Emotional Regulation – Greg Godard

You’re on your way to work, and the morning has already been difficult. The kids had to be dragged out of bed and cajoled to the bus stop (two minutes late again, making the annoyed bus driver wait). Your spouse was in a bad mood and spoke curtly to you on your way out the door. You just heard that your father’s illness has gotten worse. And that knocking sound you’re hearing from your engine can’t be good.

The car stops dead on the side of the road. It’s got to be -30 degrees outside, not accounting for wind chill. Now you’re definitely going to be late. You make the first of several phone calls to get your vehicle towed and fixed, your classroom supervised, and your butt to work.

By the time you enter the classroom, you could cry at the drop of a hat. And then the boisterous kid in your room purposely drops his hat off the side of his desk, and the students around him burst out laughing. All in all, a great way to start your day. How is your thinking, your responding, and your teaching style going to be impacted by the state of your heart?

We’ve all had difficult days (heck, sometimes difficult months, or years) … how is that at these times, we still have the capacity to go about our professional day, and even do an alright job? The answer lies in emotional regulation – the capacity to self-calm. This is a higher-level brain function and one that often requires substantial cognitive effort.

So what about the twenty kids in your care? How was each of their mornings? Often, we’re all too aware of our own emotional difficulties but blind to those of the kids in our classrooms. We have no idea how Sabrina’s father being released from prison is affecting her ability to think straight (let alone learn), or how Brad’s parents have been fighting a lot lately, and he can’t stop thinking about the word “divorce.”

It seems that more and more kids are being exposed to family disruption, trauma, and emotional difficulties than ever before. What is their emotional state when they enter your classroom or sit down to that unit test?

Emotional regulation is essentially how we are able to control our feelings – when and how we feel them, and how we express them. In school, poor emotional regulation impacts your students’ ability to learn, interact with their peers (and you), focus their attention, initiate tasks, and sustain effort. They will often be impulsive, rigid, and delay getting down to work.

Neurologically, there is a complex interplay at work. The child’s amygdala interprets most types of environmental stress as a threat. This triggers a biological safety response: the heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, and the brain encourages a behavioural response. How the child then responds makes all the difference.

So how do we develop children’s emotional regulation? There is bad news and good. First, the bad news. Some of the most powerful emotional regulation variables are out of our control: a child’s historical relationship with their parents or guardians, their history of trauma or adverse childhood events, and their temperament can all heavily impact their ability to self-soothe and control their emotions. But the good news: the third primary component are skills and strategies, which can be taught.

Primary teachers will help their students’ emotional regulation, first and foremost, by building healthy, supportive relationships with them. Students who experience their early teacher relationships as caring, trusting, and relationally responsive tend to engage in more free exploration, which sets the stage for academic and cognitive skills. Relationships with teacher in the first years impact how students view their teachers all the way into middle school.

Practice responding to your students’ poor behaviour with a calm and measured tone of voice and posture, rather than a heightened and aggravated tone that may stop the behaviour momentarily, but tends to exacerbate the problem over the long term. Monitor your facial expressions and nonverbal communication to be sure your conversation is absent of judgment of the child and behaviour, but simply describes the behaviour and

Rather than time-out (which can cause a student to feel isolation and relational rejection), try “time-ins,” in which the student is placed in closer proximity to the teacher, where he can feel the affirming presence of the teacher while calming down (perhaps close to the teacher at the front of the room, but off to the side so he is not the center of attention). Use language that promotes self-regulation, rather than distracting or squelching (e.g., “You’re angry right now, and it’s time for you to cool down a little. You may need to go to the sensory room, and try some heavy work and your slow breathing. “) Use gentle eye-contact and simple, non-threatening language. Acknowledge the child’s emotion and offer strategies while positioned at a safe and respectful proximity from the child.

Secondly, educators can help by teaching the necessary language-based skills, including simply talking about emotions, helping to identify and label them, and then teaching a variety of coping strategies for dealing with these emotions. Emotionally, children most saliently learn how to respond to emotions by watching the adults around them, so demonstrating healthy coping and responding to your own stress and various emotions will be paramount. Research tells us that when emotional regulation strategies are taught in the classroom, students are more likely to show improved behavioural control, social interaction with peers, and less off-task behaviours. Teaching social and emotional skills will improve your students’ academic success.

There are 3 developmental stages to the process.

1. Feelings identification. One effective strategy to teach emotion-identification is people-watching. Having students observe others from an objective perspective, identify their possible feelings, and discuss their different reactions will help children identify and regulate their own emotions. This activity can also develop a child’s empathy and perspective-taking skills. Teachers can frequently identify their own emotions (in healthy ways), or those of characters in books, or even those of the students themselves (e.g., “I notice that you are frowning and your forehead is wrinkled, Paisley. I wonder if you’re feeling annoyed or angry.”) Teaching “feelings” words and using them in moment-to-moment interactions gives children the language they need to “own” their feelings.

2. Understanding what causes the emotions. Learning to identify their own feelings can then help children begin to understand what causes these emotional experiences. Using language to respond to emotions engages the child’s prefrontal cortex, allowing it to override the amygdala and limbic system (the emotional lid-flipping areas of the brain).

3. Coping strategies. Students need to learn that it is okay to feel angry when someone grabs your backpack, but it’s not okay to hit them for it. Help them identify problem-solving strategies for when they feel angry. Create prompt cards for these strategies, and rehearse healthy coping strategies.

