How can children with anxiety succeed in critical thinking and learning?
In my Kindergarten placement, there is a high rate of students suffering from anxiety. Anxiety is an internalizing disorder that has a negative impact on understanding, processing, and regulating emotions. Symptoms of internalizing disorders such as anxiety, which present differently with each case, include bodily sensations and an effect on cognitive processes and behaviour (Reilly, N., 2015, pg. 36). I believe the opportunity to learn should be accessible by anyone, and in order to reach this goal there needs to be changes in the school environment to allow learning to occur for all children. Implementing strategies that assist with anxiety is necessary to support students who suffer from this condition, and mindfulness is one strategy that has been introduced to the education world in recent years. Mindful practices improve ones’ emotional, mental and physical states as well as increase brain function. Since these practices have been proven to help decrease anxiety I believe incorporating mindfulness into the classroom and school environment will show great improvement in learning and overall wellness. Incorporating mindfulness practices was my main focus in the goal to decrease anxiety and increase learning for my Kindergarten students.
Centering my Professional Inquiry Project on anxiety connects with my vision as an educator. I strive for a balanced classroom. In order to successfully learn I believe the mind, body and soul needs to be aligned. Living with anxiety makes this difficult especially for a kindergartener. In my classroom I want all children to feel welcomed, loved, appreciated, and most importantly have confidence to learn. I will provide the tools and support needed for those students coming to school every day with anxiety and help guide them on the road to success.
To search for answers and effective techniques I used a variety of resources around my school including my teacher mentor, the Learning Support Teacher, and Palliser’s behaviour specialist. Their expertise was extremely valuable in finding solutions to decrease and manage anxiety. I also relied on external resources such as websites, books, professional development sessions, and the curriculum lab. One book in particular opened my eyes to the world of anxiety in the school environment, Anxiety and depression in the classroom: a teacher's guide to fostering self-regulation in young students by Nadja Reilly. This resource further developed my understanding of anxiety, self-regulation, and depression. It provided an excellent definition and description of the disorder and included behavioural and cognitive signs to look for. An emotional wellness guide for students, parents, and school wide mental health was provided as well. It is filled with strategies and tools for specific domains such as identifying feelings and managing somatic symptoms, cognitive restructuring, contingency management, behaviour support, increasing positive affect, active coping, relaxation skills, and social support. Through continuous trial and error in the classroom I was able to gather a greater understanding of anxiety and strategies to help manage the disorder.
I have created a website on anxiety in the classroom to help educators develop increased understanding of anxiety and related strategies that may enhance a child’s learning, growth and development. On my website I provide the definition, epidemiology, causes, behaviours, emotions, somatic complaints, and root of anxiety in a deeper and comprehensive way. Strategies to manage anxiety are split into specific categories such as; recognizing anxiety, academic tools, emotional and behavioural tools, grounding exercises, visuals, helpful resources, and helpful links. I have gathered a variety of tools to help increase self-regulation, boost the positive atmosphere, and increase the overall wellbeing of the child. “Mindful Minutes” played a huge role in my PIP project. This time is where children took a few minutes out of the day, usually at the start of the day, after snack, or at goodbye time, to concentrate on the mind, body and soul. It was a quiet time, with no talking, to take deep breaths, participate in yoga, stretch, and engage in listening activities or grounding exercises. To get a better picture of what this entailed and to view a number of other strategies to manage anxiety please explore my site.
As a closing to my internship I provided the staff with a learning workshop regarding anxiety and my complete PIP project. This session reviewed what anxiety is, what it looks like, and what teachers can anticipate in their classroom. I guided the staff through my website to provide a greater understanding of the tools and strategies they can use to help manage anxiety and increase self-regulation.
Students have grown substantially through this mindfulness process. I found that students were able to self-regulate and prepare for learning. Integrating these strategies into my classroom had a positive impact on the children as they were immersed into a calming and operational environment. The learning that happened in the room was incredible. The children were confident in their abilities to learn and were joyful.
Kennedy is currently finishing her combined degree of Bachelor of Arts and Science and Bachelor of Education majoring in Physical Education. Various experiences such as volunteering at the MAT, working at the Boys and Girls Club, and volunteering at an orphanage in Cambodia have led her on a path to share her passion for working with people and to bring a positive, enthusiastic attitude towards life. She strives for joy, happiness and a balanced lifestyle. She believes the mind, body, and soul need to be aligned in order to achieve learning.