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially. A musician and martial arts enthusiast, Jon has earned a second degree black belt in karate and a first degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do. He lives in western New York.

The School Climate SolutionJonathan Erwin is the author of The School Climate Solution: Creating a Culture of Excellence from the Classroom to the Staff Room.

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