A Self-Reg Look At ADHD: Do Meds Need To Be The Answer?

I remember seeing this article around the beginning of the school year on the increase in ADHD numbers. While these statistics are from the States, my experience over the last 18 years in an Ontario school system, is that our numbers are also on the rise. I will admit that over the years, I’ve suggested to many parents that they see their family doctor regarding a child’s inability to focus. I’ve filled out more forms than you can count, highlighting many different inattentive behaviours. And I did all of this under the belief that I was truly doing what was best for the child. But then, a couple of years ago, I took the Foundations 1 course through The MEHRIT Centre, and Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins caused me start to question my beliefs. Is an identification always best?

I started to look at if Self-Reg could help those children that were exhibiting these attention problems. Thankfully I wasn’t alone in this investigation. Both my teaching partner, Paula, and I looked closely at what would help our most challenging students. (These are not just great Self-Reg options for these children, but for many other kids in our class. As you’ll see in the documentation below, all students benefit from Self-Reg.)

  • Sometimes it was drawing.
  • Sometimes it was the large blocks of free play in our forest space. This article speaks to why this play might be so very valuable.
  • Sometimes it was heavy lifting, which might even include moving heavier items around the classroom, or from our indoor classroom to our outdoor space.

  • Sometimes it was creating with plasticine. 
  • Sometimes it was washing items in the sink. The key to this was usually having the child stand up on something high, as then there’s the combination of balance plus sensory play, which seems to be the most calming.

  • Sometimes it was creating with LEGO. This year, we found that making a space under a table, provided an additional level of comfort and calm for some kids. It was almost like a tent. 

The amazing thing here — and the key to what Paula and I both noticed when we started to look more closely at Self-Reg — was that at least one of these many options helped each of our children self-regulate. When kids are calm, they are able to learn. So for students that might struggle with attention, finding options that help them self-regulate, can certainly change their focus and behaviour within the classroom. Even more incredibly, as we helped initially support students in choosing these different options, pretty soon, most of them were able to recognize their own needs and self-select what worked for them. Now this is Self-Reg.

In the past three years then, I’ve become a changed teacher. My many recommendations to take children to their family doctors, occur far less frequently. I still see children with attention difficulties, but I also see ways that Self-Reg can change things for them. Now I do realize that there are exceptions to this rule, but certainly fewer than I would have initially thought.

  • If there are strategies that work, is medication necessary?
  • Do we need to get even more creative with possible strategies first? 

I know that physicians can give us different perspectives and more information. Maybe identifications help us see and program for kids differently, but at times, even unintentionally, do they also create a self-fulfilling prophecy?

  • I realize that kindergarten is different from other grades, but could these same strategies that work for our youngest learners, continue to work?
  • How might Self-Reg support some inattentive learners throughout the grades? 

Attention difficulties may be on the rise, but maybe there are more med-free solutions than we realize.


What Can A Crashing Canvas Teach You About Independence?

On Thursday, I had a couple of unique experiences at school, which when coupled by some wise words from a fellow educator, have me thinking even more about classroom environments and student success.

Let me begin with a story. It was around 1:00, and my teaching partner, Paula, was about to return from her lunch. I was really intrigued by some recyclable houses that a group of students were creating in our MakerSpace area. I was speaking to one child about her house design when I heard a crash. You can hear it too at the end of the final video in this Instagram post.

I looked up from my recording when I heard the noise, and I noticed something surprising. Our giant canvas fell on the writing table. What was even more surprising though — in the most wonderful of ways — was how a group of three, five-year-old girls dealt with the problem.

I couldn’t help but see the humour in the few small problems that eventually led to this falling painting and incredible problem solving. Later on in the day, as I was still chuckling, I told another educator about what happened. His response made me pause. He laughed too, and said, “Children really read how we respond to things. By not making this into a big deal, they didn’t either.” What a great point!

In my 18 years of teaching, this is probably the first time that a situation like this has ever occurred. Even more so though, it’s the first time that children went to solve a bigger problem without shouting for a teacher, running over to grab an adult, or causing a full class reaction to a big bang. In fact, none of the other children even stopped what they were doing or went over to investigate. Why? There are a few possibilities that come to mind.

  • Kids were immersed in their learning elsewhere in the room.
  • Kids are used to some crashes over the day — be it a falling block tower or a million Perler Beads that drop all over the floor — so they look quickly and move on. 
  • Thanks to Paula, and what she’s taught me, our responses are never urgent ones. We try not to go running to problems or responding to them in a stressful way, but instead, observe, reply calmly, and work through the problems with the kids. Thinking about what this other educator said to me, since we don’t panic, kids don’t either. 

We have also worked hard at getting students to solve their own problems. Even when we’re involved in problem solving, we’re likely to ask questions or provide choices to still give children ownership over the solution. I can’t help but wonder if this is why a big falling canvas didn’t cause a big response.

