Could A Hug Change Everything?

There are many things that I could blog about today, but it’s an experience from yesterday that really has me thinking. At the end of the school day, I knew that this would be the blog post that I would be writing tomorrow. 

Yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, was away, and we had a supply in for her. The supply has been in the classroom before, and already knew most of the children. This relationship helped! She just returned from her lunch break, and decided to join some students working at the Lego table. I was working with children over at the creative table … not that far away. At the time, my back was to the Lego table, but something made me turn around. I’m not sure what. Maybe I heard something. Maybe I just felt a change in the classroom. But for whatever the reason, I looked.

The supply was sitting across from two students that were initially playing together. Then one child started to bang down on the work that another child was doing. I heard the words, “Please stop!” Then a few minutes later, I heard the words, “Stop!!” (Much louder this time.) And then less than a minute after that, the child screamed, “Stop!!,” again, and started to hit the table, growl, and cry at the same time. The supply was trying to support both children at this point, but the screaming, hitting, growling, and crying continued, and nothing the supply was doing seemed to help. I stood up at this point, called the upset child’s name, and told the child to move. I pointed to an empty stool near the sensory table (which happened to be unoccupied at the time). I had to say the child’s name and point to the stool a few times, but as I walked closer to the Lego table, the child moved.

I was now standing across from the child. There was no doubt about it: this child was angry and upset. I got down low, and reminded this child to breathe. I know that taking deep breaths works for this child. I will admit that I started to lecture this child about what I observed. Screaming, hitting, and growling were not necessary, and not okay … or were they? No matter what I’ve read and learned about self-regulation, my initial reaction was to view this child’s response as misbehaviour, but could it instead be stress behaviour? Just as I began my lecture, I stopped. Maybe I heard Stuart Shanker‘s voice in my head. Maybe I heard Susan Hopkins. Or maybe I just heard myself. 

At that moment, I got a lot quieter, and I asked this child, “Are you ready to talk?” I saw a small nod. “Okay, what happened?” The child then explained how the other child continued to wreck this child’s creation, and every attempt to rebuild was met with another problem. “I’m just so angry!,” this child said. Wow! This child could identify feelings and what triggered them. I asked the child, “Could we move your building somewhere else?” The child then explained to me the need for a table, and the fact that the Lego table was already in use. I mentioned that the sensory bin was empty, and seemed to be for most of the day. “What if we put the lid back on it? Could you use that?” The child thought that might work, and even thought about adding a chair beside for the additional room required. 

In just a few minutes, we figured out the problem together. As we stood up, I looked at the child that seemed better now, but still looked a little upset, and asked, “Do you need a hug?” That’s when the child said, “Yes!,” and grabbed me for a hug. The child stayed hugging me for a few minutes, and I could actually feel the child’s body calm down before letting go. It took less than seven minutes for this child to go from angry and upset, to calm, engaged, and refocused on some new learning. 

I’ve purposely avoided mentioning if this child is a JK or SK student and a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter! A similar situation could happen with any child. And when the issue was resolved, and everything was good again, I realized how quickly I could have — and almost did — escalate this problem. This could have become an office issue. It could have led to a need to contact parents. It could have dominated the rest of our day. For it doesn’t take long to engage in a power struggle, which tends to make things so much worse. I will admit that I’ve engaged in these struggles in the past: with the best of intentions, but far less successful results. Watching this child’s anger increase at the start of this problem, I would never have considered this child’s need for a hug, and yet, that interbrain connection was I think what ultimately made things better: both at the time and for the rest of the day!

This whole situation brings me back to the question on if our goal is to punish or to understand. I choose understanding. What about you? I wonder how many problems might easily diffuse with a gentle tone, a little time, and a big hug. 


Feeling Tired This Valentine’s Day? Could This Be Why?

