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Social-Emotional Learning Is The Path To Anger Management In A Classroom

We are living in a time of great stress in the world and that supercharged atmosphere spills over into our classrooms.

Perspectives

We are living in a time of great stress in the world and that supercharged atmosphere spills over into our classrooms. These enclosed spaces are filled with a few dozen people, each person with their own degree of anxiety and stress. This can be a catalyst for tension and anger. Anger is a strong emotional response. It can lead to hostile, aggressive, or even violent behavior. Effective anger management means putting in place the tool kit needed to deal with anger in a classroom.

Empathy coupled with Social-Emotional Learning competencies can be the guide to help us deal with anger in the classroom. Through systematic programming, educators first explain the anger emotion and then teach anger management strategies. These lessons increase a student’s knowledge and understanding of that emotion and through emotional intelligence, we better understand ourselves and the people around us. That can potentially mitigate angry outbursts.

Stress can play a big role in anger because anger comes from within us. It is often motivated not by the target of our anger but by other circumstances. As educators, we may have no idea what is driving a student’s anger. How many times, when facing an angry student, have you asked yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Sometimes, it is enough to just ask the student, ‘What is really wrong?”  This empathetic question quite possibly might help diffuse the situation.

An unforgettable example happened one morning in my class. I had an angry eight-year-old student arrive at the door.  I discovered they had just been told over breakfast that the parents were getting a divorce. The child was then put on the bus alone to go to school. The source of their anger was later revealed. The biggest fear in the child’s life at that moment was that they would never see Daddy again.

Children have often lived a lifetime before the morning bell rings and they walk through your classroom door. Before the day even begins, their ability to deal effectively with classroom issues is already depleted.

Social-Emotional Learning competencies are the gateway to developing the comprehensive tool kit needed to help you and your students understand and deal with anger.
Social-Emotional Learning competencies are the gateway to developing the comprehensive tool kit needed to help you and your students understand and deal with anger.

Social-Emotional Learning competencies are the gateway to developing the comprehensive tool kit needed to help you and your students understand and deal with anger.

To break down the walls of anger that can spring up in a classroom, we follow the SEL wheel around the circle and focus on competency specific curriculum to, first, help students understand the origins and complexity of their anger responses. The next step is to help students develop effective strategies to deal with this emotion appropriately.

Social-emotional learning works from the inside out starting with self-awareness, moving through self-management, responsible decision making, and then on to the outward SEL components of relationship skills and social awareness. Every one of the tenets of social-emotional learning factor into dealing with anger appropriately by first understanding ourselves and then understanding others. It does not eliminate anger but can help decrease the intensity of the emotion and overreactions.

To begin to proactively manage any anger response we start with self-awareness. This includes knowing ourselves and being aware of our strengths and weaknesses. The first step for educators would be lessons on self-awareness to help students understand what factors influence their own behavior. 

Knowing yourself also means being mindful of triggers that result in an angry response. These triggers can be a single event or old emotional wounds that flare-up. Realizing who we are is essential when dealing effectively with anger. Lessons on anger triggers are the next steps to helping students understand themselves.

Self-management is the personal capacity to manage our emotions effectively in different situations which includes managing stressful occasions. Lessons on stress-management techniques follow along with the anger triggers as another strategy to self-regulate behavior.

It can also include mindfulness activities that enable students to practice both managing their thoughts and self-discipline. The goal is to cultivate the motivation to anticipate and regulate negative reactions.

Self-discipline connects to responsible decision-making and the methods of self-regulation. That involves making a conscious decision to use a tool kit of decompression exercises to help reduce personal anger.

When students proactively practice anger management in the class, they are taking ownership of the classroom mood.
When students proactively practice anger management in the class, they are taking ownership of the classroom mood.

Lessons on decompression strategies are the next step and are useful for classroom management. When students proactively practice anger management in the class, they are taking ownership of the classroom mood. There are many of these lessons that include deep-breathing or walking away to a cool-down area.

Educators can make decompression exercises part of the routine so students become very familiar with them. The result is that, collectively, the students are assisting in the creation of safe classroom space. By sharing these lessons, educators are creating a buddy system and a mutual responsibility for anger management in the class.  Classmates become part of the solution.

Relationship skills connect directly to our words and actions with others. Every person reading this has said something to someone in anger they wish they could undo. We all want healthy, supportive relationships and we get there through being trustworthy, open, and honest with others. Lessons on conflict resolution techniques are an effective way for students to learn to manage their anger with each other.

Finally, social awareness is our ability to look outside ourselves and our opinions and have the capacity to see a situation from another point of view. Here is the place for lessons on open-mindedness. Nelson Mandela said a child is not born to hate. Breaking down the wall of anger requires us to break down the walls of prejudice too.

Dealing with anger effectively and appropriately fosters resilience in a child. This in turn develops their self-confidence because they learn to trust themselves. Before we can begin to fully trust others, we must learn to trust ourselves and our emotional reactions.

Social-emotional learning offers a blueprint to help educators deal effectively with anger in the classroom. Every lesson is aligned with the SEL wheel from self-awareness through to social awareness. It will provide your students with an anger-management tool kit that will be useful throughout their lives.

It is a win-win for educators and students in the classroom and it is a win for the future of our world.

Linda Simpson was trained at The Peace Education Foundation which opened the door to a decade spent facilitating conflict resolution and social-emotional learning (SEL) workshops and conferences across her school, school district and at the university faculty of education level. For several years, she blogged for Huffington Post Canada with the focus of the writing centering on parenting issues, life after divorce, and the occasional social commentary. She writes a divorce coaching column Letters to Linda, personal essays and poetry for The Divorce Magazine UK. She has just published her first book in a parenting series on Amazon.

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