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Mediate Stress & Improve Classroom Culture with Simple Acts of Helpfulness

Mediate Stress & Improve Classroom Culture with Simple Acts of Helpfulness

Stress, stress, stress!

It seems that we can’t complete a school day without the ugly effects of stress weighing us down.

As educators we face seemingly endless sources of stress – grading, challenging student behaviors, parent demands, evaluations, testing, new initiatives…the list goes on and on.

But what if one simple act, one effective action could help mediate the effects of stress?  What if we could better cope with stress if we did one thing more consistently?  What if that one simple thing not only helped us but helped our students as well?

Before I explain more, let’s take a moment to remember what stress is…and why it is so damaging when it goes unchecked.  Stress, according to, is “… a reaction to a stimulus that disturbs our physical or mental equilibrium.”  Stress messes with our minds and bodies.  It sets up a condition of mental and emotional uncertainty that can cause us to function in less than optimal ways.  Our bodies and brains typically produce a stress response when we have a perception of a lack of control over a person or situation.

Unchecked stress has been linked to a host of medical and cognitive problems such as shrinkage in the brain (Duman, 2012), variations in the ability to make decisions (Mather & Lighthall, 2012), and impaired memory (Yuen et al, 2012).  Not all stress is bad, of course, but perhaps that is a topic for another article.

Now that I’ve stressed you out about stress, let’s get to the action point!

Since stress and perception of control are closely related, we can help ourselves and our students by consistently doing things that are helpful.  In an interesting new study, researchers from UCLA and Yale found that prosocial behaviors help to mediate the harmful effects of stress.  When we are feeling stressed most of us go internal and focus on our own wants and needs.  We get a little selfish.  However, during times of stress, the researchers found that helping others has an extremely positive effect on us.  It seems that helping others really is helping yourself.

In the classroom, prosocial behaviors include things like helping someone with a task, holding open a door, or giving someone a compliment.  These seemingly “little” things can have a big impact in our classrooms.

Source:  Raposa, E., Laws, H., Ansell, E., Prosocial Behavior Mitigates the Negative Effects of Stress in Everyday Life, 2015.

Bryan Harris, Ed.D. is a trainer/consultant Bryan Harris, Ed.D. has been an educator for over 25 years. He has served as a classroom teacher, an elementary school principal, and a district level director. Now working full time as an author, speaker, and consultant he has trained over 18,000 educators in powerful and effective strategies that increase student engagement and achievement. He is known for his engaging trainings and presentations that demonstrate relevant and practical strategies. He is the author of 5 books including the popular 2010 book Battling Boredom. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Education and a Master of Educational Leadership degree from Northern Arizona University. In 2013, he earned a doctorate (EdD) from Bethel University in Minnesota after studying factors impacting new teacher retention. He also holds a certification in brain-based learning from Jensen Learning Corporation. As the author of three highly-regarded books published by Routledge, he has a passion for helping educators discover ways to inspire and engage students.

1 Comment

  1. Jean Seville Suffield

    Dear Bryan, Thanks for this article on stress. I am a Doctor of Natural Medicine and often work with adolescents who experience a great deal of stress in their lives. Coupled with toxicity from the environment and diet, and the added pressures of ‘dong well’ exacerbates the problem. Physical exercise has been reduced in many of our schools and that doesn’t help. Helping others in the form of social interchange helps build the relationships so necessary to student success.


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