As I yawn away at my computer tonight, I’m also inspired to blog. Today was Valentine’s Day, and in Kindergarten, it’s quite the experience. Our kids were fantastic, and took control over this special day, but as my teaching partner, Paula, and I met to reflect together at the end of the day, we both struggled with staying awake. Why?  I can’t help but wonder if exploring the day through a Self-Reg lens might help us figure out why we’re so tired!

Tonight, I’m thinking about this blog post that I wrote for The MEHRIT Centre just over a year ago now. It explores stressors in The Five Domains, and as I reflect on Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think more about these stressors. 

First there is the biological stressor of the additional mess today. Paula and I really wanted students to own the distribution of valentines. We decided not to have a party, but instead respect the interests of the students, and invite children to participate in any way that they wanted. We shared this note with parents, and happily embraced this differentiated approach to Valentine’s Day. Since we didn’t want the valentines (along with any additional noise, excitement, and mess) to be a centre of the learning today, we decided to use our dramatic play space for a valentines distribution area. We invited some children to organize the bags (that others made yesterday), and to help with handing out the Valentine’s Day cards. Then Paula and I stayed out of this space! This wasn’t easy to do. The floor was sprinkled with valentines. Bags kept getting moved around. It took a REALLY long time for children to distribute all of their cards, and the pile of cards on the floor kept on growing. More children gathered in this small space. We asked one child to help another one hand out his cards. She went in for a little while, and then came back out. She said to me, “I just find this too stressful, Miss Dunsiger. Everyone’s moving the bags.” She demonstrated some great self-regulation when she realized she needed to get out of this space, take a deep breath, and engage in some writing, as a way to calm down. I guess that we weren’t the only ones impacted by the mess … but just like us, she chose to step back. 

Next there is the social stressor that comes from a day high in social interactions. While our class didn’t have a party, I was on duty during the Second Nutrition Break in the primary wing of the school. All of the classes had parties. There were games, food, and cards to distribute. The usual classroom routine was different today, and the children that need this routine the most, struggled. I dealt with more friendship problems outside than I usually do. When all of the children lined up to go in, I told them, “On a day all about love and friendship, I didn’t see as much kindness as on other days.” As I was tempted to lecture on the value of being kind, a little voice in my head wondered, are some kids feeling the additional pressure of these social interactions today? Could the focus on love, friendship, and kindness, actually be inspiring the opposite? Sometimes it takes a toll to live up to what others expect from us.

Then there is the emotional stressor caused by some additional tears today. From lost stickers to misplaced valentines to late arrivals to an inability to “find the bag I need,” today was a day where some children just needed that extra hug. They looked for it. They asked for it. It wasn’t about a day full of tears, but just those tiny, unexpected sobs, that I certainly noticed. 

After that there is the pro-social stressor: empathizing with how these children were feeling today, and feeling the additional strain as a result. For the child that was overwhelmed with the movement of the bags, I get it! When I saw the bags getting all bunched up together again, I had to resist the urge to go and separate them, and instead, ask children how they might be able to see them better. For the child that struggled with getting his big valentine into a little bag, I understand. As someone who still requires three to five attempts to get into a parking spot even when I see the lines, 🙂 spatial awareness skills continue to be an area for growth. I also looked at those little bags and wondered how they would hold everything, and while they did, it took students with much better packing skills than me to make that happen.

Finally, there is the cognitive stressor. For beginning readers and writers, Valentine’s Day can be a challenge. While we did encourage students to consider just signing their names to their cards, many added classmates’ names, and this made it an additional challenge. We watched some students ask multiple times, “What does this one say?” While we tried to encourage children to get help from each other, questions definitely came our way. Then, even when children can read the names, they need to find the right bag. This often means reading the name in a different font! The child that wrote our bags yesterday, added an exclamation mark at the end of each name — “because Valentine’s Day is just so exciting!” — but that caused some additional confusion today. Persevering to find each bag and distribute each valentine was a challenge for some, and as we tried to support them, I think that even inadvertently, it became a challenge for us.

