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Teaching Anxious Students in a Social Media World

Editors Features September / September 16, 2018

-by Jon Bergmann-

One in four adolescents has an anxiety disorder, yet only 20 percent receive any treatment. Adolescent anxiety is increasing. The National Survey of Children’s Health reported a 20 percent increase in anxiety diagnoses in children ages 6 to 17 between 2007 and 2012. Many researchers attribute these shocking statistics to the rise of social media and its emphasis on likes, self-image, and the appearance of perfection that social media proliferates.

Recently, I had the privilege of working with an elite boarding school and saw these statistics come to life. I was one of several presenters for their professional development week. The other presenters were almost exclusively there to help teachers deal with the social and emotional needs of students. I thought this was curious. Nearly every conference I attend focuses on pedagogy, technology, standards, and the like. What was this school seeing in their student population? During one of the evening meals, the headmistress took time to visit with all the presenters, and I got some context. She shared how students at her school are anxious and feeling overwhelmed. They see an uptick in student anxiety and mental health issues. She shared how they were intentionally working to be proactive about this huge need. She further stated that their school is looking for a pedagogy that allows for time to meet the social and emotional needs of her students.

My first reaction was that Flipped Learning is the perfect pedagogy to meet the social and emotional needs of students, because of the added face-to-face time that flipping affords. We in the Flipped Learning world have been talking about relationships for years. So my presence was a natural fit.

However, after listening to these amazing presenters, I stood back and realized that I know little about helping kids in crisis. I say that we can reach every student every day, but are we really? I know pedagogy well. I know how to “teach” well. I also know that when I flipped my class, the relationships I had with my students were better than ever, but I didn’t have many practical strategies to reach students with their emotional needs. Many teachers have been saying we need to put Maslow’s before Bloom’s, and I agree. We talk about reaching every student every day, and we do reach students in the Flipped Learning community; but if all we meet are their cognitive needs, we are shortchanging our students.

I know for some of you, your gift is connecting with kids. I applaud you. For me, I would say that I was just OK at reaching the social and emotional needs of my students. I was so focused on getting them to learn the curriculum that I often neglected some of the deeper needs of my students.

As of right now, I don’t have a lot of answers about how to reach students emotionally. I needed to be in those other presenters’ sessions. Our team at FLGI will be bringing in some of these experts to help us all learn from their insights. We truly want to reach every student in every class every day as deeply and meaningfully as possible.

I would love to hear from those of you for whom relationships with students are your strength. What practical strategies do you use to reach your students?

One last thought. At this school, the focus is on the SES of students. Yet I wonder if we should also consider the SES of teachers? Our team is seeing the need to address the SES of teachers as a huge trend in education. It’s hard for us to reach every student if you aren’t reaching teachers. Teaching is an overwhelming, complex, and demanding profession. It is more than a job for most teachers, and right now I see them tired and often at the end of their rope. In fact, two close colleagues, Jon Harper and Mandy Froehlich, have started a podcast called “Teachers’ Aid” where they address the needs of teachers on a visceral level. I recommend that you subscribe. I am learning so much from this incredible podcast.






Jon Bergmann
Jon Bergmann
Jon Bergmann is one of the pioneers of the Flipped Classroom Movement. He is leading the worldwide adoption of flipped learning through the Flipped Learning Global Initiative (FLGI) flglobal.org. He is working with governments, schools, corporations, and education non-profits. Jon has coordinated and guided flipped learning projects around the globe. Locations include: China, Taiwan, Korea, Australia, the Middle East, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Canada, South America, and the United States. Jon is the author of nine books including the bestselling book: Flip Your Classroom which has been translated into 13 languages. He is the founder of the global FlipCon conferences which are dynamic engaging events which inspire educators to transform their practice through flipped learning.




