Social Emotional Learning, Part 3: Tools for Regulation and Resiliency

A Brief Overview

Behavior is a form of communication. So-called “bad” behavior might mean that a child doesn’t know how to cope with an overwhelming, confusing situation.

Research shows that children who are taught self-regulation learn better at school. This article describes a few practical tools and techniques to help children manage their emotions and provides links and resources where you can find out more.

Children who attend schools that make positive behavior supports a priority get disciplined and suspended less often.

See PAVE’s Part 1 and Part 2 articles about Social Emotional Learning (SEL), with more information about the importance of compassionate schools and trauma-informed instruction.

Full Article

When a child throws a chair, kicks, screams or intentionally hits his head, what does the teacher do? The answer depends on the discipline policies of the school, but many districts are turning away from traditional punishments and toward trauma-informed techniques. These new methods of “restorative discipline” or “positive behavior interventions” are helping children maintain dignity as they recover from poor choices and learn self-regulation.

Heather T. Forbes, author of Help for Billy, is among professionals who are designing new ways to help children cope and learn. Emotional instruction is crucial, argues Forbes, whose website, Beyond Consequences, shares this advice:

“It is in the moments when your child or student is most ‘raw’ and the most dysregulated [out of control] that you are being presented with an opportunity to create change and healing. It takes interacting from not just a new perspective but from an entirely new paradigm centered in the heart.”

Forbes’ work is part of an emerging conversation about how “bad” (or unexpected) behavior can create teachable moments. Research shows that struggling children often don’t improve their behavior because of traditional punishments or even rewards.  In an article, Teaching Trauma in the Classroom, Forbes concludes:

“These children’s issues are not behavioral. They are regulatory. Working at the level of regulation, relationship, and emotional safety addresses more deeply critical forces within these children that go far beyond the exchanges of language, choices, stars and sticker charts.”

This area of education is now referred to as Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Washington school staff can access training and information about SEL through the website of the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the agency that oversees the state’s school districts. In the fall of 2018 OSPI released the Social-Emotional Learning Module. All staff—from teachers and principals to bus drivers and lunch servers—can use the training to help students learn self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationships, and responsible decision-making.

OSPI offers other tools as part of its ongoing Compassionate Schools Initiative. A free e-book, The Heart of Learning and Teaching: Compassion, Resiliency, and Academic Success, includes this comment from Ray Wolpow, a project collaborator from Western Washington University:

“You cannot teach the mind until you reach the heart.”

Unexpected Behavior Can be a Cry for Help

Trauma and how it impacts learning and life has been studied since the late 1990s, when the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coined the term Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Childhood trauma was recognized as an important factor in physical and mental health conditions. In 2000, Congress established the National Child Traumatic Stress Network to offer free online courses and toolkits with continuing education credits for teachers. Among the offerings: “psychological first aid.”

This approach includes Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)—sometimes called PBI or PBS. A 2016 Mental Health Report from the Child Mind Institute describes PBIS as part of an array of programs that serve students from general education through special education. Educators call this type of multi-part programming a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). PBIS can fit into MTSS programming this way:

  • Tier 1: All students and classrooms participate. These “universal interventions” integrate academics, discipline and social/emotional skill-building schoolwide.
  • Tier 2: Students who are “at risk” get more targeted interventions.
  • Tier 3: Students with significant academic, behavioral or emotional problems are supported uniquely through their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs).

According to the research, about 17,000 schools (17 percent of US schools), have PBIS. Children in PBIS schools were 33 percent less likely to receive office discipline reports and were suspended 10 percent less often than children in non-PBIS schools. The universal, school-wide interventions had significant positive effects on:

  • Disruptive behaviors
  • Concentration
  • Emotional regulation
  • Prosocial behavior

Despite these positive outcomes, the report identifies a need for more outreach and development in the third tier, related to IEP supports. According to Child Mind, more than 77,000 children who qualify for special education are suspended or expelled for more than 10 cumulative days in any given school year. Children with emotional disturbance are the most likely to be disciplined, with children who struggle with autism, anxiety and learning disorders also high on the list.

Many schools want to do better, and new supports are informed by brain science. Chapter One in OSPI’s handbook, “The Heart of Learning,” includes a list of the brain regions affected by trauma. Understanding the amygdala as a center for fear, for example, can be critical for designing strategies to manage melt-downs. “Overstimulation of the amygdala…activates fear centers in the brain and results in behaviors consistent with anxiety, hyperarousal and hypervigilance,” the page informs.

The George Lucas Educational Foundation sponsors a website called Edutopia that also offers articles that teach about neuroscience. A contributing editor on the website, Rebecca Alber, recommends that teachers “get curious, not furious” when children act out:

“When we ask students to do high-level tasks, such as problem solving or design thinking, it’s nearly impossible if they are in a triggered state of fight, flight, or freeze. This trauma state may look like defiance or anger, and we may perceive this refusal as choice, but it is not necessarily so.”