It’s amazing how even standing back can be tiring. As I count down the minutes until I can head to bed tonight — and it may be even before 9:00 — I think about the stressors at play on a day that actually seemed quite calm. Think about your Valentine’s Day. Are you going home tired tonight? Why might that be? Could looking at the day through a Self-Reg lens provide some additional insight? Now for a deep breath, a good book, and some much-needed quiet time to end off another Valentine’s Day.


One More Uncomfortable Look At The 100th Day of School

For most schools in Ontario, this upcoming week marks two big celebrations: Valentine’s Day and the 100th Day of School. This post is about one of these: the 100th Day. My thinking on this day has evolved a lot over the years. This really started three years ago when I taught Grade 1, and began to question the authenticity of the 100th Day of School. Aligning with my one word goal, I decided to make some changes to the day, and these changes evolved even more thanks to some comments on this blog post of mine. This day was far from perfect, but it was the last time that I celebrated the 100th Day of School … and likely the last time that I will.

This week though, the 100th day of school comes up again, and I see many blog posts of Kindergarten and Grade 1 students preparing for this day. I know that Grade 1 really focuses on the numbers up to 100, but I wondered about Kindergarten. I thought our document emphasized the number amounts to 10, which is why my teaching partner, Paula, and I have really focused on understanding and working with these quantities. It was this thinking that led to this tweet of mine.

My tweet resulted in some responses on Twitter, including the following ones.

As I read through these tweets, I began to wonder, what does the Kindergarten Document explicitly say? I read this document a couple of years ago now, and while I remember the focus on quantities to 10, I wondered if there was more. Was I missing something here? So today, I went back through the document and had a look. Here’s what I found.

I think it’s the term “meaningful” that’s key here. Our Kindergarten Document does not negate the value in looking at bigger numbers, but in an authentic way that also aligns with where students are at developmentally. In the example provided, both children could be right, but an interest in big numbers also provides an opportunity to explore beyond 0-10. 

This Kindergarten Document example makes me think about the Boat City that students have started to create in our classroom. Yesterday, they pointed out to Paula some of the floating shops that are part of the city. 

This blue sheet changed up the boat space today. First they worked with @paulacrockett to cut it and to place it under the boats. This led to a discussion about the different colours of blue water and what they mean. A great opportunity for @paulacrockett to introduce and use vocabulary such as “reflect.” Then students started to do the same. This is what Speech Pathologists have taught me to do before, for this very reason, and I see and hear it here! ❤️ In the midst of this, children began to talk about “sharks.” T. realized he was wearing a shark t-shirt. @paulacrockett worked with C., and used initial sounds, to read the words. Both E. and C. drew their own sharks. E. thought that they needed a separate space to swim “in black water.” He got some black construction paper for this, and relocated C. and the sharks. Then both C. and E. labelled their sharks. I helped E. with the “sh” sound, and he did the rest (will tweet out a video). B. was also concerned about some sharks, and made a big sign to alert others to them! So much literacy — writing, reading, oral language, and comprehension — exhibited in this space! ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

E. could not stop labelling his creations in Boat City today. Was sounding out three-sound words independently, and listening for beginning, middle, and end sounds in longer words. For the first time, was doing this confidently all on his own today, and blending sounds to read the words. ❤️❤️❤️ Definitely want to extend this writing interest tomorrow, and see if he can go back and blend the sounds to re-read what he wrote. Then M. and T. decided they wanted to make some paper sailboats to add to Boat City. They tried to do so on their own, but they didn’t work. I suggested an informational text. M. Google searched “how to make a paper sailboat” (I watched her enter the terms, but she did so on her own). I thought that the pictures might help, but she said, “We should click videos.” She looked for a good one, and then followed the instructions. She initially asked me for help, and I did sit with her to do this, but I couldn’t figure it out. She kept at it, and she did it. T. did so as well, and even created a pattern on her boat, which later led to some math talk and counting with @paulacrockett. I love all of the learning opportunities that can come out of child-directed play! ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

