Regulating Emotions During Classroom Activities

Emotional episodes have the potential to play critical roles in the broader processes involved in regulating as a teacher. As indicated, regulating involves making comparisons about how successful teachers see themselves in their attempts to reach their goals or maintain their standards and beliefs during various activities involved in teaching. These judgments (i.e., appraisals, attributions) are involved in the construction and the regulating of emotions and therefore influence the success of those goal attempts (Gross, 2015; Schutz et ah, 2014; Taxer & Gross, 2018). This would suggest that regulating emotions can play important roles in teachers’ efforts toward their life-task goals of being successful and reaching their ever-emerging classroom goals. Thus, if we were able to understand how teachers regulated their emotions, we may be able to better assist teachers during the process of reaching their goals.

Critical to the process of regulating emotions or any aspect of life (e.g., motivation, learning) are skills related to the reflective awareness of our and other people’s emotions (Barrett, Gross, Christensen, & Benvenuto, 2001; Gross, 2015; Samson, Huber, & Gross, 2012). As with other skills, people tend to differ in their levels of reflective awareness, and therefore their regulating of those emotions (Fustos, Gramann, Herbert, & Pollatos, 2013; Gross, 2015). For example, noticing that you are starting to feel frustrated early in the activity allows you to adjust earlier in the process and therefore possibly be more helpful to your students. Further evidence from research about the usefulness of reflective awareness, a key component of mindfulness training, has been shown to enhance regulating emotions by increasing one’s awareness of bodily changes (Teper, Segal, & Inzlicht, 2013).

We see regulating emotion as a set of processes teachers use to monitor, evaluate, and modify their emotions or their students’ emotions related to teaching (Gross, 2015; Gross & Thompson, 2007; Jacobs & Gross, 2014; Schutz, et al., 2014; Taxer & Gross, 2018). Teachers’ attempts to regulate their emotions reflect their efforts to accomplish their academic goals by influencing the type, intensity, and timing of their own and their students’ affect. Thus, useful regulating of emotion involves flexible, situationally responsive, and performance-enhancing strategies that help move teachers toward their goals (Gross, 2015; Gross & Thompson, 2007; Schutz, et al., 2014; Taxer & Gross, 2018).

Gross (2015) and Taxer and Gross (2018) provide evidence for five families of strategies involved in regulating affect or emotions. The first group of strategies is referred to as situation selection. As this label indicates, this refers to attempts to alter one’s emotions by selecting or constructing situations that are more likely to produce a desired affect or emotional climate. In this case, it is an adjustment made in anticipation of an event or activity. Thus, one important component of useful teaching is reflective thinking and being able to regulate one’s own as well as others’ emotions. For example, Michelle, at the beginning of the chapter, was trying to make sure the groups she was putting together would result in students being more focused during the activity she was planning and as such, regulating what potentially might occur during her planned classroom activity.

The second set of strategies is labeled as situation modification, which focuses on changing the situation in an effort to change the emotions occurring during an activity. This might involve efforts to up or down-regulate pleasant or unpleasant emotions during an activity. Again, reflective thinking or monitoring becomes key to what is occurring during the activity. Jose, at the beginning of the chapter, by monitoring his students’ learning, motivation, and emotion, he noticed they were not engaged, so he attempted to change the activity. In this case he was not successful, but his awareness and attempt to change what was occurring was an effort toward regulating or modifying the situation during the classroom activity. Thus, being able to read the faces of students (e.g., “Do they look bored or excited?”) or listening to the questions being asked (e.g., “I am not sure what that means?”) helps teachers to understand when modifications of the activity might be appropriate.

Third, attentional deployment tends to be something that most people use at one time or another. It basically involves redirecting your attention away from particular pleasant or unpleasant emotional thoughts or activities. For example, if it is the Friday before vacation, a teacher may attempt to down-regulate excitement by attempting to direct the students’ attention away from thoughts about the impending vacation toward work-related activities. In other words, directing one’s attention with the goal of influencing an emotional response.

As indicated, emotions are constructed from the appraisals and attributions we make about what is occurring during and after particular events. As such, changing those appraisals or attributions has the potential to change the emoting, which is the fourth strategy (e.g., cognitive reappraisals) (Gross, 2015; Taxer & Gross, 2018). For example, one way to construct frustration is to appraise a student’s lack of engagement as the student intentionally not trying. Reappraising the situation as the student not having the pre-requisite knowledge needed has the potential to change that frustration into a challenge to help the student improve their pre-requisite knowledge and thus be successful. So how we appraise the situation influences the emoting associated with that situation.

Appraisals and attributions, like other aspects of emoting processes, have the potential to become habitualized and as such have the potential to foster particular affective tendencies (see Chapter 4). In essence, appraisals can become associated with specific tasks, events, or even people, which means that for any classroom situation, teachers evaluate not only the demands of that particular activity but also their past experiences in that context. Thus, the development of useful regulating strategies for someone with certain affective tendencies (e.g., self-doubt and anxiety) may require a longer-term process of examining habitualized appraisals and attributions and the ways they approach classroom activities.

For example, over time, consistent low self-efficacy and perceived lack of agency appraisals about oneself during different classroom activities may result in an affective tendency toward anxiety and self-doubt with thoughts about leaving teaching. In this case, a simple reappraisal may not be sufficient. As such, a longer-term process of regulation might be useful in helping teachers develop higher levels of efficacy by improving their teaching strategies and skills. So, with different longer-term strategies and potential attributional retraining, what may be at one point a tendency toward low efficacy may be changed toward appraisals of higher efficacy and agency, which may increase the potential for less anxiety (Bandura, 1997; Schunk, 1996).

As such, one important aspect to longer-term regulating toward life and teaching goals is the identification of the beliefs and thoughts that may be involved in those habitual appraisals and attribution (Schutz, 2014; Schutz, et al., 2014). For example, if over time a teacher has developed a belief (see Chapter 3), either implicitly or explicitly, that there are some students who “cannot” or who are less capable of learning because of their ethnicity, gender, and/or social economic status, then that belief has the potential to influence appraisals, attributions, and actions toward particular students during classroom activities (see Chapter 7). For instance, if a teacher attributes a poor student’s challenges to their parents’ lack of perceived knowledge and care, they may pity the student, have low expectations, and not challenge the student to improve, believing that student will not be able to keep up or excel (Weiner, 2007, 2010). Thus, identifying and changing those irrational beliefs would be key to long-term change.

Finally, response modulation refers to efforts to directly influence felt emotion. In other words, once anger, frustration, or joy has emerged, there is an attempt to suppress the felt emotion and to express a more socially acceptable emotion. This construct is similar to surface acting and, as such, may not have long- or short-term benefits (Gross, 2015; Robinson & Demaree, 2007; Taxer & Gross, 2018).

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