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In Southern Ontario, elementary school students are about to enter their second week of remote learning. Last Sunday, Aaron Puley, a vice principal in our Board, tweeted me this question in response to a tweet shared by The MEHRIT Centre.

While I read his question one way at the time, and responded accordingly, I’m now interpreting it differently. I did say in my reply that this would make for a good blog post, and this is my post.

Whether online or in-person, we need to consider the stressors at play for adults and kids. Just as Stuart Shanker would have us think about stress behaviour vs. misbehaviour in the classroom, the same holds true online.

The stressors might not be exactly the same, but they will exist in all Five Domains. Just look at the examples shared in this MEHRIT Centre resource. It’s easy to see parallels to both in-person and virtual environments. Right now, the added uncertainty of the Coronavirus, plus the need to share space and possibly change schedules due to so many people working from home, might also impact on how stress is internalized and handled. Plus, this past week, there were so many Internet issues around Ontario, it’s easy to see how both kids and adults might be more dysregulated at times. I know that I felt it. πŸ™‚

If we know that adults are feeling stressed, we can then extrapolate that children are also feeling it … possibly even in response to our words and actions.

Self-Reg starts with relationships. This is true for everyone. It’s true online. It’s true in-person. It’s true in all grades. This is why I continue to reflect on an experience with our Phys-Ed teacher this week. He dropped into our Snack and Share Meeting Time. This teacher is fantastic at making genuine connections with kids, and I saw that as I watched his interactions this week. I couldn’t help but write down and share some of my observations and favourite memories from this meeting time.

As much as we want to support academic growth during our synchronous learning times, making these connections is what allows learning to happen. There’s something to be said for slowing down and interacting with kids (of all ages) based on what matters to them.

Consider Self-Reg whether planning for classroom learning or remote learning. Self-Reg is personal, and ideally, we want children to be able to self-select what they need at the time. Our young students often still rely on co-regulation. They need us to notice when they’re dysregulated — or beginning to feel dysregulated — and support them in making choices that work well for them. This is harder to do online when you can’t just unmute a microphone to quietly make a suggestion to one child. But breakout rooms can allow for more of these 1:1 or small group options for kids. Regardless of age, we can also work with parents to support Self-Reg and co-regulation. We might be able to find out what children have at home that up-regulates or down-regulates them, and the accessibility of these options as required. We also talk with students about Self-Reg. We often discuss what makes them feel calm, and we support children in knowing when they might need to step away from the computer or tablet, have a drink, move their body, or even doodle while listening … to name just some ideas. All of this is possible regardless of the grade. I think about my evolving learning around Self-Reg, and I wonder how many times in the past that I was the one restricting these choices or misinterpreting student behaviour. Know more. Do better. This continues to be my motto.

Screen time changes things. I use my iPad and computer regularly, and I’m always the person who has at least two devices vs. access to a pen and paper, but now that I’m spending hours online, I crave offline time like never before. I get headaches from looking at the computer for too long. And if I’m an adult feeling this way, how must a child feel? It was for this very reason that my teaching partner, Paula, and I considered outdoor learning options for our asynchronous times this week. We realize that these options might not work for everyone, but with so much time being spent inside and sitting in front of a screen, how many kids (of all ages) would value from getting fresh air and exercise? How many adults? Self-Reg is definitely a driving force behind our attempts to get children and families outside.

Consider what you can’t control. In the classroom, we have a lot of control over the physical learning environment. We might not want to always remove items or change the placement of materials, but we can. When working at home — regardless of age — we don’t have this same control. Some children might have lots of areas to set-up their workspace, and some children might be cramped for space. Biological stressors could be a huge factor at play here. This is why Paula and I have shared our spaces with the hope of inspiring others to see what’s possible. If a workspace causes stress for kids, everything else is just going to pile on top of that! How true might this also be for adults?

We might be teaching some of the youngest learners online, but Self-Reg is not just for kindergarten. The stressors and considerations at play here hold true for students (and adults) in all grades. How do you support Self-Reg in your physical and virtual classrooms? What impact might this have on your students, their families, and you? I think that there’s a little something about Self-Reg that we can all learn from reflecting and sharing about our unique experiences.

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