In my previous post I shared some of my initial thoughts around self-regulation. As I work my way through Shanker’s book Calm, Alert and Learning I will share my thoughts on each of the domains he argues are imperative to regulate out students.
Before getting into the first domain (biological), the book has a companion website where teachers and parents can find valuable resources – I strongly suggest you check it out. In order to regulate in the Biological Domain students need to control their Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous system.
What does that mean?
The sympathetic nervous system controls the release of adrenaline. Students who have too much adrenaline are often hyper-stimulated. Hyper-stimulated children are often:
- Hypersensitive to noise, touch or colour
- Impacted by stressors and can be overwhelmed in areas with too many people (overcrowding)
- Filling the need for sensory cravings by humming or chewing things
- Compelled to move and fidget – even when seated they may tap, jiggle and just need to move.
The parasympathetic nervous system controls the release of cortisol. Students who have too much cortisol are often hypo-stimulated. Hypo-stimulated children are often withdrawn for a variety of reasons:
- As a defence mechanism because they are overwhelmed by the stimulus around them.
- They are unable to interpret signals in their body such as hunger and temperature.
- They struggle interpreting signals from their extremities and will often bang into things (other students, desks etc.)
- Students are unable to coordinate sensations. They may struggle understanding where stimulus (sounds etc.) come from.
Clearly, there are serious classroom implications for students who are either hyper or hypo stimulated. Students who are hyper-stimulated need help to down regulate and those who are hypo-stimulated need to up regulate. The better a child becomes at regulating them more effective they can be in a classroom. If all of their energy and brain power is being used to regulate themselves there is nothing left over to learn. As educators, it is important to create conditions that help students regulate efficiently so their brain can be focused on learning.
What does that look like in the classroom? Shanker talks about doing an inventory of the classroom environment where teachers re-evaluate the structures they have in place. He suggests a few places to start:
- Visual Environment – children concentrate better when there are fewer visual distractors. Also, clutter can be disregulating, so putting supplies in bins etc. helps reduce visual stimulus.
- Auditory Environment – sound is the most powerful distractor. He suggests using quiet calming sounds (chimes) to signal transitions for students. A predictable and visual schedule allows children to anticipate transitions and will help them prepare (either up regulate or down regulate) as needed. Teachers should also look at the geography of their classroom and make sure there is a quiet place for students to go if that is what they need.
- Seating – allowing students to sit on “wiggle seats”, use fidget toys, or have a something to chew on can help them meet their needs and allow for better regulation. Teachers need to look at student groupings and anticipate transitions within their day. Planning them with their students need to up or down regulate.
In the end, adults (teachers and parents) have a huge impact on our children’s ability to self-regulate. Students can only learn to self-regulate when they are regulated. Young children are still learning and need the support of adults in learning these important skills. Shanker suggests that we cannot help children if we are not regulated ourselves. We need to interpret situations and adjust our energy level to meet the needs of children. If a child is withdrawn, we need to increase our energy, but if they are escalated we need to decrease our energy and remain calm.
As teachers we need to watch for the students who struggle and take longer to regulate. We need to understand what triggers them and make allowances for them that will help be successful. Making the techniques obvious and using age-appropriate language is important. The more we are cognizant and aware we are, the better we will be at adapting our environments to meet the needs of students in the biological domain.