A student was upset. He wasn’t my student. He’s not even in the grade that I teach, but he’s still somebody’s student. And this student happened to be coming out of a classroom near the one where I was delivering my students for my prep. I noticed because he ran past me. I noticed because I heard a supply teacher at the time call his name, and I knew there was a problem. That was when I started walking back to class, and I heard his name on the announcements. I also saw him sitting in an alcove not far from my classroom. So I stopped. I sat down next to him. I thought back to Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning book that I read last year, and I forced myself — really forced myself — to keep my voice very low. And in that whisper voice, I asked him, “What’s wrong?” He told me. I listened. I let him calm down, and then I convinced him to walk with me to where he was asked to go. We spoke about staying calm. We spoke about what he could do if he was feeling upset. In those few minutes, on a difficult day, I felt like what I did mattered.
That’s when I started to think about what I did. I kept calm and stayed quiet. This is hard for me.
- I’m a loud person.
- I speak loudly.
- My actions are big.
- I get easily excited, and the more excited I get, the louder I get.
- I’m passionate, and passion can be loud.
I think it’s a good thing to be wrapped up in the true joy of learning, and it’s one of the reasons that I’m thrilled to go and teach every day … because I truly love what I do! For so many of us, this excitement shows, and for me in the classroom, it can often be in my louder words and bigger actions. But that afternoon, I couldn’t help but think of this student. I wonder if “the quiet” helped him, or at least if it did at the time. And so as the day came to an end, and the volume in our classroom got louder, I tried hard to quiet down.
- I turned off the overhead lights.
- I talked less.
- I whispered more.
In my head, I had to talk myself through this process, but it worked! Overall, the students were calmer, and the environment was calmer. I liked the feel of this!
Fast forward a year, and I think about this experience from last year. I thought that the feeling of calm came from the “quiet” and the “lack of bright lights.” Maybe this helped, but maybe it was about more than this. Maybe the calm came from taking the time to connect with kids. When I sat down on that floor, the child knew that I was there for him. I wasn’t judging him. I wasn’t yelling at him. I was listening to him. I could say the same thing about what happened in our classroom later on that day. As I turned off those lights, lowered my voice, and spoke less, I listened to students as they spoke more. I got down to be with them. I watched them work, and I celebrated with them as they met with success. We didn’t need a big celebration with huge cheers, but just a pat on the back, a high five, or the quiet spoken words of, “Way to go!” Looking back now, I wonder if the “quieting down” was less about the noise and more about the connections.
I ask this because I look at our class from this year. While for me to feel calm, I need less movement and more independent time, this is not true for everyone. Just the other night, my previous vice principal, Kristi, reminded me of this with a comment that she made in response to another post of mine.
I think about our kindergartners. Many students need to be active in order to calm down. Sometimes our class feels the most calm as a large group of students dance to favourite songs or participate in obstacle courses that they create. Watching the many ways that our students calm down makes me question if I was right last year. Does the lack of noise cause problems for some while working for others? Could this also be true about the lack of bright lights? As I mentioned to Kristi in this other post of mine, maybe it’s less about creating one area that works, and more about creating “zones” — from low lights with less noise to bright lights with more noise — to allow all of the children to find the area(s) that work(s) for them. And then, thinking about what happened last year, it’s also about watching children closely, examining their triggers, supporting them in the many ways that allow them to get to “calm,” and being there for them when maybe they can’t “calm down” alone. What do you think? We differentiate when it comes to academic skills. Maybe we need to do this more often for social skills.
An Additional Note
As part of my final project for Foundations 4, I am re-exploring some blog posts that I wrote in the past (before taking the courses through The MEHRIT Centre) where I discussed self-regulation. I am updating these posts based on my new learning. Here is a link to the original post — Quieting Down.
After a discussion that I had with Dr. Mary Howard on this last blog post of mine, I decided to include this note at the end of this blog post instead of at the beginning of it. Even without the use of the terminology, this post looks at self-regulation, co-regulation, and how we can support ALL of our students in the classroom.
This is precisely what I love so much about teachers, Aviva. We reflect. We wonder. We question. We adjust. And we do all of this in the interest of our students because we believe so deeply in the work we do. Thank you for sharing your passion for your inspired work. I love the way you looked at this blog in a new way and used it to gives us a view of your teaching. Sometimes, this process leads to new thinking on our part – and that’s the best kind of professional learning. Kudos to you!
Thank you, Mary! I really appreciate your help in changing my blog post format. I think that I managed to still share all of my thinking and ideas without worrying about terminology … and in the end, isn’t it the ideas that matter more?
I’m really glad that I re-looked at this blog post. I realized how much my thinking has changed over a year. It’s interesting to re-write posts taking into consideration some new learning. This is something I wish that I tried before now. I wonder if others have done this before and what they learnt from doing so.
You grasped my interest and my heart from the start, wanting to find out how you helped the child. Beautiful post Aviva. Your passion is never far from your learning and teaching. And however we need to differentiate for students they have an advocate in you!
Thank you so much, Faige! Your comment makes me think about one of my favourite TED Talks and an important message that I think about often. Don’t all of our students need a champion?
My all time favorite TED TALK as well! The best legacy can we leave.
I totally agree, Faige! All kids deserve this!
The connection is what matters: reaching “calm” depends on this.
For many students (and adults/colleagues) the adult calmness provides support and a model. For others, a co-regulation approach works best (when one of our K students is upset, first adults have to reflect in our voice and manner how UPSET he is, and then we can calm together).
“Quiet” works for many, but you’ve nailed it in this revisited post: every interaction is personal and needs to focus on the connection and what will bring those involved in the situation to the best state for the individuals involved in the situation.
I’m reminded of studies regarding optimal levels of arousal for athletes: the coach needs to know that “rah-rah” doesn’t work for everyone, and neither does quiet contemplation.
As the adult in the moment, I need to know what works for each of my students and team members AND help them reach an understanding of what THEIR “calm” is, as they respect the needs of others.
The more I think about self-reg, the more the stress I feel as a leader to make sure my connections are supportive and aware.
PS. As a new @avivaloca Twitter follower, I appreciate your reflection on past posts and the look back through your self-reg learning.
Thanks for the comment, Jane! In my initial post, I think that I missed the value of these connections, and in the end, I think this is what matters most of all. Finding and supporting all of these different ways can be a challenge, but helping students realize what works well for them, will also hopefully help them figure out how they can support themselves in getting to “calm” (self-regulation). I’d be curious to know how others make this differentiated approach work in the classroom.
P.S. I’m glad that you find it helpful for me to re-explore some old blog posts. I’m also enjoying looking back and seeing how my thinking has changed.