In this latest blog installment, Hampton Tutors founder Andy Williamson discusses a recent anxiety workshop his team participated in and the reason why this type of training is increasingly important for today's educators.
Anxiety is the great underlying cause of the majority of school-based problems. Today's high school (and increasingly middle school) students face unrelenting pressure from their school work, the omnipresence of social media, and the arms race of college-attracting extracurriculars.
While social media usually takes the brunt of the criticism for rising anxiety, schools and colleges are increasingly competitive environments (there are roughly 50% more college applications in 2017 than in 2010), meaning educational institutions must admit their role in an emerging mental health crisis. In effect, high schoolers are constantly operating at a level of extreme stress, to a degree unsustainable for developing brains.
Dr. Jennifer Tininenko is the co-director of the Child Anxiety Center at Evidence Based Treatment Centers of Seattle (EBTCS). On Friday 12 January, she came to Hampton Tutors to advise our coaches on working with students with anxiety, and how EBTCS' research can help us in coaching students on a weekly basis with their school work.
Dr. Tininenko's workshop demonstrated that anxiety issues amongst students manifest in a variety of ways. The body/brain/behavior nexus is crucial in identifying anxiety in students, since different individuals may have different symptomatic responses to anxiety. Some may experience physical symptoms such as stomach ache or headaches (body), some may 'catastrophize' situations (brain), while others may show avoidant tendencies (behavior). Strategies for helping these students in an academic context depend very much on which responses to anxiety they demonstrate.
That said, Dr. Tininenko outlined some clear strategies for mitigating (and avoiding) anxiety that can be integrated into our coaching. For example, coaches can develop metrics with students to gauge a work's 'completion' - particularly with open-ended projects like essays and creative writing. Furthermore, the use of 'chunking' as a tactic is a means of diminishing the formidable size of a project.
Overall, what the workshop demonstrated was that anxiety disorders are often the product of poor feedback mechanisms, which perversely often make issues worse over time. Each "I can't" begets further "I can'ts". For an academic coach, taking steps to address this vicious circle can demonstrate to students that they have the agency to succeed. By developing clear, structured tactics for work, it can become a virtuous circle; "I can" begets "I can". Additionally, tactics drawn from mindfulness practice can help students to confront challenges on an everyday basis. Ultimately, the goal is to help students to develop their own toolkit for dealing with anxiety in their schoolwork.
Hampton Tutors would like to thank Dr. Tininenko for her workshop. For our coaches, it provided clear, concrete steps for helping students who have anxiety disorders. By integrating these steps into our coaching, we can benefit students of all anxiety levels. Anxiety may be a growing issue, but we feel more equipped to deal with the range of challenge it presents.