Use Your Words

Some teachers are turning directly to scientists for advice. Dan Siegel, a well-known neurobiologist and author, offers tips through his agency, Mindsight. Mindsight teaches how to “name and tame” emotions to keep from getting overwhelmed. For example, Siegel suggests learning the difference between these two sentences:

  1. I am sad.
  2. I feel sad.

The first statement “is a kind of limited self-definition,” Siegel argues, while the second statement “suggests the ability to recognize and acknowledge a feeling, without being consumed by it.”

Word choice can be critical in trauma-informed instruction. Jody McVittie, a pediatrician who started Sound Discipline, based in Seattle, gives workshops for parents and teachers. She talks about the difference between praise and encouragement in a training called Building Resiliency. Instead of saying “Great Job!” a teacher or parent might say:

  • “I noticed that you wrote all of the letters of your name on the line and it was really easy to read.”
  • “I appreciate that you asked some insightful questions during our discussion about the Constitution today.”
  • “I know you can write a creative description of the book you read.”

The more specific the encouragement, McVittie says, the more the student will be encouraged to keep working on that “good,” or expected behavior. Another of McVittie’s key concepts is “connection before correction” to help teachers create helpful relationships with students. An example she uses in her trainings:

A teenaged student tossed a soda can from across the room during class. A trauma-trained teacher pointed to the hallway, and the boy joined her there. Instead of directing him to the office, the teacher explained that she really enjoyed having him in class. She said that he contributed valuable questions. Then she asked why he thought he was in the hallway. He said it was because he threw the soda can. She asked, “What’s your plan?” His answer included apologies and decision-making about how to avoid the mistake again.

This story certainly could have ended differently, and McVittie encourages educators and parents to avoid a “Dignity Double-Bind,” where children experience shame instead of problem-solving:

“Make the child think,” she says, “by showing respect instead of giving orders to obey.”

McVittie and others hope these lessons create a new model of education where Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is part of every school day. “Let’s create a learning community,” McVittie encourages, “by showing grace.”

A Self-Regulation Strategy for Right Now

Sometimes grace starts with self-care. Following is a breathing practice you can use right now to help your nervous system regulate. You will be breathing deeply as you trace the outline of your hand, giving your eyes and your mind something to focus on while you control your breath.

  • Hold up one hand, with your palm facing you.
  • Place the first finger of your other hand onto the bottom of your thumb.
  • As you breathe in, slide your finger up to the top of your thumb.
  • Breathing out, slide your finger into the valley between your thumb and first finger.
  • Breathing in, slide up your first finger. Breathing out, slide down the other side.
  • Continue following your breath up and down all your fingers.
  • When you breathe out down the outside edge of your pinkie, continue to exhale until you reach your elbow.
  • Notice how you feel. Allow your breath to find a natural pattern.

Now that you’ve learned this technique, you can share it with your children!

The following are resources for further information and inspiration:

Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope, a film by KPJR
Edutopia: Getting Curious Not Furious
Beyond Consequences
Massachusetts Advocates free e-book: Helping Traumatized Children Learn
CDC ACE Report
Sound Discipline
2016 Children’s Mental Health Report
OSPI: The Heart of Learning and Teaching, Compassionate Schools
Aces Too High
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network Learning Center
The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children
Why Schools Need to be Trauma Informed
Center for Parent Information and Resources article bank on SEL, Behavior and School

 

 

Suspension Know your Rights

A Dear Colleague Letter

The US Department of Education (DOE), in an effort to keep families and educators
informed, has produced a number of Dear Colleague Letters on topics of concern. Among these are two addressing issues around discipline, suspension/expulsion, and the use of School Resource Officers (SRO’s). These are critical topics of concern considering the many long-term negative consequences associated with suspension and expulsion, as well as discipline of students with disabilities. At the same time the Federal Government is producing these letters, Washington State legislature has introduced a Bill that would prohibit the use of suspension and expulsion for kindergarteners through 2nd grade. The Bill has a way to go before it can be signed into law, but the Dear Colleague Letters have already started making an impact on how discipline issues are addressed. So, what do these two Dear Colleague Letters say? Let’s look at them individually.

