Monday, 22 May 2017

Barriers to Self-Regulation

Since we know that supporting adults and students with self-regulation is so important, we were asked in our course this week to think about 'what are the barriers to supporting others in developing their understanding of self-regulation?'

I think one of the big barriers to developing others' understanding of Recognizing Stressors in The Shanker Method is the self-control paradigm and all of its accompanying beliefs and practices.  If a child is disruptive in class, and someone (the VP, the support worker, whomever) comes and helps the child by using the steps of self-regulation, this is sometimes upsetting or disappointing to the teacher who is firmly entrenched in the self-control paradigm.  It's not enough that the disruptive behaviour has stopped and that the child (and the classmates) can now learn.  There needs to be a consequence!  He/She must be punished!  It's not about digging deep to find the stressors causing the problem and then reducing them so the child can be calm and ready to learn. It's about applying the rules.  
In addition, if I am a teacher moving from self-control to self-regulation as a way of looking at classroom behaviours, then that is going to have a huge impact on my practice.  In the self-control paradigm, as the teacher I may have a role to play in terms of creating a behaviour plan and handing out rewards or consequences, but the majority of the work for changing the behaviour rests with the student.  If it's a self-regulation paradigm, that changes my work as a teacher.  I need to be a stress detective, and then when the stressors are identified, I need to be part of the solution of reducing those stressors.  If the child is stressed by all the visual clutter in the room, and the bright lights and noise, then I need to make changes, not the child.   
Another barrier is the confusion around 'what is self-reg?.'  There are so many different ideas about what is self-reg and so many different resources that teachers may feel overwhelmed or may look for a product with flashcards and posters rather than learning the Shanker method of five steps.
Other barriers that were mentioned included the disregulation of the staff, especially now at this busy end of the year time.  This disregulation doesn't allow them to reframe student behaviour. When they are feeling tired and overwhelmed, they fall back on what they know - behaviour management and control. 
Time is also a barrier - so much curriculum to cover; no time to stop and reframe, recognize, and reduce stressors for disruptive students. 
What barriers have you noticed?
The Summer Symposium this year, on July 4 - 7 at Trent University in Peterborough, is about "Bringing Down Barriers." After analyzing all the feedback about barriers our Self-Reggers have come across along their Self-Reg journey, MEHRIT centre staff identified 10 key areas which are critical for understanding Self-Reg and moving beyond some of the barriers regularly experienced when embarking on a Self-Reg journey. As well, the final day will be focused on bringing energy to your self-reg initiatives. 

Next post, we'll look at creating opportunities to support educators and parents in developing their understanding of self-reg.


  1. This post generated a fulsome discussion on a Facebook page called Self-Reg Parenting. One of the things that several people noted was that teachers are called on to do so much and feel so overwhelmed that asking them to take on something new is difficult. Another barrier was the lack of sufficient support staff for the number of students requiring support.

    For those teachers who are interested and want to try self-reg, one first step might be to reduce some of the environmental stressors that may be impacting students by dimming the lights and reducing clutter. Another is to have snacks available for students and to allow them to have water bottles at their desks so they can stay hydrated.

    1. Another point that was raised in our course earlier is that the things we do to help students return to calm - provide water and/or snacks, allow them to draw or colour, speak to them in calm, soothing tones - can seem like rewards. Not only are we not punishing the child, we are rewarding them for their inappropriate behaviour. Yet it is by using these and other strategies to get the child to return to calm, to shut off their limbic alarms, that we can then engage with them in discussions once their Prefrontal Cortex is 'back online.'

  2. Facebook comments:
    Patti Culley Yes! I love this. This is something I keep trying, unsuccessfully, to share with my boys teachers. Your authority is not defined by how much the consequences sting. Your authority is unchanging. But seeing the stress behaviours for what they are and yes, making personal changes, is so critical. I love this article. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Vicki Parnell I completely agree, the self-control mindset is a huge barrier for some who may be struggling to understand self-reg. And I find that it's insidious and creeps into our thinking in so many, many ways.

    Lisa Cranston I think especially, at this time of year when teachers are feeling the pressure to 'cover the curriculum' by the end of June, it is easy to fall back on our old habits and mindsets.

    Patti Culley Everyone is done now.....I so get that.

    Lisa Cranston Here in Ontario we still have about five weeks to go, including two high stress, high stakes weeks of standardized provincial testing for our grade 3 and 6 students. It's a stressful time for teachers and students

  3. Facebook comments:
    Christy Paraschos Wood Over and over again in my school it comes down to a lack of support staff. I've been lucky that as a high school teacher myself I've been able to develop an insider's rapport with my son's elementary school and don't just get the 'everything's fine in education' party line normally projected to parents. There are just not enough eyes in the room to be effective stress detectives for so many kids. The CWY is shared between two local schools, the few EAs are part time and if any of these (heavily overworked) staff are ill, there is no supply coverage. So even when it's clear my kid is becoming disregulated it's really hard for there to be someone available to help him regulate. Most days my son sits in the main office during at least one break because there is no adult who can be close in proximity outside to keep eyes out for stressors/ escalation. It's not okay at all.

    I have seen that for teachers who are already overwhelmed, adding on another (difficult) responsibility causes fear and guilt. Teachers beat themselves up so much already when the kids in their charge don't succeed and the job encompasses a breadth of roles that didn't exist when embarking on the career 15 years ago. Adding another thing (stress detective) that they feel responsible to fix is daunting to say the least. My son was also first cohort of FDK with giant class sizes, Eg. 33 in Jk/Sk, an aging staff, in a school with declining enrolment. The spec ed teacher last year retired early in what appeared to be sheer frustration. As a teacher I am compassionate, but as a parent I'm having to get more aggressive about demanding support-- and I often ask the principal where I need to put pressure that might help him access additional supports from the board. I've realized that the staff are not rigid or uncaring, they are human. So, I feel a significant barrier to teachers is that they are overwhelmed and increasingly burnt out by how their job now includes so many roles that are far beyond the 'teaching' of yesteryear. I picture it like a giant game of whack-a-mole every day. As someone who devoted my life to public education, it truly breaks my heart.

    Vicki Parnell I see this too, in the schools my young clients attend (I'm an autism consultant). There just aren't enough people to fulfil all the roles that are needed, and so much falls on the classroom teacher - much more than could be done by one person.

    Lisa Cranston As a former classroom teacher (now retired) I agree with so much of what you are saying. Not only do we teach the curriculum, it seems that every social responsibility becomes ours as well - fire safety, water safety, internet safety, and on and on. So many things have been added to the teachers' workload and nothing gets removed. Some stress reducers are pretty quick and easy, though, even for the busiest teachers. The school where I volunteer has snacks set out on tables in the hallway - cucumbers and cherry tomatoes supplied by a local grower. Kids can help themselves, whenever they want - no questions, no judgement. Turning down some of the fluorescent lights, letting kids have water bottles at their desks, and removing visual clutter are a few quick first steps to providing a more self-reg environment for teachers and students.