I wish that I documented more of what happened in Boat City today. What I love about this is that E. went back and read his work from yesterday, and made a decision about the placement of today’s fish based on what he did yesterday. He also built a “generator” this afternoon, and sounded out the word all on his own. He even got a second label for the R at the end. Wow!! E. was far more confident in segmenting and blending sounds today. ❤️❤️❤️ More students got into labelling today based on what E. did. Milla’s rescue boat “mveeol”: I wonder if she went mobile instead. Love how she sorted it with the safety boat. She thought they should be together. It’s great when reading authentically happens through play. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

We’d love to have them cover some of these shops next week, and even add some names to them as a way of incorporating even more reading and writing into this space. What if they also added shop numbers? We could even look online at some of the addresses of favourite places in Ancaster. What are the numbers? How do we read them? How might we organize them? This could definitely provide an opportunity to explore numerals beyond 10, but in a meaningful context. 

This makes me wonder about who determines “meaningfulness.” In the case of Boat City, the children determined the interest. We extended it, and are exploring more ways to connect the literacy and mathematics behaviours to the students’ play. Who’s driving the 100th Day explorations? How are they creating these authentic links to learning? Maybe there are ways to celebrate the 100th Day and still hold true to the Program Document, while also extending children’s understanding of number amounts. I would love to hear what others have tried and what they consider during the planning process. 

I think that we’re lucky to teach in Ontario, with a play-based Kindergarten Program Document, which really allows us to dig deeper instead of graze the surface of more. But knowing the Grade 1 math expectationsdo we sometimes feel the pressure to do more? We also all teach students that can count orally well beyond 10, and even work with number amounts beyond 10. And while I love listening to the number debates around the eating table, and the math thinking as kids ask each other addition questions, I also worry if math is just seen as the asking and answering of addition and subtraction questions.

How do we get children to see and critically think about math in their world? Can a 100th Day Celebration play a role in this, or is it highlighting a different messageAs uncomfortable as these answers may make us feel, I think these questions are worth thinking about. What about you?



Can You Really Have The Best Day With Indoor Recess AND A Full Moon?!

When I got to school early yesterday morning, I was worried about our day. I almost sent out this tweet.

A full moon and it’s too cold to go outside today. Plus, reports are due into the office. Not the makings of a great day for teachers. 🙂

I resisted the urge though, despite feeling like it might be a challenging day at school. Yes, I stayed up late the night before to proofread my Communications of Learning, as I really wanted to get them into the office before the weekend (we actually have until Monday due to some glitches with the program). So yes, I was uncharacteristically tired, and really hoping that the coffee would do its magic and make me feel more awake. I could have used some fresh air … and I was guessing that our kids would feel the same. We usually start our day outside (for about 1 1/2 hours), so this would be a big change to our program which is incredibly routine. We’ve had a couple of similar days lately because of yet another polar vortex, but we always get outside at some point. The windchill values for yesterday made me doubt that we’d be making it out at all. Could we do this? Could our kids make it through?

And this is when something incredible happened: we actually had our best day ever! Even after 4 1/2 hours of playing, it was actually sad to tidy up. After school yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I poured over documentation for hours. We watched videos. We discussed our observations. We talked about plans for next week, and how to extend the learning. We also tried to figure out what made today different. Here’s our thinking.

The room design worked well for our kids. Just before heading to the staff room at the start of the Second Nutrition Break, I stood over by the door and took some photographs of the classroom. Students used the classroom so well. A group of children sat down with Paula to eat their lunches and chat about the day. They got involved in a discussion around measurement, and began to compare their heights to their friends. Lots of great math talk happened here! Then another group of students worked on perfecting the backdrop for the Photo Shoot at the Build-A-Baby Store. A few students worked on turning the dollhouse into a Donut Shop … complete with a sign. Other children created structures and marble runs with the various block choices on the big carpet. A few students continued to mix colours and add to our Rainbow Collaborative Art Piece. They decided to add a Jackson Pollock-inspired layer. Then there were the children behind me at the time: adding components and building structures for Lego City, and creating miniature works of art together in the shelves. There were also a few students beading at the creative table, and some children exploring gravity and the movement of water at the sensory table. One child was even sitting down to enjoy a good book over on the sofa. The spread of students around the room definitely helped decrease the volume of discussion, and lead to groups of very engaged children working and learning together in our classroom space. 


