The Conscious Classroom

Peace or Pressure? Supporting students during testing season

May 26, 2020 Amy Edelstein Season 1 Episode 11
The Conscious Classroom
Peace or Pressure? Supporting students during testing season
The Conscious Classroom
Peace or Pressure? Supporting students during testing season
May 26, 2020 Season 1 Episode 11
Amy Edelstein

Teens are more stressed than ever before. The cloud of testing looms large over students and anxiety about grades and performance can incapacitate ordinarily happy kids. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, Amy Edelstein will teach you how to help your students use mindfulness and other systems thinking practices to do their best and to gain confidence from the learning and victories they've had over the entire year.

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Show Notes Transcript

Teens are more stressed than ever before. The cloud of testing looms large over students and anxiety about grades and performance can incapacitate ordinarily happy kids. In this episode of The Conscious Classroom, Amy Edelstein will teach you how to help your students use mindfulness and other systems thinking practices to do their best and to gain confidence from the learning and victories they've had over the entire year.

Support the show (

Peace or Pressure: Supporting Students During Testing Season
with Amy Edelstein



Hello. Welcome to the Conscious Classroom monthly webinar. My name is Amy Edelstein and I can’t believe that we are coming to the end of the school year.


In this month for many students and many classrooms is a month of testing. Testing carries with it a hype and expectation, pressure and oftentimes fear. 


Students get into egging each other on who can be more worried, who’s more stressed, who’s more anxious and teens they believe will ace the test or exhibit a level of calm and control with envy and frustration.


This testing season, I encourage you and invite you to make your classroom one of mutual support, one where each of the kids has each other’s back, where they recognize that in an environment that supports the best of everyone, they’re going to do their best and where that generosity of spirit is there, they can extend support and care even if they’re feeling anxious themselves.


In one of the schools where the Inner Strength runs its Teen Mindfulness Program, one of the teen leaders asked her classroom teachers if she could lead a one-minute calming and encouraging meditation before all the tests and the teachers were very gracious and let her do it and I had the opportunity to sit in on one of her meditations and she brought out her phone. She had ocean sounds on her phone because she said ocean sounds relax her and they make her think of something so big that it makes her feel supported no matter how big her worry is and she – in her guided meditation, she had the students repeat affirmations, which she made up. She didn’t learn these from the program.


She said, “Tell yourself ‘I’ve got this.’ Tell yourself ‘I’m a good person.’ Tell yourself ‘My best is great.’” And she got all the kids to meditate with her and created this atmosphere of peer support and self-affirmation and it really helped the students. Whether they scored better on their tests or not, hard to say. We didn’t do a controlled study. But what it did do is it created an atmosphere where students were empowered to dig into themselves, to let go and to be willing and able to do their best and that their best was good enough. Their best was where they’re at, at this particular moment in time.


They will learn. They will develop. They will become more skilled in areas where they’re less skilled and this snapshot in time is not the definition or the defining moment of their personality, their future or who they are at a deeper level.


This snapshot in time captured by the standardized test is just that. It’s a moment in time and it’s not a definitive prophecy about their future or about what’s possible.


Very important to support your students with that understanding, that we develop, that our IQs are not static and get them to be curious. What did they learn? What do they understand? Where could they be learning more? What helps them remember?


Encourage them to trust themselves and when they trust themselves, they have the best possibility of accessing their highest intelligence, their deepest creativity. It’s a myth that students do better when they’re feeling very pressured. Obviously when kids realize that this moment matters, they will pull out the stops and do their best. They need to be awake and alert and engaged.


But there’s an unhealthy level of stress, which actually shuts down the brain’s reasoning capacity. It puts them in survival mode. It puts them on heightened alert and it’s with that free flowing ease of thinking and well-being, that sense of possibility, curiosity with some excitement. So there’s a heightened level of focus without that stress that’s going to activate their best recall.


Helping your students relax with a minute of meditation before they begin their exams is a powerful way to encourage them into a different mode of being, a different relationship to their minds, a different relationship to the stress.


Let’s do a short guided relaxation meditation right now to help your students get prepared for their exams, for that moment of testing. 


You can do this meditation along with me and then you will be practiced and able to do it with the students. 


So take a comfortable seat with your feet planted on the floor, your weight held by the chair and your spine rising tall up out of your hips, supporting your head. Adjust your posture so there’s maximum blood flow, so you feel balanced and stable. 


Really notice your weight being held by the chair and your feet planted on the floor. The floor is connected with the deep structures of whatever building you’re in and that building has foundations that reach into the earth.


