The Chalk Blog

Practicing Deep Breathing for a Calm Classroom

Originally Posted by Barb Istas, a former member of our Curriculum and Instruction team and current Learners Edge course evaluator on February 21, 2018, and revised by Susanne Leslie on February 25, 2022.

Hey, teachers! My favorite, new-to-me tech tool is a little vibration cue from my watch at daily intervals reminding me to take a simple deep breath. I want to share this respiration inspiration with the world because these basic breaths are big-time helpful to my productivity and attitude. I can only imagine how helpful these breathing reminders would’ve been when dealing with school anxiety during all those years I spent teaching 6th grade! 


 Anxiety abounds in classrooms across the country, and the pandemic has increased our levels of stress. Throughout my teaching career, I saw anxiety creep into our classroom and interfere with learning for too many 6th graders. Most teachers agree - stressors have increased and students present more intensely negative responses. In her NSCA School Counselor article “Address Student Anxiety,” school counselor Mary McCormac reported, “School counselors at all levels encounter students with a variety of types of anxiety and report finding those who also have cognitive rigidity and perfectionism to be among the most challenging to help."


Pressure and high expectations now begin in preschool, with even kindergarten students feeling anxious and stressed, but without the ability to tell adults why they are distressed. More and more school counselors are being asked to help students experiencing severe panic attacks in school and decide if they need to be sent home from school.” This may sound like the “School of Dire Straits,” but I assure you it’s “Every School USA.”  Look around and see educators everywhere shaking their heads in agreement - too many students are anxiety-ridden and could benefit from more proactive support vs. reactive interventions. Add the pandemic to the list of student and teacher stressors and the intensity of responses make sense.


McCormac goes on to suggest several ways we can support struggling students, but for now, let’s focus on one simple, but powerful strategy to counteract anxiety—deep-breathing.  According to McCormac, “Teachers can serve as powerful models and think out loud so students realize adults need to be stress smart too. For example, teachers can say, ‘Let’s just all take a minute to breathe slowly and be aware of our surroundings before we begin our day.’” 
My friend is a nurse in a large suburban high school, and her health office has experienced a huge increase in students seeking support for anxiety in the daily school setting. The treatment/remedy always starts with taking deep breaths together. Using a quiet voice, she asks the student to take deep breaths with her, “Breathe in deeply through your nose 1,2,3,4,5. Hold for 1,2,3. Breathe out through your mouth 1,2,3,4,5.”  This exercise is repeated as needed until breathing steadies and anxiety is visibly reduced. After a struggling student has calmed down, any other needed supports can be activated. 
In my own daily teaching practice, I used this think-aloud breathing strategy with the whole class and it helped my students—and me! As I became aware of my own anxiety and daily triggers, I began to apply deep-breathing strategies to regain balance and a focused mindset. I felt my own tension dissipate and observed my students collectively reach learning composure and attention to the next learning task. Many teachers use deep breathing activities before or during standardized testing, or during an especially long class session where students need to stand up and breathe as a smart brain and body break. 
If you are already tuned in to this mindful teaching and learning practice—kudos to both you and your lucky students! If you haven’t tried it—for yourself or your classroom—here are some easy ideas you might consider. 
Easy Ideas to Incorporate Deep Breathing Practices that Support Learning in Your Classroom: 

  • Morning Meetings — common practice in Responsive Classroom - add in a breathing practice step. 
  • I-Charts — make several for different breathing techniques - rotate them weekly to practice 
  • Reading to Self — add in a breathing step with posture practice into literacy routines 
  • After Recess/Lunch — return to desks/tables and do class breathing for re-focus 
  • Before and Mid-Assessments — the whole group stands up and takes deep breaths together 

Here are some links to provide peaceful video/audio breathing reminders for teachers and students alike! When you click on these, don’t fast forward - give yourself a gift of deep-breathing as you review them for possible classroom use!  You will be amazed how transformative 2-3 minutes can be.  

Also, here’s a link to an article that caught my attention — "18 Benefits of Deep Breathing and How to Breathe Deeply".


EIGHTEEN benefits? Put me down for “YES!”  Deep-breathing is clearly a no-brainer for teachers and students! 
Deep-breathing is a proactive teaching habit you can activate with a surefire guarantee students will learn it and support themselves and each other in no time! It’s a simple, yet serious strategy - let’s breathe in and out together the calm assurance of school success! 

Topics: Teaching Wellness & Inspiration, educator wellness, anxiety, mindfulness, Mental Health Awareness, Self-Care

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