More so today than ever, students are buckling under the pressure of everyday stress. They often come to Architects For Learning exhausted after a full day of school, anxious about an upcoming test, or overwhelmed by seemingly insurmountable assignments that lay ahead.
While a certain amount of stress is necessary to kick start many of us into “work mode,” too much can lead to neurological flooding, which essentially shuts down our brain’s ability to work effectively. Psychologist, Daniel Goleman, refers to this neural state as “frazzle.” In his book Social Intelligence, Dr. Goleman explains the neurobiology behind frazzle. Essentially, when we experience the tipping point of stress, our brain becomes flooded with stress hormones which cripple its ability to function effectively. We are left operating from our older, deeper brain structures (namely the amygdala) in “fight or flight” mode.
The automatic fight or flight response can certainly be useful if we are faced with a bear in the woods, but it can really get in the way of getting day-to-day tasks done. Have you ever noticed how hard it is to talk when you’re completely stressed out? Finding words, forming sentences, organizing thoughts, making thoughtful decisions – all of these take extra effort when you’re flooded with emotion. Writing a decent paper or preparing for an exam? Nearly impossible when you’re frazzled.
Essentially, students can’t perform well if their brains are in fight or flight mode. When they are in that state of frazzle, even the most effective learning strategies will go to waste if their underlying stress isn’t addressed first. To be effective educators, we must not only recognize frazzle in our students but also know how to address it. Sometimes students just need to spend a few minutes decompressing and chatting about the day with someone who is truly listening before they can work productively. Other times, we need to use research-proven strategies before we ask them to focus on learning something new. Occasionally, we see chronic states of frazzle in students that really need more expert guidance than educators can provide, so we need to get other professional involved.
Always, we need to acknowledge the ways in which stress and anxiety influence communication and learning in our students and address it on an individual basis.