Imagine that you could connect with the stability of the vast earth beneath us. So large, supporting so much life, and carrying you right now on its surface. 


If there’s fluttering in your stomach, feel the solidity of the earth. All kinds of butterflies and birds flutter around the surface of the earth. That’s OK. It’s part of the movement and happiness and joy of life.


Now turn your attention to yourself, sending yourself good wishes of love and kindness, giving yourself support, being your own best friend. And repeat these words or your own words.


May I do my best and may my best exceed my expectations. May I be creative and focused. May I know that I’ve got this, I can do this and may I experience throughout it all love and kindness and you can bring your attention back and finish the practice and turn your attention to the task at hand.


Helping students cultivate good habits of thought is an important part of learning. It’s an important part of student support and it’s really and important part of helping students assimilate and internalize whatever you’re teaching them, whatever subject it is, whether it’s pre-calculus or European history or psychology or creative writing.


Helping students relax and absorb and trust their own curiosity, trust their own ability to learn is a huge part of creating an environment that fosters learning, particularly during testing season where your school is probably under pressure, you’re under pressure, your kids are under pressure, all striving to conform to some external evaluation.


The best way to respond to that external demand is to root yourself and then root your students in the whole purpose of learning in the first place. Why we want to learn and grow, why we want to develop ourselves, why we want to be successful in the world.


The great philosopher Lao Tzu had a beautiful quote related to this, related to watching our relationship to the environment around us. How do we respond to external pressure? Where do our thoughts go? What’s our habit of thought? Can we cultivate encouragement, motivation, compassion, self-love, kindness? Can we do that when we’re under pressure? Can we stay strong and not disintegrate under negativity, under competition?


I love this quote. What he said was he said, “Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words. They become actions. Watch your actions. They become habits. Watch your habits. They become character. Watch your character. It becomes your destiny.”


That simple causal relationship between the quality of our thoughts and our destiny is so clearly linked up in that short passage. Helping students focus on positive, self-affirming thoughts to motivate themselves, to boost their self-esteem helps liberate their creativity. It helps liberate their possibility for improvement, for transformation, for excellence. 


Think about the sports teams in the locker room. What does the coach do? He pumps them up. What does the quarterback do? He pumps up his team. What does the team captain do? He brings everyone together. He encourages them. He focuses on their best. He focuses on their aspiration and their passion and their commitment and their zeal and the countless hours they’ve put into this.


That great team captain doesn’t tighten down and say, “Remember that play we practiced. Don’t forget that aspect of the opposition that we analyzed. Don’t do the mistake that you did last game.” That team captain, he or she inspires and motivates. We can be the best. We can excel beyond our wildest dreams. We can release our own talent. We’ve practiced. We’ve drilled. We’ve trained. It’s in our blood. It’s in our bones. It’s in our muscle memory. We can do this.


That pumping yourself up again is important for the teens under stress. Get them to do the school cheer before their test. Pump up their energy. Get them to stand up. Get them to put their hands in a circle together as a team does and get them to do a cheer that, “One, two, three, we will succeed. One, two, three, we will succeed.”


That team effort, that release of tension, that drawing people together, it breaks the isolation. It breaks that fear that I’m on my own with this exam. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m not going to make it. I’m not as good as everyone else and that teen support, letting their voices go, letting that tension out in a positive, “One, two, three, we will succeed,” that will allow them to break that fear, worry and anxiety that catches hold.


You know, it’s like those fall seeds in the wind. They catch hold on these burs and they stick and they can’t float to their destiny. 


Encourage your students and encourage them before and after. Bring them together after the test. Bring them together in affirmation of having done their best. This is their best at this moment in time. This is their best today. There’s infinite room for growth. There’s infinite room for creativity. There’s infinite room for learning.


This was what they had. Celebrate it, release it and move on. Students get plagued with self-doubt after the fact. Bringing some closure, bringing the group together. Not enough in the hallway conversations of, “Oh, I know I aced it,” or “Oh, I know I failed it,” neither of which is probably objective. 


But bringing them together in “We did our best.” Bring them together in, “This was our best this moment in time.” Bring them together for the infinite learning that lies ahead for the rest of their lives. Some people have issues with affirmations. There have been countless studies that show that self-affirmation can help open people in a medical context to healing interventions. It can mitigate the effect of stress. It can improve and reverse grade decline in students who are feeling depressed, left out, worthless.


I will post some of those studies online so you have – if you want to look up the actual studies and conclusions and where they were held. But it’s interesting to see that focus on the positive, as we would expect, leads to positive outcomes.


