Palliser Regional Schools employs a full-time behaviour specialist whose expertise is available to staff and students across the division.
In 2016-2017, the division selected four schools to pilot adoption of self-regulation as a tool for addressing student behaviour issues.
Self-regulation offers students tools to regulate stress and behaviour
The principals of Palliser schools piloting a self-regulation process to alleviate stress, anxiety and behaviour issues describe it as nothing short of life-changing. Four Palliser schools — Jennie Emery Elementary in Coaldale, Dorothy Dalgliesh in Picture Butte, Champion School and Menno Simons Christian School in Calgary — are piloting self-regulation. Three of the four principals joined Director of Learning Shane Cranston and Behaviour Specialist Karen Braun at a board meeting in April 2017 to share with trustees some of the early outcomes. Cranston and Braun led a Palliser delegation to Ontario earlier this school year to talk with colleagues who have adopted self-regulation. Menno Simons Principal Denise Weaver characterized it as the best professional development of her life. “It was a tremendous learning experience over three days,” Cranston said. Self-regulation is a tool for addressing stress, anxiety and other related issues. The process of reframing how we view behaviour, recognizing and reducing stressors, encouraging self-reflection and responding to give individuals the tools to be in control and at their best. Braun used her hand to demonstrate brain function. The thumb, she said, is like the limbic system, which controls our fight and flight reaction. Tucking her thumb under four fingers, she said the fingers represent the thinking part of the brain. In the face of stress (short-term or chronic), trauma or medical issues, the brain’s limbic system takes control. Eventually the thinking part of the brain takes back control. How efficiently and effectively an individual deals with stress affects how long it might take for this recovery. “Some people don’t recover from stress effectively,” she said. Cranston said the self-regulation process is a way for teachers and students to be more proactive in dealing with stressors. The need is great. The number of referrals to Palliser’s team of Family School Liaison Counsellors is rising with more than 600 students now on the combined case load. An increasing number are anxiety-related, as anxiety is now the most common mental health problem among children, Cranston said. Symptoms such as trouble listening, volatility, social withdrawal or aggression are all signs of stress behaviour, Braun said. Through self-regulation, we can see some misbehaviour is actually stress behaviour. “There’s no such thing as a bad kid,” she said. Through self-regulation, the adults are reframing behaviour. Where some behaviour might had previously led to calls for school suspension, principals now see sending those students out of the school environment is not a solution at all. Instead, they’re working with students to identify stressors, such as noise, and finding solutions, such as noise-cancelling headphones. The solutions, though, aren’t just imposed by the adults. Instead, students learn to reflect on their own needs. “It’s called ‘self-reg,’ not ‘me-reg-you,’ ” Braun said. Students learn tools and strategies for effectively addressing their own needs, skills they can use for life. Associate Superintendent Education Services Pat Rivard said that is key to the success of self-regulation. These aren’t just solutions for a school environment. They will work when these Palliser students are adults. In fact, the self-regulation process can be a way for teachers to address their own wellness, Braun said. “It’s hard to help a student if you’re not regulated,” Brauns said. “We need to regulate ourselves before we can help the kids.” The team involved in the pilot project point out this is a life-long process, not a program that can quickly be implemented. At Champion School, Principal Jody Beagle credits self-regulation with calming one student to the point he is no longer on medication. Weaver and Jennie Emery Principal Sherrie Nickel both said they’d been accused of “being too soft on these kids.” Through self-regulation, they now understand the science behind the behaviour and how to support the student in a learning environment, instead of sending them home. “We are protecting potential in this way, too,” Weaver said. The board thanked Cranston, Braun and the principals for their presentation and their efforts to help students self-regulate.