4 Ways to Help Students Unpack Their Emotional Baggage

Being student-centered is easier said than done.  Self-preservation is human nature. Thinking about one’s self is a way of survival and we have all had days in the classroom in which we feel like we are just surviving.  Our students walk through the door every day carrying a heavy load. They bring baggage with them. Think about the image of a student carrying bags and bags of luggage weighing them down, falling off of their shoulders, notice them struggle as they pull the heavy bags with them into the classroom.  Watch as they plop the bags down next to them at their desk. They trip over them, they obstruct their way and make it so they do not fit into the space.

This baggage is a metaphor for all of the trauma a student brings with them to school.  This trauma and stress and “baggage” makes it challenging for students to navigate everyday experiences. Ever notice that weary traveler in the airport exhausted and at the end of their rope. Have you ever been that person?  Many of our students are weary travelers on a long trip with no end in sight.

That crazy blow out that ruined your day, that defiant student who refuses to get to work, even that lazy student asleep in your class.  Well, it isn’t about you. It is not about what the student did to you or to your class. The actions of the student could have purely manifested from that invisible “baggage” they are lugging around with them.

What Can We Do?

Take a Deep Breath

Sometimes a moment of mindful breathing is necessary to center yourself. Student behavior can trigger and escalate adults. Taking a deep breath and a few moments to step back not only serves you but serves the students.  If adults can remain calm, students benefit as well.

Gain Perspective

After you are clam take a moment to take stock of the situation.  Engage with the student and try to understand what they are carrying with them that could be bringing on this undesirable behavior.  Show you are an ally, offer support and help. You can still maintain high expectations and be compassionate at the same time. Offering a listening ear may allow a student to unpack some of their baggage.  Maybe even offering to help carry their burdensome load for a while so they can more easily navigate their day.

De “Center” Yourself

Communicate to the student that you are here for them.  School is about the students and educators have their best interests at heart.  Let them know that the reasoning behind your actions and their learning and success is at the center of what you do.  They still might not like the assignment, but showing that you care about them enough to ensure they complete it goes a long way.  

Remember Q-TIP

Q-Tip Stands for Quit Taking It Personal.  Many times the student’s behavior is not just to upset you, and oftentimes there is a great deal more to it than that.  In our country, alarming statistics show that more students are anxious, depressed, and suicidal. As educators, do we see this invisible “baggage” and take it into account as we navigate challenging students?

CLICK HERE to download a short activity to share with your staff. It contains 4 simple steps to help them stay student centered.

Sarah Hayden
Instructional Coach, TEEN TRUTH

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