The more that I learn about self-regulation, the more that I consider it when viewing classroom practice and my personal life. But on some days — harder days — it’s often Self-Reg that I think about first. Yesterday was one of those days.
It was the last day of school before March Break, and while we haven’t been counting down to this day, students have been speaking about March Break all week. Some children are going away on vacation. Others have day trips planned. A few students are even going to a March Break Camp. The usual, predictable school routine is going to change for a week, and while most students are thrilled to have a week at home with their parents, the uncertainty of what to expect is also causing some stress.
- It’s why our children seem louder this week.
- It’s why tears are far more frequent.
- And it’s why play, though still wonderful, also seems different.
My teaching partner, Paula, and I spoke a lot about Self-Reg as we planned for this week, but also for our time back at school.
- We spoke about the need for different sensory options, which seem really calming for many children.
- We discussed our children that are likely to struggle the most after having a week at home, and looked at play options that might appeal to them the most. What do they need?
- We talked about our children that have had an extra long March Break (being away for part of this week as well). How will they adjust to coming back? What might make things better?
- We also spoke about ourselves. We know that there’s a transition after having some time off, and our children are likely to need us even more when we return to school. How will we respond to this need? What are some play options that make us feel calm, and how will our own calmness impact on kids?
I keep on thinking back to one of my favourite quotes by Stuart Shanker.
A great quote from Dr. Stuart Shanker – making sure the adult takes care of themselves so they can take care of others pic.twitter.com/6cVeAOyf9v
— Nancy Smykaluk (@nansmy) December 6, 2017
It was this quote that ran through my mind when I made two different decisions yesterday. The first decision happened during Second Nutrition Break Duty. One class of primary students had a special day yesterday, and while they were all a bit excited about this day, one child in particular was really struggling with this excitement. When I was outside, I connected with him, and just during our brief conversation, I could tell that he was very up-regulated. He kept jumping, spinning, running, and talking incredibly quickly. I had him help me with a job outside that seemed to calm him down a bit, but going back inside and getting closer to the excitement at the end of the day, dysregulated him again. A few minutes into the eating portion of the break, an EA approached me. She said that the child poked another student with part of a game that he brought in, and he was now hiding in the classroom. Oh no! I walked to the door of the classroom, and I saw a group of students gathered around this child, who was hidden under the table. Many kids were talking to him, and others were telling him to, “Get out!” While everybody had the best of intentions, none of these approaches were helping him calm down.
This is when I made a decision. The duty teacher is supposed to stay in the hallway, so that kids can always find us quickly. And while I know the importance of this rule, I also knew that I couldn’t approach this child from the hallway, so I decided to go into the classroom. As soon as I went in, I asked all of the children to go and sit down, and then I got down low near the child on the floor. I knew that I needed to make it back out in the hallway fast, so I had a little stress of my own, but I tried to bring my voice way down — to just above a whisper. I put my hand near this child’s hand, and I asked him if he wanted to come and walk with me to tell him what happened. I assured him that I wasn’t mad, and I just wanted to listen. Thankfully that did it. He grabbed my hand, and we walked out in the hallway together. I listened. He explained why he got mad. He explained why he poked. He even thought about the importance of apologizing for what he did. I suggested a card or a letter to the other child, and we talked through what he might write. Then we walked back to class. The discussion was quick, but the impact was big!
I realized later how easy it would be to view this behaviour as misbehaviour. He poked another child … but there was a reason behind his actions, and his dysregulation over the exciting day and the anticipated end-of-day activities, made it a challenge to think before acting. I’m so grateful that I thought about Shanker’s quote, and I realized that my ability to remain calm, mattered. And it was this very thought that impacted on my next decision of the day.
With a prep right after the Second Nutrition Break, I only had one period left with the students. Part of this period is for packing up and getting ready for home. Thanks to our Canadian winter, most of our students are still wearing snow pants. For a few children, getting dressed at the end of the day is a challenge. It takes forever! And then Paula and I feel the stress of having to dismiss the other students — whether it be to their parents or to the bus driver — and our stress just makes the dressing procedure last longer. While Paula’s song of, “Who’s going to be ready? Nobody knows but me!,” compounds some of this stress, on a day when children have even more to bring home, I wondered if the song was going to be enough. So we made a decision: when the children came back from phys-ed/music, we got a couple of our slowest dressers to put on their snow pants and boots. They already packed their bag, and putting on a coat, hat, and mittens, doesn’t take too long. We thought that by chunking the dressing time and giving a longer time to get organized, we might all feel calmer … and we did! Everyone got out on time, and our cubby area remained fairly organized as well. A win/win! Once again, it was considering Self-Reg that made the difference in our actions and the impact on kids.
We now have a week off of school, and I wonder when Self-Reg might matter at home during this holiday time. As parents, how does self-regulation impact on the decisions you make and the actions of your children? And as educators, when you get ready to go back to school, does self-regulation play into your planning? I think it’s important to share these Self-Reg conversations, as I wonder how many of us have had similar experiences, and what we might be able to do differently.