As we explore in our Havens 101 Professional Learning Series, a Self-Reg Haven is a place where everyone feels safe in every way: physically, emotionally, socially and culturally. It’s important to remember that a Haven isn’t just a location. It is people, places and the spaces in between, where Self-Reg comes first. Havens reflect those who reside within them, and thus no two havens are the same. Below are 5 things to look for as signs of a Self-Reg Haven.
You feel safe in the space and all the signs that others feel the same way are there too. This does not mean there is no conflict. Rather, it means that when something happens, the responsive supports are there—for children and adults alike. Instead of feeling an edge of tension in the air in the staff room, you will regularly see smiles and hear laughter. You will experience signs of caring and kindness. While you will hear about bad days and mistakes and hard lessons learned, there are no wrong turns for anyone. Look within the adult-child interactions to find the signs of a Haven that is oriented to creating and cueing safety.
You feel a sense of the place. This school could not be re-created in another location. People are connected to the land beneath their feet and the environment that surrounds the school. They may have reclaimed a space in a creative way. Maybe there is student art displayed and designs over concrete. Maybe vertical gardens have been created where the air needs nature brought in. There is a sense of the history, the community, and the culture of the school that grounds everyone. You will see signs on the walls of the “family” who live their days together. The school will not feel institutional, nor will the power reside solely in the hands of the adults. What makes for meaningful roots will not be decided by others (who may mean well). It will be decided by the students, their families, and the community.
You feel a healthy energy for learning and education coming from the children and adults in the school. Some of this energy is within individuals; much of it is among and between people. Everyone is connected. Care has been taken to identify hidden stressors across all five domains and to dial tension down for children and adults alike. The space has diverse ways to restore energy throughout the day. You will notice staff who are supportive of one another taking opportunities to restore with their students or for themselves.
The language of self-control (such as “make better choices” or “try harder”) is diminished. You will not hear teachers vocalizing frustrations, thinking administrators went “easy” on a child. They will recognize the difference between stress behaviour and misbehaviour and will understand the principal’s response. Further, you will find administrators seeking creative ways to support educators’ balance with opportunities to restore—and a safe space sense where everyone can ask for what they need.
You see confidence and competence everywhere. This does not mean you see perfection or expertise in every area, but you do see a social ecology of people—children, staff, families—contributing their strengths and skills in healthyand interdependence-promoting ways. No one “owns” all the decisions. The risk-taking outcomes sought for students are equally valued for the school team.
Deterministic thinking—that deeply ingrained sense that a student’s trajectory is fixed—is caught and recognized as an opportunity for digging deeper to unearth the roots of the beliefs and reframe them with science. Learning and development are scaffolded—whether it relates to a math concept, a reading strategy, research skills, social engagement, or team problem-solving. Being capable is always viewed as within reach for everyone. Nurturing strengths is just how things are done. Challenging areas, whatever part of school life they fall into, begin with a Self-Reg first mindset—reframing behaviour, stress detecting then dialling down, and restoring energy and balance across all five domains.
Everyone is trusted: trusted to be, feel, and act safe; trusted to be part of the rooting of the school community; trusted to seek balance and to know what and when they need to rebalance; trusted to be a capable person; and trusted to find their way to the supports they need when they need them. Does this mean that there aren’t any challenges or that students instantly became responsible and reliable the minute a school shifts to trusting all? No, of course not. When we don’t trust, we limit what is possible.
When someone is struggling, they get what they need to support their strengths, their goals, and their journey. Sometimes that may mean a break from the work to focus on restoring balance. The trust is also in the best of intentions of the children and adults and the wisdom of the brain and body. Maladaptive self-regulation is still self-regulation, and when we see it for what it is, the trust in the intentions comes easier—even those situations in which there is a safety issue at the core. Trust encompasses the power of diversity, a strength-based lens, recognition of the human need for connection and contribution, and the journey from regulation to co-regulation to self-regulation and back to co-regulation.
Drs Susan Hopkins & Stuart Shanker first published the 5 Look-Fors of a Self-Reg Haven in the Self-Reg Schools: A Handbook for Educators. Explore the Seeds, Sunrise, Quilt & Haven Self-Reg Journeys in this handbook. The Foundations Certificate Program and the Leadership for Self-Reg Schools Certificate Program are great places to start!