District Administration May 2018 - 31

need help, this is different, we haven't
dealt with this before.'"
Effective cognitive-therapy treatments
for anxiety exist, psychologists say, but
for teachers, the best approach can seem
counterintuitive: Distressed students
need exposure to the very experiences
they would prefer to avoid. If a student
who fears oral presentations is instead
allowed to submit a written report, "that
kid will be less likely to talk in front of
class," Kendall says. "You're actually making the problem worse."
Teachers need to help students learn
to manage their anxiety rather than give
in to it. Students should acknowledge
their physical responses to fear-the knot
in the stomach, the hyperventilation-
and remind themselves of how they have
coped with similar situations in the past.
Teachers can help with an array of
specific strategies, Minahan says, such as
encouraging students to keep a beforeand-after record comparing how hard
they expected an assignment to be with
how hard it actually was. Over time, students can learn to think, "I'm freaking
myself out-my initial thought was not
accurate," Minahan says.
Teachers' more typical approach-
offering praise or reassurance-won't
budge that inaccurate thinking, she says.
"The most kind-hearted and wellmeaning teachers tend to reinforce anxious behavior by giving attention to it
or by removing demands academically,"
adds psychologist Dalton. "We want to
train these teachers how to respond in a
differential way."
Building rigor and resiliency
Schools are also trying a number of
smaller-scale stress-reduction interventions, some of them aimed at heading
off anxiety before it can gain a foothold.
Scaletta's district is building a corps of
student social-media curators to disseminate links to positive and inspiring materials-a homegrown antidote to online
conflict and cruelty.
In the 9,800-student West WindsorPlainsboro Regional School District in
www.DistrictAdministration.com

THE BEST MEDICINE-A "laughter yoga" session reduces student stress in the
West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District in New Jersey. The district has
also provided PD to show teachers how to conduct meditation and breathing
exercises to ease their own and students' anxiety.

New Jersey, concern over student anxiety spiked three years ago after a survey
uncovered high levels of stress and 120
students were referred for out-of-district
mental-health treatment.
In response, a recent professional
development day included peer-to-peer
sessions on meditation, mindfulness,
yoga and breathing exercises. One high
school in the affluent, high-achieving district has begun conducting guided meditation breaks for students, and administrators are exploring ways to help teachers
manage their own stress, lest adult angst
infect students.
The challenge is showing staff how
social and emotional learning "fits into
the whole structure," says Superintendent
David Aderhold. "It's not one more thing,
but it's part of how you think about your
classroom management."
Even something as mundane as scheduling can play a stress-reduction role:
This year, the middle and high schools
in southern California's 4,150-student
La Cañada USD are starting the day at
8:30 a.m. instead of 7:45 a.m., because
a 2016 survey showed that the district's
high-performing students were averaging only 6.5 hours of sleep per night. La
Cañada hopes to create a testing schedule

to ensure that students don't face multiple
exams on the same day. The district may
also reduce the amount of homework
teachers can assign each night.
Still, superintendents across the country struggle to strike a balance between
reducing pressures on students or, instead,
accepting stress as inevitable-even necessary-and teaching students how to
cope. Last year, La Cañada brought in
professionals from many fields to talk
about the winding roads they took to
their adult successes. Meanwhile, the district's students rack up Advanced Placement classes.
"It's a really fine line, and we revisit it
almost daily," says Superintendent Wendy
Sinnette. "We're very committed to both
challenges: making sure that we're highperforming and academically rigorous,
and making sure that we are doing everything possible to build resiliency." DA
Deborah Yaffe is a freelance writer in New
Jersey.
MORE ONLINE

To read more about the causes of
anxiety, see this story at
DAmag.me/anxietycauses

May 2018 31


http://www.DAmag.me/anxietycauses http://www.DistrictAdministration.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration May 2018

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