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“I need to take a walk,” growls Joe as he storms into my office. “OK, let’s go,” I respond. Luckily it’s a nice sunny day. We walk quietly around the large parking lot together. I’ll be honest. I’m not thinking about what research is saying about this walk. I’m thrilled that Joe has utilized a strategy that works so well for him when he gets angry. He has not verbally or physically exploded in the classroom. He stormed out and came to my office and requested a walk! Wooohoooo! In the past when Joe was angry, he usually cussed a peer and teacher as he shoved a table and chair out of the way while he threatened to fight. So a walk certainly seems like success!
The act of walking does calm a person. The Effects of Exercise on Serotonin Levels (https://www.livestrong.com/article/22590-effects-exercise-sertonin-levels/) supports “walking, running, biking, swimming (among others)” to be most effective increasing serotonin in the brain. Serotonin regulates mood.
The research described in Brain Mechanisms of Poor Anger Management (https://www.med.or.jp/english/journal/pdf/2009_03/184_190.pdf) identifies the lack of serotonin secretion in individuals who committed suicide. It continues to promote “walking, respiration, and mastication in addition to sunshine” as a way to enhance serotonin. It seems like the walk in the sunshine for Joe was just right. I wonder if chewing gum (mastication) while walking will speed up the serotonin secretions and increase calm feelings. Hmmmm.
When Joe or any other student requests to take a walk, the counselor or I immediately drop what we are doing and walk. If it is a student I fear may run away, we stay inside and walk the hallways. I have my cell phone with me just in case I need support. Also, the teacher can text what happened in the classroom. Most days we walk outside around the parking lot. There is a natural boundary to a parking lot. We walk quietly for a bit (usually 5-10 minutes). I watch and gage the mood of the student as I walk. When the student’s body relaxes (arms swing easier/looser, eyes look around at environment, etc), I will usually make a short, non-threatening comment about the weather (“I love how warm it is today.” “The breeze feels great.” “Loving the sunshine”) or the environment (“Look at that little bird.” “Cool car.”). We keep walking together. If the student has responded in some way to my comments, I know he is becoming receptive to talking. I usually praise the student for making a good choice to take a walk. After a few more minutes, I’ll try to start a conversation related to the outburst (“You feeling better?” “What happened?”). The student is usually ready to talk. We process what happened in the classroom as we continue walking. The information texted by the teacher helps me understand the whole story. By the end of our walk, the student has calmed and is ready to resolve the issue (via apology, talking to another the student/teacher involved ,etc). The student is able to return to the classroom to continue learning.
Some school staff may feel like no extra time is available to walk with a student. You have to make the time. If the student is having an outburst in the classroom, you will have to give attention to that behavior anyway. If that behavior is not fully resolved, you may be dealing with behavior issues on and off all day with that student. Soooo take a walk, truly resolve the behavior issue at hand and enjoy the sunshine. It will help you as well.