“The ability to self-regulate, or to set limits for oneself, allows a child to develop the emotional well-being and the habits of mind, such as persistence and curiosity, that are essential for early learning and that set the stage for lifelong learning. Self-regulation involves attention skills, working memory, and cognitive flexibility – qualities that provide the underpinning for essential skills needs throughout life, such as planning and problem-solving skills.” (VVG, Edugains, pg 3)
So let’s recap…we have moved our understanding of self-regulation away from seeing it as self-control and compliance, to the understanding that it is about a child’s ability “to manage (their) own energy states, emotions, behaviours and attention, in ways that are socially acceptable and help achieve positive goals, such as maintaining good relationships, learning and maintaining wellbeing” (Shanker, http://www.self-regulation.ca/download/pdf_documents/magforbooklet.pdf). We also know that it is the foundation for student engagement and motivation. It is a factor that educators at all levels must be knowledgeable about and consider.
As an educator and a mother, I am becoming increasingly aware of how the children (and adults) around me are able to deal “effectively and efficiently” (as Shanker describes) with stressors. When I speak with educators about children struggling to be able to engage in learning (due to lack of attention, motivation, energy), I am finding myself wondering what types of stressors the environment (and I use this term broadly to include not just the physical environment but the social environment, the academic, the home environment, etc.) is inadvertently placing on and negatively impacting the child’s ability to learn (Conditions for Learning).
This really began to make sense to me when I heard Shanker speak in 2011. He described children’s struggle to deal effectively and efficiently with stressors – for example, noise, light, and movement, too much sugar, lack of exercise (the importance of not taking away recess or gym class for some students!), lack of sleep, or frightening experiences during infancy and childhood – that can result in a chronic state of energy-depletion. He spoke about children moving through six “arousal states” – asleep, drowsy, hypoalert, calmly focused and alert (which is where optimal learning happens), hyperalert and flooded. “When children are calmly focused and alert, they are best able to modulate their emotions; pay attention; ignore distractions; inhibit impulses; assess the consequences of an action; understand what others are thinking and feeling, and the effects of their own behaviours; or feel empathy for others” (Think, Feel, Act, Shanker, 2014).
From my own study of self-regulation, I am now beginning to understand this – some children have to work really hard to cope with their environment. This hard work depletes their energy state, which, if not replenished (by food, rest, choice, exercise, a hug from a caregiver, or some other type of intervention that has shown to help the child to recharge), will result in a “no energy left in the tank” situation; thus the child may not be able to control their responses to the environment. “Whatever a child is actively doing demands fuel, and the size of that cost will vary according to the activity, the situation, and most importantly, the child. In other words, two children might have to expend very different amounts of energy – be at very different points on the arousal continuum – in order to engage in the same activity” (Shanker, http://www.self-regulation.ca/download/pdf_documents/magforbooklet.pdf). Makes me think about how school depletes the “bank account” for some of our learners…and how we, throughout the course of the school day, must “replenish all of those withdrawals”!
It also reminds me of the Learning For All Pyramid of Intervention which helps us to think about the levels of support that each child in our care requires in order to achieve success.
How are we ensuring that we not only provide level one/primary support to all children (which is critical), but also provide support which is specific and targeted interventions (level 2/secondary) to those children who require it in order to achieve success? Sometimes I wonder if we need to consider our Conditions for Learning in terms of what is good for all and necessary for some? Maybe our Things to Consider need some further attention?
Until next week…when I continue to shorten up my reflections!