There were lots of options for kids. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: we don’t direct play. We do spend our entire day playing with kids though, and we extend the learning through play. We both do a lot of mini-lessons: sometimes in small groups, sometimes in large groups, and sometimes 1:1. Knowing our kids though and having discussed their next steps together on a daily basis, allows us to plan for how to insert ourselves into play, and how to give the direct instruction that the children need, while not sacrificing the value of inquiry and play. It’s a delicate dance, and some days, it works better than others. We’re very deliberate in the materials that we put out in the classroom though, and we reflect daily on how students use these materials, and what we can add or remove to have them engage with items differently. Yes, we have a few students that wander at times … but the items that we had in our various spaces seemed to grab these wanderers. As they walked by, they stopped, and found something new to try. 


Different social groups emerged on Friday. Maybe it’s because they were inside and they found each other in various spaces of interest. But as these different children played with each other, they also changed the repetitive play that we sometimes see. This led to children supporting each other in new ways, but also extending some of the play that might have ended earlier on another day. 


We split up the block play. A few weeks ago, we noticed that our big carpet remained empty for most of the day. Not only is this central space a perfect place for running — something that we try to avoid — but it’s also a large, unused area, which we don’t want to have in what is already a smaller classroom. We decided to move some block bins over to the carpet, and students used these blocks incredibly well with the marble run pieces to create great structures and marble runs. When we added the wooden blocks to this space though, the area became too loud. On Thursday, some students took the big blocks over near the Lego table, and created a Lego City on the floor. A child convinced Paula to let him keep Lego City intact at least until Friday, even though it was central in our classroom and hard to avoid. Yesterday though, Paula worked with a few students to relocate Lego City behind the Lego table. This kept the wooden blocks in this Lego space, but also spread out the block play, so interested builders split up between the carpet and the Lego table. For next week, we moved some foam blocks back to this Lego table space to maybe change up the block play even more.


We had a lot of sensory options. We know that sensory play is calming for many of our students, so we’ve considered different sensory choices in the classroom: from painting to water to plasticine to bead work. Having these various choices for kids seemed to create a calmer environment for the day. We also put out the bead work a little earlier than usual, when we noticed that students were not using the creative table as much, and the classroom noise was increasing. On a day when we couldn’t go outside, a little more time to bead seemed to make a difference! (Plus students don’t stay at these choices all day. They go there, they feel calmer, and then they move somewhere else. They come back when needed.)


We made small changes throughout the day instead of a full re-start. Before school started, Paula and I discussed the possible need to clean up, have a Brain Break, and then start playing again … maybe with fewer choices. We were prepared for this. Instead of doing so, we decided to make smaller changes in the environment when needed. Sometimes we suggested other choices to kids. Sometimes we went into spaces and inspired a change (e.g., when Paula spoke to the children in the Build-A-Baby Store about a photo shoot). Sometimes we switched around materials (as we did at the creative table with the Perler Beads). By not stopping the play, but changing and extending it, students settled into play even more and had a far more successful day!


We figured out what engages those few students that don’t always seem so easily engaged. We actually did this by accident the day before. We had a plan to hopefully help engage these kids for a little longer, and get past their desire to regularly wander from one place to the next. When we put this plan into action though, it was actually another activity that got them, and then gave them that feeling of success that allowed them to explore other, more open-ended areas with a greater willingness to persevere. After reflecting on this on Thursday, we put some similar options into play for Friday, and these choices grabbed them. Other children that also tend to follow them, were equally interested in these activity options. Win/win! 