Each of these stages can be learned, and can be explicitly taught and modeled, which will help afford your students the chance to soothe themselves, reduce their own heightened emotions, and return to a calm state of mind and heart for the most effective learning.

For further reference and more ideas, please see the article that can be found at:


  • Greg Godard, Reg. Psychologist

Tips for Improving Pencil Grasp

Pencil grasp is a hot topic among teachers in Prairie Rose this fall.  Many of you already use some terrific strategies in your classroom to help students obtain what us Occupational Therapists (OT) call a functional tripod grasp.  A correct pencil grasp is one which is efficient and enables your student to write neatly without tiring.  The tripod grasp requires the tripod fingers (thumb, index and middle) to work together to control the pencil and write neatly.

Many of you have asked for quick tips and tricks to help students who have an inefficient grasp and struggle with pencil control.  The following are some OT approved recommendations:

  • Vertical surface (I.e. slant board, 3” ring binder, easel or tummy lying).  These types of surfaces and positions can help facilitate proper wrist extension required for a functional tripod grasp and also work on shoulder stability!
  • Proper positioning while seated or the 90, 90, 90 Rule (elbows, hips and knees with feet flat on the floor).  Proper positioning ensures all joints are stable and helps the student maintain a proper grasp.
  • Shorter pencils (I.e. golf size).  Shorter pencils facilitate a functional grasp because there is less pencil for the student to hold on to and control.
  • For our little ones (JK, K), playing with plenty of resistive materials and toys such as clay, Play-Doh, Lego, etc. can help develop those small muscles in the tripod fingers.
  • Pencil Grip – A pencil grip should not be placed on a student’s pencil / writing utensil until at least the age of 6 years old, unless it has been advised by the OT.  Please consult with the OT prior to applying a grip and for further information.

Allison Carroll
Occupational Therapist
Prairie Rose School Division

Focus on the positive …

One of the first things teachers do at the start of every school year is to establish classroom rules and routines.  These rules and routines are intended to lay the framework for student behavior and classroom management.  Many of us grew up with the standard set of rules that told us what not to do – Don’t hit, Don’t run in the hallway … etc.  I remember always feeling like the teacher was just waiting for me to do something wrong so that she could “enforce” the rule.

Thankfully classroom rules have  evolved over the years and now focus more on the positives of what students should be doing . On my visits to schools across Prairie Rose, I have seen many wonderful examples of rules that have been created to positively impact both students and staff, and I am reminded of how fortunate I am to get to work with such amazing educators.  Our schools do not have that feeling of  negative tension that I grew up with.   Last week while surfing Twitter,  I  found this article from teachthought.com.  It shows two examples of classroom rules  written in the positive. Even though we are already well into October, I thought it would be interesting to share these and then collect and showcase examples from Prairie Rose. I hope you will help me in this endeavor. Please email  pictures of your classroom rules to camille.quinton@prrd.ab.ca and we will create a photo album for a future blog.

To read the full article, please click on the following link teachthought.com

Take care,


August 2016

We're going back to school

September 1, 2016

Welcome back to the 2016-17 school year. This year promised to get off on a bit more relaxed pace than the 2015-16 school year as we will not be starting any new initiatives on the Inclusion front this year.  Last year’s start was a bit of a whirl wind with implementing the new IPP program in Dossier,  the new level B assessment tool – WIAT III, as well as the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark assessments in all our schools.  Congratulations to all the CST teachers for your outstanding leadership within the schools, and to all the teachers for working so diligently to get up to speed on the new tools.

smile-012  Don’t worry about not having anything to do in 2016-17 though, Dossier has been busy making improvements to their system and adding in new features – so more information will follow on that shortly

Literacy will continue to be a Divisional focus this year, and we have lots of exciting things planned.  Have a great school start-up and watch for more blog updates coming soon.


May is Speech & Hearing Month

May-Month-Logo_2014_ENLauna 1Prevent, Protect, Act

Speech & Hearing Month

By Launa Larochelle – SLP, Prairie Rose School Division

Children are at risk of developing social, emotional, behavioral and/or learning problems if speech, language and hearing problems are not identified early. Early intervention is critical for children with communication problems. Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists are involved in the prevention, identification and treatment of a child’s speech, language and hearing disorders in partnership with parents, physicians, educators and health-care providers, as difficulties with communication affect the whole family.

If you have questions regarding speech or hearing – contact the Speech Language Pathologist assigned to your school.

Click the images below to access posters from Alberta Health Services

He's Not Just a late talker                        Apraxia_Infosheet_EN

Language and Literacy Skills are just the Beginning                     Literacy_infosheet_EN

Resolutions for the Inclusive Classroom

Happy 2016!

The beginning of a new year is a time for making resolutions on how to improve your life.  For many of us this entails plans to exercise more, lose weight, stop smoking and generally improve our health.

However, have you ever thought about making  resolutions for your teaching practice?  In her blog from January 4, 2016, Paula Kluth does just that.  Follow the link to read more … Resolutions for the Inclusive Classroom

Take Care,


Merry Christmas


  • As we wrap up December and prepare to take some well deserved time off with family and friends, the Inclusion Team would like to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a joyous New Year.

– Camille, Kerry, Di, Launa, Greg, Allison


Winnie the Pooh’s thoughts on Inclusion:

“The things that make me different are the things that make me, me.”