When I was a former 9-12 classroom teacher, I used to loathe when my students came back from gym class. It wasn’t because they were stinky and sweaty (which they were), I could deal with that. All it meant was they were working hard and having fun. The worst part was when the students came back from gym, bouncing off the walls, yelling about a disagreement that happened during a game, or a student sobbing because they didn’t think that the game was fair or they had a bad experience. When the students came back in this manner, it could take the rest of the day to diffuse all the tension that came into the class, and we would have to spend significant amounts of time bringing energy levels back to an appropriate level for the classroom. It was a shame because I loved the fact that the students loved gym, but I dreaded gym because they came back like Hurricane Upper EL.
When I started teaching PE at my school, I was so excited because I would finally be able to test lessons from my Montessori Physical Education curriculum ©. However, I vowed that I didn’t want other classroom teachers to feel apprehensive about the return of the students from gym class. The classroom teacher shouldn’t have to feel conflicted about the pros and cons of gym class; it should only generate positive feelings. So, even though I would have to use my own time (which meant less lesson time) to create calmness in the students upon return to the classroom, in the long term, it was well worth it.
Always End the Gym Class With a Debrief, and When Needed, Use Focused Breathing and Light Meditation to Restore Peace
I will write a future article on the importance of the debrief, but for the purpose of this article we will examine the purposeful breathing more in depth. Classrooms that are extremely high energy don’t always use it up in gym. They will actively have to focus, through mindfulness of breath, on slowing their heart rate and bringing their energy level down to the appropriate level. It also becomes a consistent way to end each class, so now the students know that when it is time to breathe, the games are over and it is almost time to go.
The most successful cadence that I have used with my students is to breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and then hold for four seconds. There may be students who are breathing in or out too fast, so in between breaths, remind them that they should slow the inhale and exhale to use the full four seconds of the time. Breathing in this manner literally gets the autonomic nervous system to begin slowing the heart rate by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. If you repeat this four times, that should be effective for most of the students to return to resting heart rate. If there are students who are talking, or the students are still too jazzed up, repeat for another sequence of four. Eventually, the energy level of the students will reduce to the desired level.
When the students return to the classroom, calm and relaxed, they will be able to refocus quickly and attend to their work. They will have the additional benefits of increased processing and memory power because they just finished exercising (this is one of the multitude of benefits of exercise). The teacher will be more than grateful to get their class back ready to work, and normalization will happen more rapidly. If you, the PE teacher, are also the classroom teacher, it is well worth your time and sanity in PE to calm them so they can return to the classroom ready to get working. You may even catch a student using that breathing technique at a different time other than the end of gym class because it is so useful in heart rate modulation and calming oneself.
“Order is one of the needs of life which, when satisfied, produces real happiness.”