Keep a Calm Classroom

I am a hard core introvert. For anyone who finds the Myers Briggs personality framework applicable, I am an INFJ, meaning I am introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. If you’re an INFJ, then you might automatically feel an affinity for me as I probably would for you knowing that information. On an introvert-extrovert scale, I’m usually 80-90% introverted, so I really do get all the introvert stereotypes. I don’t like loud people, loud or long parties, surprises, lots of attention, meeting tons of new people, talking to strangers. I get overwhelmed easily by noises, lights, and smells. In addition, I suffer migraines and my triggers overlap with those sensory stimuli.

Yet…I am a teacher who is in front of people all day long, talks all the time, is constantly in communication with various adults, and can sometimes be overwhelmed by all of that. I have found over time, though, that I am happy AND my students are happy when I am true to my own nature and keep my classroom calm. By that I mean that my classroom is often very quiet or at a low hum. I also have plenty of discussion and games, but if you were to arrive in my room randomly, I would bet that you would more often than not feel like the classroom and students were calm and quiet.

Below I’ll explain 12 strategies that have worked for me to create a calm classroom. It is extremely important to me that my classroom not feel hectic or harried. I get anxious if I feel like volume or unpredictability is high. If you’re an introverted teacher who is easily overstimulated by noise, maybe some of these suggestions will help you! I personally feel physically tense when my classroom atmosphere gets out of control. It can ruin my day. If you’re an extroverted teacher, I recommend reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain or listening to her Ted Talk to better understand introversion. Then, consider some of these strategies to better support those students who might need that calm, reassuring atmosphere.

The chimes I use look like the star and moon magenta stone pieces drawn above. My dad bought them for me as a kid on a business trip to South America, and they are one of my favorite pieces in my classroom.

1. Use music, ASMR rooms, or nature sounds

One of my favorite websites for background sounds is Noisli. On this site, you can pick and choose nature sounds such as a thunderstorm, wind, ocean waves, forest. You can also choose a fireplace or cafe. My favorite thing is that you can mix and match sounds to create your own combinations, making some sounds louder or more frequent. ASMR rooms can be found online related to holidays or seasons, often with beautiful backdrops to project on a screen. I explained above that noise can make me anxious which is true. If everyone in a room is doing the same activity, such as a writing workshop or reading independently, sometimes small noises become distracting because they stand out amidst the silence. Likewise, if someone talks for whatever reason, it can either be very disruptive or cause a chain effect of conversation snippets. ASMR rooms, of which there are tons on youtube, music (I prefer songs without lyrics so I don’t have to monitor language), or nature sounds like those on Noisli or a sound machine can mask all the little noises that might actually be more disruptive to a silent classroom.

2. Gain attention with a chime or music

I use a bar chime for almost every moment that I need to get students’ attention. I love my chime. It is the very first procedure I teach on the first day of school. We practice turnign and talking and then beign silent by the time the sound dissipates. We discuss what it means to give me your attention, and we use it all the time. I also have a set of wind chimes that I use to mark transitions. I have fantasized about planning out music clips to signiffy different parts of the day for students as well. Virtually, I used songs on times on the screen so that when the song was up, the transition was over. Transitions are hard for kids )and adults, seriously) and having to shout for attention or even clap loudly is unappealing to me. A nonverbal signal such as raising a hand takes too long for me. Usually, the calm sound is all that is needed. If this stops being effective at any point, I just tell students we are going to try again. I teach the procedure again; we practice; It works.

3. Smooth out transition times

As I mentioned above, you can use calming sounds to signify transitions or you can stop a sound that was already present to signify a change. One thing that I found stressed me out in classroom was trying to give directions during a transition time. f you can allow for smooth transition times, you will help those students who need to know what’s coming next. Allow for buffer time between tasks and lesson parts so that you’re not feeling like there’s no time to settle in or move out of an activity. Students need to feel the flow of change. Try to smooth out your transition times and get out the bumpy, loud wrinkles.

4. Provide Quiet Time

Part of my responsive classroom training was learning about giving students a quiet time each day. I have chosen different quiet times at different parts of the day depending on my schedule. Sometimes, it was between language arts and math if we had a long morning. This year, it’s right after lunch. Often, it helps to have quiet time immediately after recess or another high energy activity. Quiet Time is a chance for kids to do anything they want to do as long as it is in their own, personal bubble. They can read, draw, write, play with play dough, mess with a fidget, nap. I have very few restrictions on quiet time. Since it’s only 10 minutes, I like them to pick one spot and stay there the whole time. What surprised me most when I implemented this was how often students chose to do schoolwork or extension activities. I also have found it endlessly fascinating to see which students slip easily into quiet time expectations and who struggles. I believe that it’s important for us as people to learn how to entertain ourselves by ourselves for a few minutes. I think it’s good when a kid can figure out what to do on their own without help from me and that they can pick what to do without the input from others. I’ve noticed it to be so helpful for keeping a day running smoothly. It’s one of my favorite times of day. It also gives me a chance to check in with anyone emotionally, catch a kid up who was absent, be silent and read, tidy up a desk with a kid, or generally wander and pick up on their interests based on their choices. It is a great time of day for me.

5. Read Aloud

If there are gaps throughout the day or empty spaces, doen’t just fill them with noise that will upset you or others because tehey’ll get out of hand. Instead, read aloud something. If you’re in a class where you can’t possibly get through a novel over the course of a few weeks, have a cool nonfiction book filled with fun facts on hand (National Geographic books are amazing for this) and read just bits and pieces. This is fun whether it’s related to content or is merely random.