None of the areas require us to be there in order for students to use them. (Paula reminded me of this benefit.) This is something that’s always true in our classroom, but was especially beneficial on a day like yesterday. We want to be able to go into any space, observe children, ask questions, and support extensions of learning, but we don’t want to be held down in any one space. The ability to circulate, to settle in different areas of the room, and to make changes depending on how students use the classroom, are all critical components of our program’s success. Some days require more circulation. Some children require more support. But in a classroom where kids — even our youngest learners — are independent and know classmates that can also support them, gives us the opportunity to be flexible. This flexibility might be needed even more on an indoor day WITH a full moon. 


We cleaned up gradually. Four-and-a-half hours of play in a Kindergarten classroom produces quite a large mess, and tidy up time can be stressful for everyone. So when I came back from the Second Nutrition Break, we slowly started to get kids to clean up some of the larger messes in the classroom. Paula then called a full clean up when most of the room was already tidy, so that we could re-group quickly and with a minimal amount of stress.

We took care of our own Self-Reg needs. Indoor days are not easy ones for adults, and they can often be stressful … my tweet that was never sent at the beginning of the day highlights this! 🙂 We know though that our ability to self-regulate impacts on kids. So on Friday, we also made our self-regulation a priority. Paula made sure that I took at least some of both nutrition breaks (something that I don’t always do): to leave the classroom, to decompress, and to make sure that I could do it all again! Paula also left for her lunch, and then came back and had some quiet time at the eating table with a group of students. The table provides a perfect view of our whole classroom, while also being a little removed from the hub-bub of activity. This quieter time, then allowed her to insert herself into play, and record some amazing advertisements for our dramatic play store. Sometimes we all need a little break to give our best to what comes next!


I’m still not sure that we could do a fully indoor day every day, but yesterday made me realize that even some scary conditions (i.e., a full moon and indoor recess), don’t always need to be that scary after all. How do you make indoor recess work for you and your students? Windchill remains as one of the most frightening teacher words that I know, but thanks to a fantastic teaching partner and amazing kids, maybe we really can make it through this polar vortex and come out on top!


A Two-Sided Blog Post

Have you ever wondered what really goes on in a school to support a student who struggles with self-regulation?  Aviva (as classroom educator) and Kristi (as school administrator) team up to offer their perspectives on how they would approach a specific situation.  Changing a student’s ability to self-regulate takes a lot of work and time.  Here’s a glimpse at the what it might look like.


You are in a busy Kindergarten class with 30 JK/SK students and two educators. You have a mix of student-chosen activities and school/class-imposed activities throughout the day.  You use an inquiry-based approach to learning; allowing students to dive into play in a variety of settings.  These settings are enhanced by teacher-established provocations and facilitation.  But, despite all of this, you still have some students who frequently have problems engaging in learning safely in a way that enhances their learning.  Marsha, for example, is a student who sometimes has difficulty engaging in play.  Instead, she regularly demonstrates:  yelling and whining, wandering around the room, hitting of students and staff, throwing of toys or classroom items, running from the room.  Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!  What are we going to do with you?

Educator Right Now Supports:

In the short-term, I need to develop some solutions that will keep Marsha and the rest of the students safe first. It’s the hitting of students and staff, throwing of toys and classroom items, and running from the room that are my three biggest concerns. I want to try and give Marsha some space in the room, so that she can throw things without hurting anyone else, and even lash out without injuring a student or a staff member. I want to try to empty some shelves in this space, so that there’s less to throw, but still an area for her to move. I also want to try to position myself near the door, with likely the door closed, so that it’s harder for her to leave the room. Classroom doors are often heavy for Kindergarten students, so it will likely take a little time for her to open it, and in that time, I can always call the office for additional support if needed. I can’t easily leave the classroom because of the other students (even with my teaching partner being there), and if leaving the classroom could also result in leaving the school, then I’m going to need some administrator support.

