Posted by: darcymullin | January 12, 2014

Initial Thoughts on Self Regulation

More and more it seems that students are struggling with their self-regulation.  I’m not sure if we are just more aware or if students are changing, but I find more often than not when a student ends up in the office it is due to a self-regulatory issue.  I know that these students are struggling, but in many ways I don’t feel I have the skills to help them along their intended path.

The issues go beyond behaviour as there are a number of studies that indicate self-regulation is a stronger predictor of academic success than IQ.  While I understand on a conceptual level, I lack the understanding of structures help students learn these skills in classrooms – particularly in Primary classrooms.  After sending out a tweet, my PLN stepped up and offered a couple of resources to help guide my learning.  As the first step on the journey I decided to begin with, Calm, Alert and Learning by Stuart Shanker.  I’ve only just started, so these are my initial thoughts.

In his book Shanker looks at self-regulation through 5 different domains:

  1. Biological – ability to regulate energy and activity in the nervous system.  People who struggle with this often are under (hypo) or over (hyper) stimulated.
  2. heart mindEmotional – the ability to match emotions to a situation and manage them in times of stress.  People who struggle with this often are unable to control their moods and are at the extreme ends of emotion.
  3. Cognitive – this speaks to one’s ability to attend to mental processes such as memory, attention, retention of information and problem solving.  People who struggle often have a very hard time in the classroom setting.
  4. Social – the ability to read and understand body language and other social cues.  Often referred to social intelligence.  Children who struggle with this often have profound struggles in the biological and emotional realms as well.
  5. Pro-Social – the ability to act in a way that promote social acceptance.  Often this is displayed through the display of empathy.  Ultimately, the ability to act pro-socially is tied to effective regulation of the other four domains.

To illustrate this point, Shanker cites a common playground situation.  A child falls on the playground and is hurt.  His friend who is unregulated would not pay attention to what happened (cognitive), may become upset himself because of the noise and commotion his friend is making (emotional, biological).  Finally he would not be able to understand how his friend is feeling (social), and therefore be unable to help him in any way (pro-social).  It’s a little simplified, but you can see how an inability to regulate in even one of the modes would make it difficult to act in a pro-social way.

The inability to self-regulate has impacts beyond the classroom.  It has been linked to developmental disorders, personality disorders, memory disorders, alcohol experimentation and other risky behaviours, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease,and immune system disorders such as asthma, chronic fatigue among others.  While these may not be relevant to the Elementary School world, research indicates that these are potential downstream effects of poor self-regulation.

My intent is to learn more about self-regulation, but more importantly look into structures and processes that we can incorporate into our school and classrooms to help our students regulate themselves and ultimately learn the tools they need to do it on their own.  I see approaching it as we would any other academic area – for some it comes easy, but others may need more practice and reinforcement to find success.

I will continue to share my learning as I go.



  1. […] my previous post I shared some of my initial thoughts around self-regulation.  As I work my way through […]

  2. […] The ELC also has a few “quiet” spaces to go to when things are too overwhelming.  The whole atmosphere is calm, and the goal is to promote self-regulation. For more more on self regulation, check out this link: […]

  3. If you are looking for some strategies to implement within the elementary school classroom (and beyond) to assist your students with developing self-regulatory skills you might want to read some of the work of Debra Butler on Strategic Content Learning (SCL). She is an associate professor at UBC and has completed a number of long-term studies on the use of SCL to develop self-regulation in students, including a 2-yr partnership study with the Vancouver School District. Here are a couple of articles that you might find helpful.
    Collaboration and self-regulation in teacher’s professional development (Teaching and Teacher Education vol 20, 2004. pgs. 435 – 455)

    Individualizing Instruction in Self-regulated learning (Theory into Practice vol 41. Issue No.2, 2002,. pgs. 81 – 92)

    • Hi Holly,

      Thanks for the resources. I will check them out.

  4. […] the third of this series of posts based on Stuart Shanker’s Calm, Alert and Learning, I will focus on self-regulation in […]

  5. […] This post is number 5 in  a series. […]

  6. […] Tom struggle in three main areas: social, academic and behavioural.  If you have been following my series of posts on self-regulation or work with kids that struggle, you are probably aware that these domains are often interconnected […]

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