Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

While most of my professional blogging happens here, I also enjoy sharing monthly blog posts on The MEHRIT Centre’s blog. Back in March, I was inspired to blog there after an experience in our music class. I have music as one of my prep periods, but due to a lack of additional rooms, the music teacher comes into the classroom to run her program. Music happens at the end of the day twice a week, and I usually use this time to sit over at the eating table and upload documentation. On this particular day, I noticed three children that chose to remove themselves from the program. Music is usually quite loud and exciting, and while the students love the regular songs and dances, sometimes it’s too much for a few of them. Sitting out, watching, listening, quietly clapping along, and even reading and writing instead, seemed to be calming options for these children. While I loved, and appreciated, that our music teacher realized what these students needed and respected their decisions, I wondered if not complying would always be seen as a self-regulated choice. There is quite a discussion in the comments on this blog post, and it’s one of these very comments that inspired my post today.

Cheryl, the commenter, shared a concern that I think is quite a common one.

Both Stephanie and I replied, explaining how these kinds of choices at such a young age may not necessarily impact on adulthood. 

While I stand by what I shared here, an experience from the other day has me wondering if there’s even more to add to this discussion. On Thursday, we had the opportunity to have Groove EDGEucation come and visit our school. While Groove worked with classes all day long, after school, the dance instructor worked with the staff. We all got to “groove,” just as the kids did. I’m not going to lie: this was a very dysregulating experience for me. Even though I said aloud the comment that everyone else made, “I can’t get it wrong,” I still felt as though I could get it wrong. I’m not a confident dancer.

  • I find it a challenge to keep with the beat.
  • I was afraid that I wouldn’t know all of the moves.
  • I worry about everyone looking at me. 
  • And the stress is just compounded by being so close to everyone else.

In the classroom, with kids, I can happily dance and have fun with music, but it’s different in a room full of colleagues. I tried though.

  • I kept near the back of the room. 
  • I stayed near my teaching partner, Paula, who knew that this was a challenge for me and was incredibly supportive. Talk about an awesome co-regulator!
  • I made some jokes and shared some laughs. This always makes me feel better.
  • And I tried to give myself a little space … I think this helped me breathe!

But then we got to the part of the dance where we have to “swing our partners.” Ahh!! First of all, the directional component to this worries me. This is something that I really could “get wrong!” Then there’s the fact that swinging around in circles makes me feel dizzy. I worked at it. I swung around with two partners … and didn’t hit anybody or anything. Then though, I moved to the sidelines. 

  • I took a drink of water.
  • I watched from the corner.
  • I still shared a few laughs with friends.

Like the kids in our class though, I opted out, and just like them, this was the self-regulated choice for me. As adults, we actually opt out all the time.

  • We send text messages and emails in meetings.
  • We step out of the room to make phone calls.
  • We sit in the lunch room, but read a device, write a note, or even look at a book.

This opting out may not look the same as it did in our Kindergarten class, but it’s still a way of self-regulating, giving ourselves a break, and doing what we really do need to do for us. Now some may argue that these are “rude choices,” and maybe at times, they are. But is this something that we also might need to re-frameFor when many of us choose to make these decisions, we do so — whether intentionally or not — to find the calm that we need to tackle our next big challenge or to exist happily within the space where we’re at. 

I’d like to think that I’m a “functional adult” because of some of these very choices, and on Thursday, I think a bit of my own opting out was exactly what I needed to do. What about you? Even as this fabulous TEDx Talk implies, the look of self-regulation may vary as we grow up. Maybe not complying is still a good option at times, but just in a different way than our four- and five-year-olds chose to do so. Are there times when, even as an adult, you also choose “not to comply” for the sake of Self-Reg? I guess the troublemaker in me continues to exist.


11 thoughts on “Are There Times When Even Adults Choose Not To Comply For The Sake Of Self-Reg?

  1. Oh, Aviva:
    I was feeling so much for you as I read this post. You know I would have been loving that after school dance thing, but I was totally feeling your anxiety. I really wonder how many people don’t make the connection between the behaviours we exhibit in contexts that are challenging for us, and the behaviour we see in our classroom. Years ago, we had a staff meeting where my principal arranged massage therapy students to come in to work on us, and a parent to teach some low level yoga. I still talk about it as my best staff meeting ever, but I know I had colleagues who chose to opt out of both activities because they were disregulating for them. We don’t always extend that courtesy to our students (I’m guilty of this) . I wonder how we can work on this.

    Last night, I was at an 80th birthday party. I was the “MC” for the gathering, but it was a large group, many of whom I didn’t know well. So, I would do my bit, and then sit down with people I knew, with my knitting, and feel “safe” before I had to put my persona on again. People who didn’t know me might have thought it odd, but that’s okay with me. I usually call my knitting my security knitting, but maybe I can just call it my self-reg strategy.

