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Once a week, I have a prep in the middle of the school day. With more rooms being used around the school this year, I usually end up sitting in the staffroom for my prep. Since this prep time is near the Second Nutrition Break, I often bring my lunch with me to the staffroom. Just like staffrooms across Ontario, ours has been set-up with forward facing chairs and lots of spaces between tables and chairs. The most important rule: do not move any chairs or tables.

There’s usually one other teacher in the staffroom at the same time, and she’s often eating her lunch over by the windows as she works. I then choose to sit closer to the kitchen door. Our two chairs and tables are about as far away from each other as possible. Even so, thinking about the eating rules for kids, we should be facing forward and not talking. These would be the two safest choices we could make assuming that we both choose to remove our masks and eat or drink at the same time. Often we do.

As an adult, try sitting in the room with another adult and not talking. At all. Then try to not look at the person as you talk to them. Usually both of us have devices and work with us, and while we might both intend to work quietly, it’s still a challenge not to get sucked into some kind of conversation. It’s even harder not to sneak a glance or two at each other, especially during those few moments when we might chat.

I’ve been thinking about this eating moment a lot recently for a few different reasons.

  • This is an exercise in self-control. I totally understand why we have these restrictions, and I appreciate that they help to keep us safe. This is why I so rarely choose to eat with others, and especially in a fuller staffroom at a Nutrition Break time. But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, eating does happen with others, and following the protocols of looking forward, staying apart, and not talking are incredibly challenging. I say this as an adult with just one other adult in the room with me. Now imagine what we’re asking of our kids with full classes and an expectation to eat quietly looking at the front of the room.
  • For those that are able to exercise this self-control, what impact might this have on future behaviour? I ask this question thinking as a child. I know that we require our students to follow these eating protocols, just as others are required to do so throughout the school. I understand why we do so, and in a class of students, some of which do not even qualify to be vaccinated yet, I would not want this any other way. But I also know how much is taken out of some children when they need to exercise this kind of self-control. It’s as though they put everything they have into following this rule. When we later see behaviour — be it something small, like an inability to sit still, to something larger, like an angry outburst — I have to wonder what role the need for self-control might play into this.
  • Is there a way to support Self-Reg to make this self-control possible? I keep on thinking about this quote by Stuart Shanker.
  • I know that I bring my iPad to the staffroom for two reasons: 1) because I reflect on the documentation on this iPad and 2) because I know that listening to videos from the morning, reading blog posts, and searching for some new ideas for the next day all help me self-regulate. If I do this while eating, will it be easier for me to avoid looking up and conversing with others (that self-control expectation)? I’m not suggesting that kids should have devices as they eat, but I know that at a younger age, reading a book would have helped me in the same way. What about doodling? Is this even possible while eating?

Self-control might be hard to avoid at times, but do we need to consider Self-Reg first in order for kids and adults to meet with success? I wonder if many of the COVID protocols are harder to follow because they require a self-control mindset. This is for safety, and likely, impossible to avoid. But if we consider Self-Reg possibilities coupled with this need for self-control, could this help reduce stress and behaviour for both adults and kids? One lunchtime eating experience a week has given me a new perspective and a lot of wonders.