C is for coregulation

How coregulation can help teachers in the classroom.

Excerpts from article by Lori Desautels and published on Edutopia on October 15, 2019

We need to understand that traditional discipline works best with the children who need it the least, and works least with the children who need it the most. Discipline ideally is not something we do to students—it should be a quality we want to develop within them.

…traditional punishments can unintentionally retraumatize and reactivate their stress response systems. Recent research in school discipline is grounded in the neuroscience of attachment, which emphasizes the significance of relationships. Those relationships begin with an adult in a regulated, calm brain state. It takes a calm brain to calm another brain – this co-regulation is something that students with ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) may have missed out on. Their school can be an environment where they feel safe and connected even when they make poor choices.

This doesn’t mean giving students a pass for misbehavior: There are still consequences for poor choices, but regulating the feelings and sensations a student is experiencing is the initial step, one that is critical for a sustainable change in behavior.

Emotions are contagious, and when a teacher is able to model a calm presence through their tone, facial expression, and posture, students are less likely to react defensively. When the teacher listens to what is beneath the behavior, focusing on the student’s feelings, this type of validation says to the child that the teacher sees them and is trying to understand. When the teacher takes deep breaths, gets a drink of water, and creates space for reflection for a minute or two, they are modeling the regulation skills they want to see from students.

Validation is a powerful way to calm an agitated and angry student. It’s calming to be understood and felt by another. Some things you can say to help a student feel validated:

“That must feel awful.”

“You seem really angry.

“You seem really frustrated”

“What a difficult situation you’re in.”

Validation opens the door for teacher and student to discuss choices and consequences and to create a plan of action for the next time there’s a conflict.