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7 Comments

on October 2, 2018

The article, “Teaching Anxious Students in a Social Media World” by Jon Bergmann, talks about how young students anxiety levels have increased twenty percent between the years of 2007-2012. It also mentions that this anxiety could be correlated to the increase in social media and how likes/dislikes, who’s doing what, what seems cool etc. is contributing to the anxiety in teens. Bergmann mentions how he went to an elite boarding school and while some teachers, like him, were there to help with professional development week, other presenters were there to help teachers with the social and emotional needs of students. The headmistress told Bergmann how many of her students were feeling pressures; therefore, she wanted to find a way to help meet their social and emotional needs. Bergmann figured that Flipped Learning would really help with this because students have more group time within the classroom; thus, making them feel as though they are not as alone. Bergmann also realizes that he does not really know how to reach out to students in times of disaster and recognizes that this is something he needs to work on. He wants advice or practical strategies as to how to reach out to students. At the end, he also questions whether society should consider the social economic status of teachers as well. He gives out a resource by two of his colleagues, Jon Harper and Mandy Froehlich, who have created a podcast called, Teacher’s Aid, which really helps teachers. I really like how Bergmann is willing to learn more so that he can reach every one of his students and; therefore, create a successful learning atmosphere. I believe that one of the strategies in reaching out to students would be to let them know that you are there for them and can stay after or before class in order to help them figure out an assignment. Many students feel as though teachers want them to fail, so even just a simple, “I am here for you,” can do wonders for many students. I also do think it is vital to consider the SES of teachers as well because maybe while one teacher cannot reach a child in terms of social and emotional needs, but another teacher who can culturally relate to that student CAN help them. One of my questions would be, “What has been done to decrease adolescent anxiety and do you think it is still increasing/why?”

    Jon Bergmann
    on October 8, 2018

    Theresa: thanks for your thoughtful response. Indeed there is a great need to meet the social and emotional needs of our students. I like your suggestion to simply say “I am here.” By being human, we show that students are not alone.

on October 2, 2018

As a current college student, I can relate to the constant feeling of anxiousness that my courses come along with. Everyone, at some point in their life experiences anxiety or the feeling of being overwhelmed. Although this may be the case, I think that adolescence are having a lot harder time dealing with these feelings. Not only are these individuals trying to discover WHO they are, but they have the pressures of social media, society, and school. How can we expect adolescence to make life long decisions about where they want to go to school, or where they want to work, or what they want to do with their life if they don’t even know who they are yet? I think it is incredible that some schools and educators are taking the steps to figure out a way to better connect with their students emotionally, to try to help them cope with the constant anxiety or stress. Over the course of the past year I have had many hours of fieldwork experience in the classroom. I have worked with second graders, kindergarteners and fourth graders. I can honestly say that the anxiety and stress of school starts as young as kindergarten. Students no longer play and interact in kindergarten like they always have in the past. They are given many expectations that seem very unrealistic for 5 year olds. Something that I have learned to do is to really listen to the students. Listen to what they think, and how they feel. This will help you connect to the students on a deeper and more meaningful level, they will feel good that someone actually cares to listen, and it will help you get a better idea of what you can change to lower the stress load on the students.

    Jon Bergmann
    on October 11, 2018

    Kelly: Listening is such a great gift to give to anybody – especially our students. I was reminded of that the other night as I was with friends. One friend is going through some hard things and I wasn’t listening, but meanwhile the third friend was really listening and offered up some great thoughts that really touched the one going through the difficulty. I learned a lot about staying in the moment and listening. Thanks for sharing.

