Teachers often strive to create an ideal state of dissonance in their classrooms; too much stress is harmful as is too little engagement. This paper will discuss not only the crucial role of dissonance in a 21st century environment, but also the difference between positive and negative dissonance. Building on neurological and psychological foundations of learning, it is shown that through an understanding of the difference between Selye’s constructs of “eustress” and “distress”, teachers will be more adequately set up to manage and manipulate emotional and intellectual dissonance in the classroom. This ability can aid in student engagement, student success, academic rigor, and classroom dynamics. Ultimately, the ability to deal with dissonance will be helpful in students’ ability to navigate 21st century realities, and their capacity to be resilient.
Keywords: Dissonance; student engagement; eustress; distress; stress; resilience; 21st century education.