Why I have Trouble with the Self-Regulation Movement

Yesterday I happened to pick up on a story on the CBC’s The Sunday Edition. Just like the Globe and Mail and other media sources, the issue of increasing violence in the classroom was being highlighted. I retweeted the story and we listened to the episode.

It is an important story. It is a frustrating one as well because no one in positions of real authority seems to be listening. What might surprise people is the fact that the problem of violence is most pronounced in elementary schools. On top of that, these incidents of violence go largely unreported.

These were the results of an online survey conducted for the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario in relation to the 2016-17 school year. (Ben Shannon/CBC)

The article attached to the Sunday Edition episode includes an upsetting statistic:

Results from ETFO’s members showed only 22 per cent of teachers said they would report cases of verbal or physical violence, and less than a quarter said steps were taken to prevent future incidents.

The report continued by stating that many teachers felt that no change would take place so why bother reporting?

As a former elementary administrator, I understand their reluctance to report. People at the most senior levels of school boards are not comfortable with this kind of information and they have no answers for teachers who have to deal with violence in the classroom.

I am not making this up. Schools are generally on their own when it comes to violent incidents, especially at the elementary level. To complain does not do any good; you are reminded to rely on the resources you already have.  These resources continue to be cut back all the time. High schools have more specialized programming and more support staff. Elementary schools have the principal, a resource teacher, and the all-important educational assistant staff. That’s all.

One comment on my retweet struck me.

While I respect what Lisa was saying here, her comment misses the point. I am sure the teachers talking on Sunday Morning are good teachers trying very hard to do their best. Learning about self-regulation would not change what is going on in their classrooms.

I do think self-regulation is useful. It is always useful to learn about what motivates people and it is very healthy to acquire a deeper sense of self-knowledge. Most ancient religions are based on ideas of developing a deep sense of self.

There is a danger with a reliance on any one system of belief and the danger here is that we are really pushing the idea that the violence in schools could somehow be solved if teachers were just a bit better trained. The problem with this approach is this – the system will never be improved by political pressure or social advocacy, therefore, change must be on the backs of educators. Nothing else will change so we need to be the change.

This is why, I think, self-regulation is so popular amongst senior administrators and some consultants.  We are taking an ancient idea and asking educators to become agents of personal transformation. If educators are the only agents of change there is little need to call for the resources we truly need to make our system more effective, more humane and more peaceful.

Social change is hard to do and hard to understand. It is easier to give up on change and get teachers to take up the mantle.

That is why I am uncomfortable about waving the flag of self-regulation in front of the angry school.

I know there will be blowback against what I am writing but I want to be clear. I am an advocate for educators. I have seen the struggle they go through every day and I have dealt with my fair share of very violent incidents in elementary schools, some so dangerous that parts of our building had to be cleared to keep students and educators safe.

I also understand self-regulation. I have listened to and read really good material on self-regulation and acquiring self-knowledge and have undergone my own very painful journeys to understand myself and those around me. Yes, self-regulation is important for everyone – no it will not solve the problems experienced by educators in our schools today.

My point is simple – don’t put school reform on the backs of the educator. Self-regulation is simply not a panacea, it is one tool to help educators better understand themselves and their students. We are relying on this movement too much and it is crowding out the necessary conversation we need to be having on how schools can better serve students, parents and educators.

Let’s focus on a system that needs to be changed, let’s broaden the conversation.


4 thoughts on “Why I have Trouble with the Self-Regulation Movement

  1. I agree with so many things you have said here, Paul. I appreciate that you are thinking about how much work teachers already do, and how maybe this really isn’t our fight. Violence in classrooms is something I never thought I would have to deal with. I never had to as a student, and I always thought that if I stayed out of a school known to have problems then I’d be safe. I always thought that avoiding high school was really the answer! It never, ever occurred to me that I would be dealing with violence in an elementary school or that my colleagues in every elementary school would be dealing with it. The first time I broke up a fight between little kids, I never thought it would become a regular event. And I never, ever, ever thought I would be the target of this violence.

    I have been much luckier than some. I’ve had excellent EA support when I needed it the most. I have never received more than a kick to the leg, and I have always been able to keep “the other kids” safe. I have stepped into the fray of many fights and have been able to successfully work with another adult to separate the two. But I have worked with many people who have not dodged the kick or the hit at the right time. They’ve been off work for extended periods of time due to injury or stress leave. It is a very serious problem!

    Something has changed in the last ten years. Electronics, opioids, FAS, integration of students with lots of different needs, WiFi, video games, split families….the list of things we blame gets longer every year. I often hear teachers say, “This isn’t the job I signed up for!” But at the end of the day, it’s the job we have. And we can take it or leave it. I signed up to a be a teacher. When people joked that a teacher wears meany hats (social worker, nurse, therapist, etc.), I didn’t realize that I would need serious skills in all of those areas. I thought I could really good at teaching math, writing and reading and that would be enough.

    I do not in any way thing Self-Reg, or yoga, or mindfulness training are going to solve all of our problems. But I have over a $1000 worth of my own books in my classroom because otherwise the kids wouldn’t have much to read. And I have bought over half of the math tools in the room because otherwise I wouldn’t have enough for everyone. And I am learning and using Self-Reg because had to do something while I wait for the other conversations to get going and for solutions to be found.

    Thanks for the ongoing conversation!


  2. Paul, I’m sure it’s of no great surprise that I need to respectfully disagree with your thoughts around Self-Reg. I keep coming back to this line in your post:

    “Learning about self-regulation would not change what is going on in their classrooms.”

    I think it would, and I think that because I’ve experienced what many would call “violent situations” as THAT educator that understood and did not understand Self-Reg. The key for me was in how and when I responded to the child. I was able to take similar situations over different years and have very different outcomes. To me, this has nothing to do with being a “good teacher.” I was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award For Teaching Excellence before I even read one word about Self-Reg, but what I learned from my readings and the Foundations 1 course, have allowed me to better support students that I found far more challenging in the past. It helped me see behaviour differently. And in the end, I think it made me love teaching even more than I already did!

    This doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with the need for more supports out there, or that I don’t, at times, feel as though needs trump supports (which is very problematic). I do. And I appreciate you and so many others that speak out about this. But my focus, both in my last post and in this comment, comes back to the kids. I want the success of ALL kids, and I don’t want to wait to see this success happen. If Self-Reg will reduce stressors for adults and children, I will stand behind its implementation. For it’s not necessarily about more work, but different work, which takes me back to the line that Valerie Bennett shared after my Grayson response. I really do think that Self-Reg might be a part of the solution here, and if coupled with more supports, might even reduce additional stressors for educators, administrators, and parents alike. Thanks for continuing this important discussion!



  3. Ewa

    “My point is simple – don’t put school reform on the backs of the educator.” – Amen.

    I was thinking about adding much more to my comment but your statement sums it all up really well. I would only add that, in my opinion, you are as much an advocate for students as you say you are for educators.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A bit late to the conversation but many of the things that you are saying really resonated with me. I agree that self-regulation is not the answer, but it may be part of the answer. Violence in schools, and in society in general, is a complex problem and addressing it will take time and action by government and the community.
    One of the reasons I think self-reg has to be part of the solution is that educators (teachers, support staff, admin) are stressed. Students are coming to school stressed. Self-reg is one tool to help reduce stress and restore energy. As educators, we can use our knowledge about stress and trauma to try to create schools that are havens from some of the stressors in our society. Educators can’t solve the problem of school violence or the underlying factors that are contributing to school violence on our own, but neither can we ignore it and wait for others to solve it for us.

    Liked by 1 person

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