As we continue in our book study on Calm, Alert and Learning by Stuart Shanker, we focused on the social domain. We learned the key attributes in this domain include understanding feelings and intentions of themselves and others, responding appropriately to these understandings, monitoring the effects of their actions, demonstrating a good sense of humor that is free of humiliation of others, communicating effectively and recovering from breakdowns. When you read all of that you realize, it is a tall order to be self-regulated in this domain. It is clear we cannot expect young children to walk into our classroom and be self-regulated without any instruction in all of these areas.
School is the ultimate social environment where students need these skills to be successful. Students who already find difficulty regulating in the physical and emotional realms, will find even further difficulty in the social domain.
I loved how Shanker described the skill of understanding others as "mind reading" (p. 74). It truly is a feat to be able to read the mind of others in order to function socially. If a child does not possess this skill, large groups can cause great anxiety, thereby causing either hyperactivity or hypoactivity to deal with the anxiety (p. 75). He also describes this domain as a "dance" (p. 76-78) and if this dance isn't choreographed beginning at a young age, the child will experience difficulty.
One big AHA moment for me was the story around ice packs (pp 84-85). I am sure you know the students who are always down at the office needing an ice pack for something or other. You might wish they could just 'suck it up' or you might bemoan the fact that they are attention seeking and we should ignore them. WELL, Shanker says we need to ask why the child needs this ice pack. Ice can be very calming on the nervous system and perhaps the child is using the ice to down-regulate due to hyperarousal. Why the hyperarousal? Finding the answer to this question may be what you need to work on with that child. At my former school, the student who requested ice packs the most had a chaotic home life with parents who were separated fighting over every single detail. It all made sense to me after reading this? She was down-regulating in the only way she knew how. The next time someone comes asking for ice, consider it a regulation moment and complain less but be happy the child is looking for ways to do this.
It is essential that we look at students through a different lens, to shift from thinking in terms of behaviour management to figuring out why we see certain behaviours and what can be done to help these students learn to self-regulate (p. 85)
What an important quote for all educators. We definitely need to be less reactive and more proactive with our students. In our study session, one colleague reminded us that students who are English Language Learners need to work even harder at this because their social domain will be culturally different. Another key concept to remember for educators.
We were reminded also that much of what Shanker speaks to is included in Jennifer Katz' first block of her three block model (our book study from last year- don't you love it when you can tie things together in your learning?).
Another key concept pointed out by staff is this must become school culture. Pull out social skills groups only function to give ideas but actually playing it out in the classroom with discussion is much more useful. Moving from classroom to classroom should not be an experience for a child to "figure out" what this teacher wants. If all teachers live the culture of the school, moving to new classrooms should not put added stress on the students.