As for the yelling/whining, I need to really monitor how loud it is. Sometimes a quiet response from me can help with quieting a child. Sometimes directing to a preferred activity, or a more sensory option (e.g., water or playdough) can also make a difference. If Marsha is really loud, I may also need to contact the office, and explore another space for her to go to quiet down. Her volume may also impact on the volume of the rest of the children in the classroom, which then just increases the stress for many other children … and the adults in the room. It’s a vicious cycle!

The wandering would probably be the least of my concerns. I might be able to intercept this wandering with a redirection to a preferred activity or a sensory option (e.g., the water or playdough), which could help. That said, Marsha’s not a safety risk if she’s wandering in the classroom, and sometimes the physical movement can actually calm a child. I would likely be more apt to monitor this wandering, and see if she eventually settles. All of this being said, these “right now supports” are largely band-aid solutions. They might solve the problem at the time, but will they help prevent future problems, or help us better understand what’s causing Marsha to respond in these ways? This is where the long-term supports, and Self-Reg, really make a difference!

Principal Right Now Supports:

No matter how many students you have in a school, a good principal gets to know all of his/her Marshas as early as possible.  So, I will have had some conversations with the educators in the room and have done some observation of my own before trying to help Marsha – and the rest of the class – in this moment.

Safety is always my first concern.  So I’m going to see how I can immediately support to increase safety for Marsha, for the other students, and for the educators in the room. However, barging in and immediately taking charge can backfire and escalate a situation. 

First I would scan for any immediate safety threat – if Marsha is throwing something, am I more helpful helping relocate other students, removing possible throwing objects or relieving an educator from shadowing Marsha so that he/she can support other students?  If Marsha is hitting someone, can she be distracted by me (sometimes a new voice and face can deescalate a situation but sometimes not) either with my voice, my presence, or an object I can provide?  Can I prevent hits by moving the person being hit away and giving Marsha some physical space?  If Marsha is making a run for it, can I predict her most likely route from past experience and determine if it is likely a safety risk (i.e. is she running down the hall and stopping to hide under the stairwell or is she running out the door and into traffic?).  If she needs an escape from the room but is likely to pick something relatively safe, like the stairwell, I will follow at a distance and try to alert back up support, in case she changes paths.  If she is heading out the door, I am quickly eliciting help and following her out the door.  If this is the normal course of events, we probably have a fine-tuned plan for how we all react (e.g. I follow on foot with my phone, teacher alerts office to advise whether to contact family and police, resource teacher is alerted to follow as well).  If it is a first time event, I follow on foot with my trusty phone and call the office to relay information and get support put in place.  (Side note:  what did Principals do before cell phones???)

If the behaviour isn’t about safety, I may be in to observe since Marsha is one of the mystery students I want to help support the educators in figuring out.  I may watch to see patterns of wandering, timing of whining or content of whining.  I trust my educators to have some thoughts about why we are seeing these behaviours.  We’ll talk about these later.

Educator Long Term Supports:

The more that I’ve read about Self-Reg, the more that I’ve learned that there’s almost always a bigger reason behind the behaviours that we see. Is this misbehaviour or is it stress behaviour? This is when I have to slow down and ask myself the question that Stuart Shanker often asks: “Why this child, and why now?” We see the Marshas of the world that are yelling, wandering, hitting, throwing, and running, but if we stop and look for the reasons behind this behaviour, we often see a lot more.

For me, it often comes down to determining the stressors. What is triggering this child? There’s a very comprehensive list of stressors in this Self-Reg Toolkit, and I’ve found that it’s often a combination of different things that are leading to the behaviour that we’re seeing. If we know the stressors, we can also look at making changes to reduce them. This may be about changing classroom design, lighting, sensory experiences, noise levels, academic demands or expectations, transitions (frequency and time), and social opportunities. I’ve found that while some of our classroom changes may be made with Marsha in mind, Billy, Bob, Sue, and Joe, will all still benefit. When Marsha’s calmer, the whole room feels calmer!