    I’m adding instrumental music back into my teaching mix in the fall, and really thinking hard about what self-reg can look like in this context. How can I help students for whom the chaos and cacophony of beginning musicians is hellish be part of this learning process?

    • Thanks Lisa! It’s funny, as there was a component of fun to this dancing, and maybe if this was happening in our classroom with kids, I would have felt better. Some teachers were talking about pairing up classes to do this kind of DPA, and thinking about how I would have felt with a younger audience, maybe some older students would feel the same way. What I loved though is that when I did choose to remove myself for a few minutes, there was no judgement. My principal was beside me at the time, and I know that he knew why I stepped back, and he was so supportive. So were my colleagues. This made me realize that we need to remember to also have this “no judgement” perspective when viewing our children in the classroom.

      This takes me to your last question, which has me thinking. On Twitter, you suggested the possibility of earplugs. That’s a great idea! I was thinking some earphones perhaps, but earplugs are probably a little less obvious and even more effective. Maybe options for these kids to take a break as needed. There might be a couple of students that need to just step out of the room for a few minutes to find some quiet, have a walk, and maybe get a drink. I have no doubt that you’ll figure out these students quickly. I wonder if you could work something out with them that works for all of you. I also wonder if other stressors in the room might compound things. Would considering the space between chairs, the arragement of the furniture, the amount of bright lights, and even the positioning of kids, help? Would it benefit these few students to be beside someone that calms them, or maybe even slightly removed from the bigger group, to have a little more space? This is something that I would prefer. It’s such a great reminder though that what works for one person doesn’t work for all, and I love that you’re considering this.

      I’m also thinking of your knitting example from the other night. It’s funny, as when I listed some of the Self-Reg strategies in here, I was tempted to include knitting with your name. I think this is exactly what it is for you. I wonder though, would something like knitting, or even a fidget toy of sorts, work for some of the kids that might be bothered by the noise of music? This is something they could use in between playing times to help self-regulate. I’m not sure if it would work, but sometimes these ideas are just all about trying, observing, and trying again.

      Good luck, Lisa! The kids are lucky to have a teacher that’s considering this! Even just the fact that you’re thinking it through will mean so much to them. (And maybe chatting with the students that you think might be impacted could help as well. They may have a Self-Reg strategy that works already, and could help you implement it.) Thanks for getting me to think more about this today!


  2. Great question. I think as adults we need to get much more comfortable with noncompliance. Especially when we work for large organizations like school boards noncompliance is healthy and necessary. I became increasingly uncomfortable with the pressure to comply especially as a school administrator in a Catholic school system. The pressure to comply was always tremendous. To not comply was seen as disloyal. To question ideas was not encouraged and loyalty to the party line was a value that was rewarded. Cheerleading of board initiatives was seen as the best way to use Twitter and other forms of social media.
    I wish this was not the case. Noncompliance should be encouraged. Noncompliance is a way to promote independent thought which is what I always thought we were supposed to be teaching our children to do.

    • Thanks for the comment, Paul! You have me thinking about non-compliance in a different way. I wonder if it’s about the need for respectful, professional discourse. I don’t always agree with everyone or everything, and I’m proud to be an “educational troublemaker.” I think when we question and share different perspectives, we also help encourage change to happen. That said, I’m always careful about how I push, and how I respect (and hear out) people that may feel differently. I think the same is true for you. We do help our students think critically, and as adults and educators, I absolutely believe that we have to do the same!


  3. Non compliance or coping strategies? When children are young we as adults need to support them in developing strategies to cope with difficult situations. As they get older it is our hope that they evolve and employ these strategies in socially appropriate ways. The fact that your Ks were able to do that and felt comfortable in doing so says a great deal about the environment you have worked to create in your classroom. You are right Aviva we as adults do this all the time. I wonder if we begin to reframe the thinking to begin the discussion about student agency. In the IB program we define agency as the power to take meaningful and intentional action, and acknowledges the rights and responsibilities of
    the individual, supporting voice, choice and ownership for
    everyone in the learning community. Maybe it’s not opting out at all….maybe it is agency? Maybe by involving students more in the planning of learning and giving them a voice in the organization and function of the classroom they would become more engaged not less?

    • Thanks for the comment, Ann Marie! What a wonderful reframe! I like thinking about these as coping strategies, for adults and for children, but I also like the idea of agency. We work with students on this all the time as they plan their day and move freely around the room based on their needs. They also change the room environment and activities in response to their needs. Maybe the same thing happens with adult learners, when we explore more of an EdCamp approach to PD. Does this lead to more agency, and less of a need for some of the coping strategies that I shared? Hmmm … you continue to have me thinking.


  4. Oh, this is such a rich conversation, and I just spent half an hour in a parking lot with some IB parents (so glad you hooked that in for me, Ann Marie) about much of if.

    Paul, I feel for you. Sometimes, I feel like noncompliance is the last resort self-reg strategy for adults…this is a line I cannot cross and still be my best self. It can be shaming, within a system like education, to choose not to comply, and it can feel very risky, and I think that’s really hard for some people, who may not even know that participating in a particular educulture is what’s disregulating them.

