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When Things Aren’t Going Right, Go Left

I have an anxious class.

For some students, their anxiety is LOUD. It comes out as interruptions, distractions, talking back, work refusal. And on our hardest days, tears.

For others, their anxiety is quiet. It comes out as silence. Doodling in the margins, doing just enough to make it seem like work is getting done while secretly being paralyzed by worry, shoulder shrugs when invited to participate in conversations. And on our hardest days…tears.

As we near the end of the school year, it feels like we are navigating a minefield of anxiety triggers. We’re in the middle of standardized testing season, we have a big end of year social issues project, there’s lots of special events interrupting our normal routine, and we’re gearing up for a transition to middle school. I’m anxious about most of these things, and I’ve been through it all before!

Recently stumbling upon Marc Colagiovanni & Peter H. Reynolds’ When Things Aren’t Going Right, Go Left, it felt like the exact words of advice my students need, especially now. I loved this message in conjunction with the social-emotional learning work we’ve done this year. While a lot of our teaching is centered on giving students strategies to solve problems in the moment, it’s important students understand exactly what this character discovers: Ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away, but carrying around every single worry all of the time is exhausting, and that’s not helpful either.

After reading the book, we all took the time to brainstorm one thing we are going to put “to the left” for now and come back to when it feels more manageable. We thought about school worries as well as home frustrations, like sibling fights and parent pressure. It was helpful for them to take a breather and give themselves permission to focus on other things, and it was helpful for me to see what concerns I can help them shrink.

Curious what we are leaving behind? See what students put to the left below…

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