on October 8, 2018

This article describes the current phenomenon of the impact that social media has on students. The article describes that “one in four adolescents” suffers from an anxiety disorder, and that this number is rising because of social media and the strive to look and act a certain way. The author of this article, Jon Bergmann, observed a boarding school that was working in order to aid students better in regards to their social and emotional needs. The author felt that flipped-learning would help better the students’ social and emotional needs, feeling that many educators only strive to meet students’ intellectual needs, forgetting about students’ emotional needs. The author is currently working and researching in order to better understand and work with the social and emotional needs of students, as well as teachers. This is an aspect that is so important, because in order for students to best learn, as well as have their SES needs met at school, teachers need to be their best selves. They need to be in touch with their own SES needs. At the end of this article, there is the link for a podcast called “Teachers Aid”, which is a great way for teachers to learn how to work on their own SES needs. I really liked this article because it discussed the importance of both educators’ and students’ SES needs. As a pre-service teacher, I spend so much time learning how to “Teach”, to become an effective teacher, but there is a lack of focus on learning about how to meet my students SES needs. There is also a lack of emphasis on dealing with my own SES needs. Therefore, this article helped me to realize that I need to aid myself, before making the attempt to aid my students socially and emotionally. I also need to constantly be aware of the issues that my students face daily, especially in a world where social media is a major part of my students’ lives. A technique that I just witnessed my cooperating teacher do this semester is to have the students discuss how they are feeling every morning during their morning meeting. The students sit in a circle on the rug and rate their mornings. If they feel comfortable sharing why they chose to rate their morning a certain way, they do. If not, they say pass. I feel that this is a great way for a teacher to see what is going on in their students’ lives, as well as to emotionally connect with students. Another great idea could be to use a mailbox, in which the students are urged to write letters when they are upset.

on October 11, 2018

Hi Jon, Giselle here (elementary music teacher and grad student at Central CT State University). Thank you for your insights and questions! As an anxious person myself, I cannot imagine what it might have been like to grow up in a society that “proliferates perfection” through social media, as you put it. Yes, twenty years ago I was inundated by ads on the television, in magazines, etc. — but nothing to the extent that it has come to in our current day and age. Portable devices have become an extension of the self, and my young students are no exception.

I feel fortunate that there are social-emotional learning opportunities at my school. K-2 students have a social-emotional curriculum that is delivered to them by our school social worker and school psychologist. 3-6 students are afforded the wonderful opportunity to experience sessions once a week with a mindfulness expert. These programs strengthen our community by getting to the root of what kids are feeling and what they value. It encourages them to be brave and to be kind. It gives them tools to cope with the abundant anxiousness that is perpetuated by the modern education system and it places value on their critical thinking skills. If you couldn’t tell, I’m also one of those “Maslow’s before Bloom’s” people.

My struggle is that I see all of the amazing things that can be accomplished with technology in a Flipped Classroom, but I fear how disconnected (from each other) students can get when so engaged with that same technology. I am a music teacher. I reach students emotionally by making personal connections with them based on how they respond to the content I deliver (singing, dancing, playing). As students at a 1:1 school, more often than not, these kids come to my classroom seeking an experience that is free from tablets or laptops. How do I balance my desire to incorporate all of the AMAZING tech resources I come across with my desire to provide my students with a class period of genuine human contact? I think I’m circling back to the initial questions you proposed. There are several schools in Connecticut that are excellent at finding a balance — these include our CT Montessori schools and the newly founded Slate School (nature-based) in North Haven.

Thank you for bringing up the SES of teachers. “It’s hard for us to reach every student if you aren’t reaching teachers. Teaching is an overwhelming, complex, and demanding profession.” (I am quoting you on this because… sometimes it’s just nice to see it come from someone else! I am not alone.) I will definitely check out the Teachers’ Aid podcast. Thank you for the suggestion and the opportunity to start a dialogue on this important topic.

    Jon Bergmann
    on October 11, 2018

    Giselle: I too worry about the prevelance of tech in the lives of our students. I just read a stat that students spend 9 hrs per day in front of screens. That can’t be good. Though this may sound contradictory, I still feel like Flipped Learning is the solution to much of what ails our schools. When done right, flipped makes the class much more human. I don’t think kids should be glued to screens in class. That should be the place for real active learning – which should probably use less screens. We are only leveraging their outside of class screen time for education instead of entertainment and social media.

    Great comments and I can’t emphasize enough how much I encourage you to listen to Teachers Aide



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