Don't panic. A pedagogue’s guide to guiding anxious minds.

Author(s): Ajda Erjavec Bartolj

Gifted and achievement-oriented teenagers are often somewhat anxious in performance situations, well described in literature. Performance anxiety can contribute to underachievement or has even more dire developmental consequences if combined with other personal issues of the gifted individual.
In the practice of counselling gifted students, we handle cases of minor and major panic attacks or other anxiety related phenomena on a daily basis. We can predict some within the context of identified special developmental and emotional needs, others happen very unexpectedly. Anyhow, teachers and especially counsellors find themselves in the middle of such situations and it is necessary for them to react and intervene – professionally – with no regard to their actual competencies for handling the issue. 
In the opinion of the authors, we need to systematically educate teachers about performance anxiety and train them to teach basic relaxation and other mental hygiene techniques to students. Teachers need to address issues of excessive student anxiety in class, if necessary. They should include mental preparation for evaluation or grading in their activities. This would benefit not only students’ general academic achievement, but also psychological well-being of students and – later on – adults, who perform in high-expectation environments.

Some guidelines for pedagogical responding in crises will be presented and discussed during the workshop. As argued though, crisis-intervention is not a sustainable solution for balancing the spread of anxiety related symptoms among youth. We need not only to calm them down, but also to teach students how to deal with their fears on their own. 

Focus of the workshop is therefore on preventive action: participants learn some basic guidelines of preparing students for grading and/or other performances. They also learn a soothing breathing technique that is usefull in class. Potential benefits and pitfalls of teacher training are discussed.