Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Prosocial Domain

image via PicturesNew

We continued our book study of Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning in February.  The key points made included (p. 93):
-Students will have the ability to regulate others and co-regulate with others.
-Students will have a sense of honesty with themselves and others.
-Students will have empathy (really the big key in this chapter!) and care about the feelings of others and help them deal with their emotions.
-Students will learn to put the needs and interests of others ahead of their own when needed.
-Students will desire to do the "right thing" at the right time.

Discussion produced the following thoughts for the group:
1. This would be the hardest domain for students to learn because you have to think about the others rather than yourself.
2. There was wonder about how a teacher could teach about empathy if they were not empathetic themselves.  Teachers likely weren't taught empathy as a student and if they do not have empathy, how will they see this as a need?  What would the principal do in this case?  How do you "make" a grownup feel empathy?
3. What about cultural differences in the meaning of empathy?  Is empathy viewed the same in every culture?
4. Social emotional learning must be a part of a school culture.  It would difficult to teach it as an add-on.
5. It would take a very creative teacher to infuse this concept throughout the curriculum.  Teachers have a tough job!
6. Are our students desensitized to wrong doing and harmful behaviour because of television, video games and perhaps even modeling at home?
7. Students would need a very intact sense of self-identity and would need to learn that everything is "not all about me."
8.  We liked the idea of caring for pets (p. 110) but there are very few pets in schools anymore due to the fear of disease and allergies.  One of our social workers has a service dog and sees the value of "pet therapy" with students.  This has been very positive.  Here are a couple of articles about her work: here and on p. 24 of this publication.
9. Shanker lists the Roots of Empathy program that has had success in classrooms. Students interact with a baby and watch as it grows in their weekly visits.
10. Shanker also brings up the point that we can't focus on anti-bullying as this has limited success but instead should focus on belongingness (p. 96).  Schools should concentrate on what you should do instead of bringing focus to what you shouldn't do.
Finally, it was noted that students need to understand the true meaning of feeling words.  What does it really mean to be sad, happy, angry, etc.

Throughout this chapter, a great example of the positive work of a teacher was detailed with great ideas to use in the classroom, using literature and movies that the students are familiar with and could identify with. Rather than always looking to a canned program, there are so many ways to work within your classroom with tools readily at hand.  Without making this an infused part of the school culture, it is unlikely to make impact, however.  Every teacher and administrator needs to be a part of a culture of empathy and caring.

By the way, Stuart Shanker is making an Edmonton appearance again at the end of May.  Register here if you are interested!

Monday, 19 January 2015

The Social Domain of Self-Regulation

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.