The Long Road to Nowhere, or How I Learned to Roll with VDOT Teaching Students Coping and Tolerance Skills

by Kristin Holst, M.Ed.

The Virginia Department of Transportation - VDOT. Next to "SOL," there is no acronym in Virginia more likely to stir passions and incite controversy. VDOT - the four letters that conjure up images of drivers creeping along highways and byways throughout Tidewater, yearning for the day they will reach their destinations without having to merge into one lane or dodging cones on the shoulder. Just as commuters may be frazzled by their driving experiences, so too are students made anxious by the pressure of impending local and state assessments, teachers' grading practices, and the questions of promotion vs. retention. Although there seem to be no quick remedies to the road situation, fortunately, there are effective strategies to help students (and educators) survive until June.

Sometimes teachers take preventive measures designed to reduce anxiety that in reality contribute to challenging student behaviors. But some stressful situations (e.g., mandatory testing, certain project deadlines) cannot and should not be avoided. In such cases, students must be taught how to be tolerant and cope effectively (Bambara & Kern, 2005). Stress and anger management training provides coping and tolerance skills that some students need to effectively adapt to the ever-changing demands of life.

In order to reduce testing anxiety, Cheek, Bradley, Reynolds, and Coy (2002) taught students a relaxation strategy based on "Stop, Drop, and Roll," a well-known fire safety rule that many children are taught in school. Students were instructed that, when they physically felt the "fire" of anxiety and stress, they were to "stop" (actually put down their pencils and place their hands on the table while concentrating on the coolness of the surface). They are then to "drop" their heads forward and "roll" them around gently while taking three deep breaths.

Haggerty, Black, and Smith (2005) created a social story to decrease a 6½-year-old student's anxiety and ensuing difficulties with transitions, waiting periods, following directions, and cooperating with peers. Social stories are brief narratives that provide students with cues and a set of specific responses to use when confronted with a difficult situation (Gray, 2000). The particular social story used in this example included pictures that the student drew of desired social behaviors and was entitled "Kirk's Calming Book." The innovative aspect of this study was that the authors used a multi-sensory approach to teaching coping and tolerance skills. Two weeks after the social story was introduced, the student was able to act out scenes in the story through an apron storyboard. The authors attached large felt pieces representing particular school environments (e.g., playground, classroom) to a canvas apron with a pocket. They also created "puppet pieces," laminated photos and pictures from the storybook for the student to manipulate or "act out" on the apron while repeating the social story.

VDOT tells commuters improvements are in sight; teachers remind students that June is right around the corner. Neither declaration addresses the present reality, but everyone can learn it is possible to cope and be tolerant of immediate situations. And if all else fails, one can always, "Stop, drop, and roll."


Bambara, L.M., & Kern, L. (2005) Individualized supports for students with problem behavior: Designing positive behavior plans. New York: Guilford Press.

Cheek, J.R., Bradley, L.J., Reynolds, J., & Coy, D. (2002). An intervention for helping elementary students reduce test anxiety. Professional School Counseling, 31, 162-169.

Gray, C.A. (Ed.). (2000). The new social story book: Illustrated edition. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons, Inc.

Haggerty, N.K., Black, R.S., & Smith, G.J. (2005). Increasing self-managed coping skills through social stories and apron storytelling. Teaching Exceptional Children, 37(4), 40-47.

Date: May/June 2006