I’m thinking of this even more in conjunction with another problem that happened a few minutes later. I left the room to go and grab something from the staffroom, when the principal grabbed me to do some First Aid. As I was involved in my first, First Aid experience, there was a little First Aid problem back in our room. As the kids were cleaning up, Paula got a scratch on her arm, and it started to bleed. She realized the problem, but as she went to solve it, a child went and grabbed her a wet paper towel and climbed up on a chair to get her a bandaid from on top of our filing cabinet. Problem solved. Paula didn’t ask for the help, but when a student saw the issue, she took it upon herself to solve the problem, much as the three children did moments before.

I can’t help but think about these two experiences and the upcoming school week. Small problems regularly occur in the classroom and at home.

  • How could all of us modify our reactions, at times, this week? How might we be calmer, slower to respond, and allow for even more independence?

I continue to reflect on a comment that I’ve heard many times before: “Kids these days can’t seem to do anything on their own.” I look at these many four- and five-year-olds that show us an incredible amount of thinking, problem solving, and independence every single day. What causes independent problem solvers to become less independent? I think about the way that I used to teach before I started working with Paula, and how I responded to problems. I was far more likely to respond quickly, more emotionally, and with a solution in mind, versus allowing for this independent problem solving. Looking at our students now, versus many kids that I taught in the past, I would say that ALL of these children are way more independent. I wonder then …

  • Could kids do more on their own if we, as adults, gave them more opportunities to do so?

If five-year-olds can rescue a painting, move a log, and “perform First Aid,” imagine what else they can do! And imagine what older students can also do. Let’s enter a new week with the belief that anything is possible, and prepare ourselves for wonderful. Are you with me?


Planning For Billy, Bob, Sally, And Jill: A Different Perspective On School Violence

When I was scrolling through Twitter yesterday, I saw this conversation between Paul McGuire and Lisa Corbett, which eventually also included Susan Hopkins.

The discussion focuses around this article on classroom violence. I was initially attempted to get involved in the conversation. I even composed a tweet. But I decided that this discussion needed more than 140+ characters, and so I did some thinking around a blog post instead.

I keep looking back to Paul‘s tweet, where he says, “That’s great, but it doesn’t really apply to this situation. Self reg is seen as a cure all and it doesn’t address the root problem that children enter out system with increasingly severe problems.” I wonder though if Self-Reg, as it is defined through The MEHRIT Centre, really could be at least close to a cure all, as it looks at the stressors which might be producing the behaviour in the first place. Maybe this seems like such a simple solution to such a complex problem, but Self-Reg isn’t simple. 

  • We need to become stress detectives. We have to start asking Stuart Shanker‘s questions of, “Why this child? Why now?”
  • We have to explore possible stressors in all Five DomainsThis is not just a case of turning off some lights in the classroom or removing a few visual distractions.  Often our neediest students — the ones that we tend to identify with “behavioural challenges” — have many different stressors at play. They may be the hardest ones to build relationships with, and yet, they’re the ones that need these relationships the most. 
  • We need to look carefully — and critically — at our own behaviour, and how our responses to students might be triggering their responses to us. 

When classrooms have multiple students with varying needs, and educators are feeling the additional stress, this Self-Reg solution seems that much more complicated. And yet, it does work. 

Just the other day, I ran into a student in the morning that was looking into our classroom. You could see that his hands were flapping, he was spinning in circles, and his voice was high. This child was dysregulated. I know this student fairly well, but I haven’t taught him before, so I’m not aware of all of his triggers. I saw another educator coming towards him, and I had a decision to make. I could ignore the peeking, and let the other person deal with him, or I could say something. I chose the latter. I went up to him, got down low, and in a quiet voice said, “Good morning!” He looked at me, stopped, and said the same thing back. The other educator in the hallway, stopped for a moment, and just watched us. I asked him about what he did last night, and he told me. Then I inquired about what he was going to do this morning. The more he spoke, the more that he stopped spinning. He was still kind of hopping on the spot, but he was definitely moving at a slower pace. The connection with him seemed to be working. I thought back to some of my other experiences with him, and that’s when I looked at the child and asked, “Do you want a hug?” He fell into me, and so I gave him a hug back. I could actually feel his body calm. At this point, the educator in the hallway came up, and offered the little boy her hand. He took it, and they walked away together. Crisis averted. 

I’m not saying that there aren’t bigger problems than the one that I described above. I know that there are. I’ve worked at schools with children that have trashed classrooms and pods, lashed out at educators and other students, and been suspended for more days than I can count. I think back to these experiences, and I wonder if Self-Reg would have helped them.

  • Did my demands inadvertently escalate the behaviour of the child?
  • Did I intervene when the child was upset, prompting even bigger reactions from that child?
  • Did I get too close to the child when that child needed space?
  • Did I recognize the signs of stress and provide different options to the child based on what I observed?
  • Did I view the behaviour as “stress behaviour” or as “misbehaviour,” and would viewing it differently have changed the outcome?

I didn’t know then what I know now, and I wonder if some changed responses from me would have also changed their behaviour. 

