Last week's post on 'self-regulation - not just for kids' got a lot of traffic and was one of the blogs featured on Doug Peterson and Stephen Hurley's podcast of This Week in Ontario Edublogs. You can listen to the podcast here or read a summary of the five blogs featured on Doug's website. I find that This Week in Ontario Edublogs (#TWIOE) is a great resource for finding blogs that I would probably otherwise miss.
In my blog post I described a time when my husband John and I were travelling and after 24 hours and three flights had finally arrived at the apartment we would be living at for the next 6 weeks in Cordoba, Argentina. It was late at night, the security guard wouldn't let us in, when we finally did get in the apartment was super small, and when we went for a walk to find something to eat there were no restaurants in our neighbourhood. I was on the verve of losing it, and I described how John was able to 'lend me his calm.'
During the podcast, Stephen wondered 'what would this look like in a classroom of 20 or even 30 students?' What a great question!
The short answer - we slow down our language, modulate our voice, and be very present for that child.
The long answer - I'll try to answer it here using the five steps of Shanker Self-Reg, although to answer it thoroughly would be a book not a blog post.
Reframe the behaviour - in a classroom, it means thinking about children's behaviour and asking ourselves, "Is this misbehaviour or is this stress behaviour?" If it's misbehaviour, then the child is still in control (using their prefrontal cortex) and we can reason with them. If it's stress behaviour, then their limbic system is running the show. They are in fight, flight or freeze. This is when they need us to co-regulate with them, and lend them our calm.
Recognize the stressors - stressors are different for each person each day so determining what the stressors are can be challenging. We want to teach kids to be able to recognize stressors so they can eventually do the five steps of self-reg on their own. The first stressors to check are the biological stressors - hungry, tired, cold students are already so stressed they can't deal with the additional cognitive, emotional and social stressors of school.
Remove stressors - we do this by having breakfast and snack programs, by turning down some of the bright, buzzing florescent lights in our classrooms. We do this by providing flexible seating options, by allowing kids to take a break for a moment, to get up and stretch. I can't go to a conference and sit in a hard chair from 9 am to 3 pm without taking breaks so why would I expect kids to be able to do that? I used to teach 29 grade four students in a portable. It was noisy and some students were stressed by the noise so I had old headphones available that they could wear. The headphones weren't connected to anything but they helped block the noise for those students. MEHRIT Centre has a free list of classroom modifications available for teachers.
Reflect - if we want kids to be able to self-regulate so that they can be 'calm, alert and ready to learn' then they have to know what calm feels like. In today's hyper-busy world, a lot of people don't have much calm in their lives.
Restore - we need students to be aware of what is calming for them. We can help them by co-regulating and lending them our calm, but we want them to find what works for them so they can bring themselves back to calm. We can introduce them to mindfulness techniques like breathing exercises and have sensory materials available in our classroom for student use. What works will be different for each child, and what works one day may not work another day. This is the same for adults. Some people find meditation reduces stress, others don't. So a whole class meditation moment after recess may reduce stress for a small percentage of your students and help them to calm down and get ready to learn, but may actually increase stress for other students (hence the silliness). When introducing these restorative practices to your class, it helps to preface it with 'this is something that some of you might find helps you to stay calm so you are ready to learn.' A good example of this are the fidget spinners that were so popular. For some students they were a tool to help them focus. For other kids, they were a distraction.