Our negative self-critical thinking is a little like mental propaganda. We’re convincing ourselves by repeating over and over, “I’m terrible. I’m stupid. I don’t know anything. I never remember anything. I procrastinate. I don’t study enough. I’m not smart like the other kids.”


Making sure that we reverse that negativity in the mind, making sure that we reverse that self-propaganda that’s negative, that’s critical, that’s limiting is so very important for our teens.


One of the best exercises for releasing this negativity is the thought bubble. It doesn’t require us to think positively or to impose positive thoughts. It simply allows us to practice letting go of negative thought.


Let’s do a thought bubble practice right now and this thought bubble will be related specifically to the time of testing. 


So sit up straight, feet flat on the floor and when you hear the bell, focus your attention on the bell. 


Take a deep inhalation and a deep exhalation. Take another deep inhalation and another exhalation and a third deep inhalation and a third deep exhalation.


Let the breath oxygenate every cell in your body. Let the breath refresh all of the cells in your brain. Notice the inhalation. Send that rejuvenating oxygenated air throughout your entire body. Send that rejuvenating air to every part of your being. Use your exhalation to expel out all of the toxins that build up when we’re tense, we’re nervous or stressed.


Imagine that you could expel all of the toxins from your body with your exhalation. You can even picture your exhalation as a dark smoke that you send out of your body and it evaporates into the air around you.


Now over a couple of breaths, now your inhalation and your exhalation are both clean and pure air. Now notice your thoughts. Allow your thoughts to settle and next time you notice a specific thought, put it in a bubble and let it float away.


Each thought that arises, keep putting it in a bubble and letting it float away, releasing all of the thoughts, creating space in your mind so that you can think freely and creatively.


Use these next few moments to keep letting go of thought and on your last inhalation and exhalation, bring your attention back to yourself, appreciating your own curiosity, your own mental training. When you hear the bell, we can finish and you will be ready to now do your best.


To reduce the pressure and increase the sense of peace in which students will do their best, encourage them to come up with their own affirmations. Make a list the day before the test or in your advisory period the day of the test. Make that list on the board even though you will need to erase it before the exams.


Have each student come up and write one, contributing to the whole. If it’s not an affirmation for themselves, have them picture somebody else in the class and have them write an affirmation for them without saying who it is.


Some of the affirmations that can support your students’ confidence can be things like, “I’m curious to find out what I really know,” “I’m proud that I’ve learned what I’ve learned especially because it was so hard,” “I learned to apply myself,” “I’ve grown and changed from what I used to be like,” “I stick to things even though they don’t come easily,” “I have talents and character that are uniquely mine,” “I’m learning to manage the growing process and that is a big deal,” “I like to learn,” “I like to do well,” “I like to share what I know,” “I like myself,” “I’m a good person,” “I have a lot of capacities that no one has seen yet, but they will.”


These affirmation can raise a student’s confidence even if they don’t want to do it. Giving voice to the affirmations helps them learn that we’re always training our minds and we can train our minds with negativity or we can train our minds with positivity.


In preparation for the test, you can have the students write index cards each day for a week, visualizing where they want to be, writing down what they want to achieve, setting personal goals and expressing appreciation for the learning process.


Focus the students on the learning process rather than the outcome. Focus the students on their love and curiosity of anything. Learning new songs, learning how things work, getting over a hard problem, controlling their frustration.


They will come up with the things that they’re proud of in themselves. For the students who say that there’s nothing good, that they don’t like themselves. From the outside as an observer, give them things to affirm, to be proud of. I do my braids beautifully. I’m a creative dresser. I have imaginative video memes. Whatever it is, give them something that authentically is theirs that you’ve observed, that they can be proud of and let that sense of one area of confidence give them confidence to carry them through the testing.


Finally, show the students that you’re more proud of their efforts, their work to control and learn and excel beyond wherever their limitations are and that you support that creative spirit in them. You support that aspiration because that aspiration may not show up as the highest score on this particular test. But that aspiration will carry them through their lives.


So I wish you good luck during this testing season. I hope that your students exceed their expectations of themselves and I hope that you find a way to make this testing season one that is not an anomaly in the learning process, but one that you’ve turned around and made it become the most supportive and affirming event that it can be where students can stake their claim to the learning ground that they’ve won over these past months of the school year and where they can have that victory over their own negative mind, the competition and the negative minds around them. So that they’re growing as happier people, not just as statistics on an exam.


Be well and thank you for tuning in to the Conscious Classroom webcast.


[End of transcript]



Transcription by Prexie Magallanes as Trans-Expert at