How to Reduce Anger, Anxiety, and Violence in the Classroom

Creating calm, positive learning environments

Meeting students’ emotional needs is essential to breaking cycles of poverty and creating positive school climates. Disciplinary approaches that spur healthy connections between adults and students, and ensure that kids feel a sense of safety and belonging in school, are also key.

In this web seminar, Ruby Payne, author of Emotional Poverty in All Demographics: How to Reduce Anger, Anxiety, and Violence in the Classroom, and Michael Curl, a middle school principal at Humble ISD in Texas, discussed how administrators can keep the school environment calm and positive, and outlined strategies for reducing shame, anger, and emotional stress.


Ruby Payne
Acclaimed Author and Educator
Founder, aha! Process

Michael Curl
Principal, Kingwood Middle School
Humble ISD (Texas)

Ruby Payne: It’s difficult to change behavior, but it’s fairly easy to change the motivation for behavior. It’s about strategies. All emotional wellness is based on two things: safety and belonging. Emotions are pretty simple. You’re either moving toward something, or you’re moving away from it or attacking it. Many of the students we see most frequently are actually not sick or bad; they are injured.

What happens in many schools is simply this: A student will have an in-your-face explosion, and the educator will react similarly, and then you have two people in the room like that. The bottom line: It’s chaos. Alternatively, my book has several calming and regulation strategies. Then, it moves on to what the behavior is.

The book also addresses the emotional ‚“classroom dance.” ‚What’s happening in the classroom that creates this emotional noise? The book looks at issues such as the energy level that adults bring into a situation. For many people, there’s a discrepancy between the energy and the emotional responsibility, and that’s when worry and anxiety impact the classroom.

Michael Curl:If children are reacting in ways that are not traditional, that are irrational, you know that trying to calm them can be unnerving. But children reacting emotionally are not thinking about being disrespectful. It’s not like they are making conscious decisions to react the way they do.

We have to help everyone understand that each reaction is an emotional response to some kind of trigger. Knowing that, we can provide those who work with students in crisis a toolkit of strategies. You feel a lot more confident going into the situation when you know what you’re going to do.

It helps to understand that it’s not personal. Children are not doing this to you for specific reasons. There is a lot of rationale for why kids lash out and why they react the way they do to different things.

To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please visit


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