Dear Colleague Discipline and the use of School Resource Officers (SRO) letter:

The letter starts with a strong reminder from Former Secretary King that states, in part:

“…. school resource officers (SROs)—can help provide a positive and safe learning environment and build trust between students and law enforcement officials in some situations.” He goes on further to state, “I am concerned about the potential for violations of students’ civil rights and unnecessary citations or arrests of students in schools, all of which can lead to the unnecessary and harmful introduction of children and young adults into a school-to-prison pipeline”

This strong beginning helps lend to the clear recommendations made by Secretary King that, “School districts that choose to use SROs should incorporate them responsibly into school learning environments and ensure that they have no role in administering school discipline. State and local leaders should consider setting policy and passing legislation designed to help SROs minimize citations and arrests of students and use diversion programs and other alternatives to arrest, detainment, or the use of force. With appropriate training, support, and community engagement, SROs can bolster a school’s capacity to ensure safety and promote learning among all students.  Indeed, students and their families have the right to expect that all school-based personnel coming into contact with students are professionals trained to exercise appropriate judgment and to do so in a nondiscriminatory fashion.”

He goes on further to provide an exceptional tool to help in supporting the SRO and other staff assisting students. The tool, created by the U.S. Departments of Education (DOE) and Justice (DOJ)—the Safe, School-based Enforcement through Collaboration, Understanding, and Respect (SECURe) Rubrics—has been developed to assist States and districts in improving SRO-related policy and practice. This new resource can help education and law enforcement agencies that use SROs to review and, if necessary, revise SRO-related policies in alignment with common-sense action steps that can lead to improved school safety and better outcomes for students while safeguarding their civil rights. The SECURe Rubrics have been developed with the notion that partnerships between school districts, law enforcement agencies, and juvenile justice entities should be formalized through locally developed memoranda of understanding. Additionally, the SECURe Rubrics can support school safety and other SRO-related policies and practices that are informed by educators, families, students, and community and civil rights stakeholders; are updated regularly; and explicitly articulate that SROs should ensure safety and security but should not administer discipline in schools. At the same time the Department of Education has put out the SECURe Rubric the Department of Justice is releasing a letter for law enforcement leaders to highlight the resources developed by DOJ and DOE. For more information about this resource and to get a copy of the letter go to http://cops.usdoj.gov/supportingsafeschools. It is an exceptional tool and one that as families and educators we may want to share with local law enforcement partners.

The other letter addresses the growing concern regarding the use of Corporal Punishment. This letter has been sent to Governors, State Education Secretaries, and other school administrators. This letter points out that the mission of promoting positive development of the nation’s youth requires a school to ensure that no harm occurs to the children and young people entrusted into its care. The Dear Colleague Letter goes on to state that a practice in some schools — the use of corporal punishment[  1  ] —is harmful, ineffective, and often disproportionately applied to students of color and students with disabilities. The letter urges the Governors and education leaders to take on the power they possess to change the use of corporal punishment.

The letter states clearly:

“The use of corporal punishment is ineffective as a strategy to address inappropriate behavior. When used in an attempt to compel behavioral change, corporal punishment often has significantly poor results; for example, physical punishment may make a child more aggressive, defiant, and oppositional. Moreover, it can be detrimental to a child’s health and well-being and may have lifelong repercussions.  Research shows, for example, that children who experience physical punishment are more likely to develop mental health issues, including alcohol and drug abuse or dependence, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and other personality disorders. The excessive use of corporal punishment has been shown to be associated with antisocial behavior in children and later when they reach adulthood”.

Beyond its alarming health implications, corporal punishment in school is also associated with negative academic outcomes. Research shows, for example, that corporal punishment can impact children’s cognitive functioning, potentially affecting verbal capacity, brain development, [  1  ] and the ability to solve problems effectively. Additionally, studies also indicate that students as young as those in preschool who experience corporal punishment tend to perform at lower levels, when compared to peers who have not been subjected to such practices, on measures of both academic achievement and social competence.

In the letter, Secretary King states, “While some may argue that corporal punishment is a tradition in some school communities, past practice alone cannot be a sufficient rationalization for continuing to engage in actions that have been proven to have short- and long-term harmful effects. There is a growing consensus that we simply cannot condone state-sanctioned violence against children in school.”

In his letter, Secretary King identifies that “a long list of education, medical, civil rights, disabilities, and child advocacy groups, including the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and many others, have also been calling for a ban on this practice and citing the harmful long-term effects on children and the need to keep physical violence out of the educational environment. Corporal punishment has also been banned in Head Start Programs, Department of Defense-run schools, U.S. prisons and U.S. military training facilities, and most juvenile detention facilities.” He ends the letter by pointing out that twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment. Washington is one of those 28 states that have state law governing the use of Corporal Punishment. However, even with this information on the books, the State still finds a greater number of children of color and those with disabilities being punished far more severely than their peers who do not have disabilities or who are among the population majority.

All in all, the more knowledge we have, the greater the ability to assure that the needs of all students are protected. Learn more about how corporal punishment is handled in your district and share that knowledge with others. Together you can help build a strong alliance against the use of a system that has proven to be both ineffective and dangerous.