I was back to cycling class after an absence and looking forward to a great class. Yes I know the teacher, know what I have to do, can follow instructions, modify but…… this time it was different. I love the instructor, she is clear, keeps a good pace of information etc, but today for some unknown reason I JUST COULD NOT FOLLOW HER. Somehow my brain was hearing only half of the instructions and I found myself getting frustrated. Funny thing though, when I noted this internal struggle (half way through the class) it was a bit like getting a shock, and then the internal monologue began - you know the one, inducing feelings of shame, diversionary tactics and the promptings of just give up… I kind of enjoy feeling focused and in charge and this was totally the opposite. Before I share how I got myself out of this state I just want to take a minute to discuss students because I think that this state happens to humans more than we perhaps recognize.
It seems to me that our students might have shades of this sort of experience on a daily basis. I mean, heck I am old have the developed brain structures etc, I would hope I am better at this sort of thing than a 11 year old. One day they “get it” how to do school and the next “not so much”. That is just for a neurotypical child, teen, young adult - but my guess is that the challenge for someone with non mainstream functioning such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, sensory process, autism, trauma, PTSD, etc it might be like this constantly. Add to the non staticness of the human condition and those Zones of Proximal Development (Vygotsky) are changing perhaps by the hour if not by the minute. How does this student’s teacher, let alone a child, find the target zone? Rogers was onto something with that “theory of unconditional positive regard” for sure. That acceptance by others is like a long hug for the soul, but sometimes there must be actions for the self which assist in producing the same impact - calming techniques. Some call it mindfulness, some call it meditation, some prayer, some contemplation, some movement, some being, but whatever it is that creation of equanimity or non attachment to whatever experience really does help calm our human nervous system down (D. Seigal).
There are lots of therapies out there, and no, we as school counselors do not get to practice “therapy” but we do provide therapeutic interventions daily for our students. We assist to co-regulate, we give them a writing assignment, we teach them non fidgeting skills, we empathize (ala Rogers), we challenge faulty thinking, and we align just to name a few of our “tricks”. The funny thing though is that even we forget to do these things ourselves, I know I did in my class. When I was able to recognize my internal state and create curiosity around it, I felt myself release, regain the equanimity within myself, recapture my focus, and participate more successfully in the moment. The process is
all skills based, not a hidden gift or talent, but something that can be learned over time, just like riding a bike or tying shoes. Is it easy? No not in the least. Is it simple - usually but unlike seeing a nicely tied shoe, it is difficult to see one’s own progress unless we are reflective. Most of our kids just don’t have that self reflection built into their habits yet - they are young, growing and changing so it really should not be expected. However, there are lots of things WE can do to help. We help by modeling the behaviors for them, they see it they are more likely to do it. We share with their adults - teachers, families, community members what they can do to assist the child/student, we give our skills away in whatever forum that we can.
I encourage each of you to step outside of your own comfort zone and find a place to share your talents of regulatory practice. Give it some thought over the summer - reflect and then decide what you might do to create a broader sense of calm on your own campus. Refocused...