We also need to consider our own Self-Reg. How are we feeling at the time that we’re seeing Marsha’s behaviour? How do we respond to Marsha? If we’re feeling stressed, this often compounds a child’s stress. And sometimes, we think that we’re hiding it well, but kids hear it in our voices and see it in our actions. If I find that the room …

  • is getting louder,
  • a child is acting out,
  • somebody’s running,
  • screaming is about to start,

the very best thing that I can often do at the time is stop … and breathe. I need to make sure that I’m self-regulated, so that I can make those small actions. Get down lower. Be quieter. Speak and move from a distance. Kristi mentioned something similar in her principal supports, and this is equally important for educators. For Marsha to self-regulate, Marsha’s educators need to feel just as calm.

Principal Long Term Supports:

For a Principal, my long term supports are more about the educators than Marsha, actually.  Educators are at close range, in the moment, all of the time while I can closely experience the situation at times, but I also can step back, view the bigger picture and offer supports that go beyond the moment.

My first job is to encourage.  Educators work tirelessly with very little praise.  Boosting teacher confidence by acknowledging specific things they are doing that are supporting Marsha and the other students is of paramount importance to helping them maintain their calm and self efficacy.

Next, I question and facilitate educator reflection.  Helping educators prioritize concerns and streamline next steps helps decide what supports to try.  If I read Aviva’s account, I get the sense our first priority is the hitting.  I would help educators reflect on any patterns they see to the hitting (is it always at the end of the day? Or just before lunch? Is it in reaction to certain children or certain toys/activities that are not available when Marsha wants?). This allows us, as a team, to meaningfully make changes to the environment, routine or support.  Changing everything at once rarely turns out well.  Slow and steady is what we aim for to support progress. Reassurance and celebrating those small victories will hopefully help them to see the progress and abate the frustration of not having quick fixes.

The third role I try to fill is as advocate.  I try to access the resources and supports that will promote change, safety and learning in the classroom.  Since some resources, like Educational Assistants, are a very finite resource (and worth their weight in gold!), this usually means getting creative and being an active participant in that change.  If you ever came to my office, you would notice it’s distinct lack of decor.  I have bare, beige walls, two student work tables, a variety of calming manipulatives (kinetic sand, building toys, games, puzzles, a student rocking chair, stuffed animals, books) and my desk shoved in the corner as far back as I could manage.  My office is rarely without students working on regaining self-control and developing better self-regulation.  I often have to make important phone calls from the supply room or meet parents or staff on hallway walks, but in my school, there isn’t another space that is suitable for use as a calming area. That is how I am creatively making space to support students.  Advocating for, and communicating with, various teams and outreach supports within the school, board and community will also bring in different perspectives and supports for Marsha and her educators.  Multidisciplinary collaboration results in educator/parent/student, and most definitely principal, learning.

With Marsha, I would probably bring her down to visit my office at a time when she is well regulated and in good self-control so we can start to determine favourite calming resources and to familiarize her with me and the space.  Building rapport with her in the calm times will make things less challenging for her (and me!) in the not so calm times.

I often think of that old photo of JFK working in the oval office with his young son playing under his desk when I think about modern day principals.  We still have a whole lot of business and paperwork and reporting to deal with, but we are also juggling a whole lot more constant student contact to help meet the growing student – and staff – needs of well-being.  My hope is that being there to help staff maintain their well being, feel they are not alone, and offer support and encouragement in a variety of ways will ultimately play a small role in helping Marsha develop self-regulation skills.

Where Does This Lead?

In a school, educators and administrators don’t need to work in isolation. Marsha needs support. We’re there together to support her: with both short-term and long-term solutions. Self-regulation helps us view Marsha’s behaviour differently, and hopefully determine what’s leading to the yelling, wandering, hitting, throwing, and running that we’re noticing in the classroom.

Whose voice is missing here though? How can they support Marsha’s self-regulation? As an educator or administrator, what might you do to support your Marshas? We’re providing two sides to this blog post, but would welcome any additional sides.