6. Teach students how to work independently

If you picked up on the theme that many of my tips are related to independent work, that’s because independent work is a cornerstone of my classroom. That is not because they just do random worksheets or sit on a computer and I do nothing; that is because I work with students mostly 1-1 and in small groups. I try to do at least 50% of all of my instruction in small groups or 1-1 conferences. This is not only how I differentate to meet student needs; it is also a way that keeps my classroom calm and my energy reserved. In order to meet this goal of doing lots of small group, focused teaching, i must teach students how to work independently and I must hold them accountable as they learn. This means taking away privileges or ensuring reparations are made or breaks are taken when those expectations are not met.

7. Intervene for noise with self-checks

If students are working independently and they are too loud, one of my favorite ways to get a class to calm down is to just do a quick self check. I do an attention getter, like my chime, then I ask the students to rate themselves on 1-5 with their hands. 1 finger means they are not following any expectations and 5 means they are meeting all of my expectations. I look at their numbers, correct anyone who is mistakenly giving themselves a 5, then tell the class I need to see more 5s. I don’t have to yell. I don’t have to even correct bheavior. They completely know what my expectations are. They can self-correct. If I have to do this again for some reason, I wil either stop the activity altogether or tell them that if I have to correct them again, then we will stop the activity or give up stations for the day, etc.

8. Lean into needs for breaks

While I am introverted and would be pretty happy reading and writing all day in a classroom, I know that not everyone is like me. When I see kids that need to move, I lean into it. I stop my plan, and I try to come up witha way to introduce movement, such as through one of these methods or one of these games, allow for chatting, turn and talks, or allow for partner work when I was orginally going to have it be alone. If I am expecting silence for too long, that is on me, and it will not bode well for me to fight the noise which will only exhaust me more. My classroom will be calmer if I provide time for talking and movement than if I push back on it.

9. Adapt your schedule

Again, not everyone is like me in that they want the schedule to be the same all the time. I like to look at my schedule for the day to consider what is a balance for students who need some movement and activity and talking and what is a balance for students that need to rest and recharge. I make sure that I break up my long blocks into stations. This serves me as well because I do much better working with students in small groups or 1-1. I also like to look at my schedule for the week. If every day I’m expecting lots of activity, that’s exhausting for me. If I have too many intense activities planned, I might need to balance that out. If I doing a big, active, loud project in Science all week building hurricane houses, I need to build in more calm activities throughout math. If we have a big sharing celebration for writing, maybe I need to calm down other blocks of time.

10. Use breathing exercises

I highly recommend doing short breathing exercises to ground students. This can be as simple as holding up your hand and breathing in for 5 as you lift each finger, then breathing out for 5 as you close fingers to your palm. You can do a triangle breath where students draw a triangle on their desk or in the air to breathe in, breathe out, hold – each for a few seconds. A square breath is similar for breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold, and so on. Another favorite grounding exercise of mine is to notice 5 things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you feel or touch, 2 things you smell, 1 thing you taste. You can have students do a visualization exercise such as leaning against a tree or feeling the sun on their back. If you need more ideas, Go Noodle has some pretty easy to use videos. There also are tons of ideas from yoga4classrooms. I have their yoga pack of cards and it’s extremely useful. There are many that I love.

11. Consider your own self care, planning times, and lunch breaks

Some teachers find themselves trapped by their schedule. First of all, if you’re not getting a lunch break or a planning period, that is awful and should change. There is zero reason you should have to endure that. Second, if you hve those things, you can decide how to use them. I often eat alone for lunch and like the solitude. I love reading or listening to a podcast during my break. I also like taking a few minutes at the start of my planning to orient myself with my to do list. I need time to gather my head.

12. Encourage students to self advocate

I will share that mostly students respond extremely positively to all of these and they become attached to the way the classroom feels even more over time. For several years I shared a wall of my classroom with a fairly noisy classroom. co-taught with someone who was almost the opposite of me in many respects. I liked this teacher and we worked together closely, but we had very different personalities and styles of teaching although quite similar values. Since we shared a wall, his voice could sometimes be heard teaching. He liked to play music loudly and encouraged lots of freedom and volume for groupwork. I remember distinctly one student complaining to me about how it wasn’t fair that we had to be quiet and they could be loud. I explained the times that I did allow us to be louder and more talkative and also that I preferred my classroom to be a certain atmosphere because it made me a happier, better teacher. This same student later in the year asked to go next door to ask the class to be quieter because we were working. In fact, this often happened where a student would ask to go next door to tell them they needed the music turned down because they were writing and needed to focus or because we were distracted by their noise. I encouraged this self advocacy! I think it’s fantastic. I was often surprised when some students came to the realization that in fact they did work better in a calm atmosphere. It helped if they were motivated to do a project and wanted to focus. They could see the benefits of that calm atmosphere in their own working habits.

While the classroom may feel hectic or crazy at times, there are many ways that you as the teacher can be the defining character. You need to make sure that your classroom reflects you, and that includes your personality not just a color scheme or font choice on your worksheets. Your mental health is often directly correlated to the atmosphere of your space. Make the classroom a place you want to be and students will likely sense that harmony between you and the space which will help them relax in your presence. May you find that balance for your own classroom as well.

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