    Ann Marie, I was totally intrigued about your mention of agency. I just got home from putting Mr 15 and his buddies on a bus to a provincial competition, and ended up “venting” a bit with other parents. We were talking about some great examples we’ve seen this year of our kids’ agency being encouraged, but also trying to figure out pathways to more of that happening. One student is so frustrated by a particular situation (and my Kiddo’s not far behind) that he’s basically choosing non-compliance as a strategy. As parents of a certain age, we tend to tell our kids that that isn’t an option – that they have to figure out a way to problem-solve the situation that doesn’t get to noncompliance. Maybe the language I need to tackle this with my kiddo is that language of regulation, and maybe we need to figure out ways to legitimize non-compliance as an opportunity for a conversation about ways to help.

    • Thanks Lisa for continuing this conversation! Your last paragraph has left me in tears. I think that “agency” might be the way to make all of this happen. It’s not easy. I’m guessing that those that want kids to comply, also are not looking for student agency. My question might be, “What’s the fear?” That said, there seems to be an increased interest in “student voice and choice.” Maybe this is just in the schools that I’ve been at in the past number of years, but I hope it reaches further than that. Agency would definitely align nicely with this.

      I think of all of the independence that we build in our Kindergarten students under the Kindergarten Program Document. The Document explicitly states the view of the child as “competent and capable of complex thought.” If we want to see our youngest learners in this way, shouldn’t we also want the same to be true for our oldest ones? Something more to think about here!

      Really appreciating all of the rich dialogue. It may be pulling me away from writing my Communications of Learning, but that’s okay … it’s worth it! 🙂


  5. I was thinking what both Ann Marie and Lisa wrote! “Non-Compliance” is a label that brings about negative connotation – it happens in a hierarchical relationship when one person is refusing to do what the other wants. But thinking of it as regulation, or as a coping strategy helps us see it through an inquiry lens. If I don’t want to do something, it’s for a reason. Perhaps my reason might apply to others and we can problem solve and find a way around the reason.

    I’m now thinking back to my days as a band member. I often had a reading book with me. I thought it was for when I was bored. The director would work with one section at a time when we had new songs, and there was a lot of waiting. If I had my book, I wouldn’t feel bored. (I read instead of knitting!)

    A few months ago…August I think…in a PD meeting our principal had to say, “Can all of you close your computers please. I need your attention.” I was so busy with my computer that I hadn’t noticed that everyone was on them. I could sense her frustration and I felt bad, even though I truly was taking notes. (Not everyone was.) Now that I am doing lots of self-reg reading, I wonder if it would have been better for her to say, “OK. None of you are listening to me. I’m giving you all a 10 minute break, then we’ll go on with this.” We have scheduled breaks during PD days, but sometimes people need a break between the breaks, especially if there is a lot of content flying around.

    And I agree with Paul. We can learn a lot by watching those who are not complying. In class, and in life!

    • Thanks for adding to this conversation, Lisa! I agree with you about the negative connotation of “non-compliance.” And since I’ve read and learned more about Self-Reg, I even see “compliance” in a different way. But words such as “coping,” “agency,” or even “Self-Reg” (at times maybe all three words could apply), help us see things differently.

      It’s so interesting what you said about the book. I find it so hard to read with noise in the background, but so many people do. Even as I write this, I have a little music on in the background for my dogs, and I find my lips moving to read my thoughts as I type them down, so that I can focus on what I’m writing and not on the music. That said, I do wonder if options such as having a book or knitting could be good for those people that struggle with the waiting time in an instrumental music class. Maybe it will even help dull the noise for some.

      Your comment about the PD meeting is even more interesting. I wonder about those people that were on their devices not taking notes. Do we know for sure that they weren’t listening? We have a student in our class that sits over at the plasticine during our meeting time. Recently, we’ve moved the plasticine over near the door. It’s far away from the carpet, and we even offered to move some closer to the carpet. He likes this other space though. Even though he’s across the room and behind a table — and would probably appear to many not to be listening — he regularly answers our questions and chimes in with ideas of his own. He always knows what to do. Sometimes focusing on something else actually helps us listen better. I remember a meeting that I was in not that long ago at another school board. They didn’t have a guest WiFi code, and I don’t have a SMART Phone. I had to sit through the whole meeting without online access, and I found it very dysregulating. What if there was a problem? What if my teaching partner was trying to get a hold of me? I actually wonder how much I heard and absorbed, even though I might have appeared to be listening. On a device, I would have appeared less engaged, but likely would have been more so. For some people, a break and a walk around, might have made a difference, but if I still would have to come back to a meeting where I needed to sit and listen, access to a device would continue to be one of my Self-Reg strategies to make it through. Maybe I can understand kids even more right now.

      So much to consider here!

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