Please don’t get me wrong: when I read the CBC article, I can’t help but see the stress in the educators interviewed. I can understand their stress and their cry for help. I’ve been there before. I’ve reached out when I thought that the demands of the students were beyond what one educator — or even an educator team — could handle. But at the time, I also got some good advice which changed things for me. I considered the developmental level of the students, and when programming for the kids in front of me — instead of for the kids that I might have expected — I saw changed behaviour and incredible growth in skills. This makes me think about Stuart Shanker’s cognitive stressors, and how addressing these needs made so many school days much better than they were before.

And so I wonder if training all educators and administrators on Self-Reg is a key part of the solution to this educational problem. As “these children” enter the system, will we then be better prepared to address the needs of the students, our programming for all kids, and the ultimate success of each and every child? Maybe this is a utopian ideal, but I think that it could be more than that. What about you?


Family Play Beyond K: What Would You Suggest?

Last year, we had a very successful Family Art Afternoon, where we invited parents in to engage in art experiences with their children. We loved watching parents play with their kids, and we knew that we wanted to create a similar experience this year. We decided to make this experience even more open this year, and just focus on “play.” With Family Day coming up on Monday, we invited parents, grandparents, and younger siblings to come to our Family Play Afternoon yesterday. Twenty-six of twenty-eight families attended, and we had everyone from parents to grandparents to brothers, sisters, and babies playing together from 1:50-3:25. Our family community was so inclusive, and ensured that even those couple of kids without family members there, were part of the collaborative play experiences. Standing back and watching this play made my heart explode with happiness. The photographs and videos don’t come close to doing it justice!

During our Family Play Afternoon, one mom, who also happens to be a teacher in another school board, asked me if this is something that she could do with her Grade 6/7 class. Absolutely! This got me thinking about the possibility of creating some STEM or STEAM Challenges for parents and children to complete together.

  • Teach them both the scientific vocabulary.
  • Work through the problem solving process as a family group.
  • Model how literacy and math skills can be reinforced and further supported through different content areas.

I think of all of the times that we invite families into the school to watch assemblies, see award presentations, or attend holiday concerts. 

  • What if we got them more involved in the learning process though?
  • How might we do this in different grades?
  • What if parents that couldn’t attend were able to Skype or FaceTime into the classroom to participate from afar? 

I wonder how these kinds of family experiences might help impact on both a child’s and a parent’s perception of school. Could this be another way to move from parent involvement to parent engagementI believe so, but what about you?


If You Weren’t There To Witness The Learning, Did It Still Happen?

Yes, my TPA (evaluation)/Snow Day cancellation record has almost become the next great comedy routine …

but thankfully at least a piece of the process happened on Monday, when there was no snowstorm and we did have school. I am so very grateful for my principal, John, as he came to observe play (real, honest to goodness, free play) … and how I watched, interacted with kids, and supported and documented learning through play. My job was not to document him, so I didn’t, but I couldn’t help but notice as he quietly moved around the classroom to watch me: he stood back, he sat on a chair, he perched on a stump, and he really noticed all of the learning that came from this child-directed, free play.

There are many blog posts that I could write about this observation, but this is the one that I chose to write. When John and I debriefed afterwards, he went back and shared many of his observations. In addition to all of the moments that he shared of my interactions with kids, John also mentioned his observations — and a few snippets of conversation — from our MakerSpace area. I wasn’t in this space at the time, but he watched closely as a couple of students worked together to create something. He even noted when one child did a countdown, and counted back from 10-1, as part of her play. John loved the independent play that happened here, and he didn’t share this observation as a way of noting that I was not in this space, but instead, as a way to point out that learning happened even when my teaching partner, Paula, and I may not have been watching or facilitating it.

I can’t help but think of this conversation in connection to a Twitter discussion that I was involved in this morning around Snow Days. The discussion was a long one, but it was these final couple of tweets that inspired this post.

It was Mrs. Lyons‘ comment that made me think about my debrief with my principal on Monday. The key here is in “getting students” to see this learning … through play and through life. I don’t worry anymore if Paula and I capture every piece of a conversation or every moment around the classroom, as we know that our kids are engaging in rich discussions, linking their play to expectations, and even “noticing and naming” some of the learning that their peers are doing. When I hear children across the room say (and these are direct quotes) —

  • “Let’s measure to find out for sure.”
  • “I’m going to subitize this.”
  • “I was inspired by Picasso. This is cubism.”
  • “Let’s make a sign to save this. We can make one together. What makes the “ch” sound?”

— I know that learning doesn’t rely on the adult in the room. Now I realize that Kindergarten expectations might be less complex than Grade 8 ones, but I also can’t help but wonder how the school/learning paradigm shifts if we create a culture of seeing learning in the everyday. Does free play become that much richer? Does learning stop being about the grade? And do we start to trust that Snow Day learning — from building a snowman to tinkering to baking cookies — could still be valuable in helping students demonstrate the thinking and problem solving skills that will also be an asset to them in the classroom? I might not be there to witness all learning, but I have no doubt that learning happens. What about you?