Grace under pressure
All ships have a ballast, a weight in the bottom of the hull which gives the ship an even keel during stormy weather. Your emotional ballast is the true understanding you have of yourself, your ability to recognise thoughts and feelings as they happen.
When I started teaching I thought I had a good idea of who I was. But it soon became apparent that I’d never truly been tested under pressure. When times were hard I didn’t have an even emotional ballast and so I would get angry and want to give up.
Here are some ways that I have developed a better understanding of what’s going on in my body in order to establish a better emotional ballast:
Pay attention to your inner compass
The Roman orator Cicero once wrote, ‘we must decide who we want to be, what kind of people, in what walks of life, know our particular genius and what we are good and bad at and behave accordingly.’ Put another way, we must direct ourselves toward what matters, understand our skills and find the right home for them in the world. We can do that by becoming aware of what we do, what we feel and what we think.
Be present to your physicality as much as your thinking. There are three ways you could do this:
- Root yourself to the spot
Imagine you have tree roots planting you to the floor. The stillest person in the room often exudes the most gravitas so abandon yourself to gravity and the support it provides. The stress of the classroom will take you out of your body and put you into your head, causing you to hunch-up and tense your muscles. The technique of putting your Feet On the Floor and your Bum On a Chair (FOFBOC) is a great way of getting out of your head and back into your body. Feel the weight of your feet on the floor and your bum on the chair (this also works by thinking just of your feet if you’re standing). You should feel safe and supported by gravity so relax into this contact.
- Become aware of your breath
Notice the expansion and contraction of your diaphragm as you breathe. We breathe automatically, but we can also breathe consciously, deciding to breathe in and out or even hold our breath if we choose. Breathing consciously can develop new neural pathways in the brain which will help you to have greater awareness of other automatic processes in the mind, such as your emotions. A great way to do this is with meditation. I personally use the Headspace app which is free for teachers.
- Imagine you have a dragon’s tail
As silly as this sounds, thinking you have a heavy tail at the base of your spine gives you a feeling of weight. Picture your tail coiling through the room to feel like you own the space.
Find your true north, your ‘this is me’ feeling. This means paying attention to what matters to you and what motivates you because when you’re doing these, you feel like you’re doing what you were meant to do: your purpose.
Whenever you find yourself getting off track, you can use this feeling to guide you back to where you need to be. So tune into your values. When you follow them you’ll feel good and going against them will make you feel bad. You can tune into this by considering what you’re grateful for at the end of each day.
We create our world largely by how we think about it. Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, wrote that ‘the soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts’. Moving away from destructive thinking to constructive thinking is key to having a more positive outlook
Notice the voices in your head. Young children often express these voices aloud as they chatter to themselves, but as we grow up we learn to keep them to ourselves. There are two distinct voices:
Your inner coach
This is the voice in your head which calms and celebrates. Say something kind to yourself, some positive advice. Turn it up when you feel down.
Your inner critic
This is the voice in your head which does refinement. It helps you to step up and improve so you don’t repeat your mistakes. Learn to turn the volume down because if it’s too clear it will raise your anxiety levels and cause stress. Use it to make yourself better, not worse. Refine when you listen to it and what it says. If it’s saying ‘You fool. You really messed that lesson up. They’re going to hate you’, train it to say: ‘That didn’t go well, but don’t worry. You’ll do better next time’
Pull them together
If, for example, you’re worried that you’re bad at behaviour management and your inner critic says ‘you can’t control a class’, change it into an ‘If…’ question. So it might say ‘If you could control the class, what would you do differently?’ Then the answer might be: ‘I’d be more relaxed and we’d get through more of the lesson.’ Listen to this answer because if you were more relaxed and you got through more of the lesson, behaviour might improve.
If your critic says ‘You’re never going to figure this out’ talk back to it with your coach. ‘What if you do? You’ve managed other classes well before.’