A lot of my coaching sessions have centred around disruptive behaviour and how to handle these types of behaviours in the classroom. My clients will tell me they teach mindfulness techniques to their class. They provide examples like deep breathing, bubble blowing, figure eight breathing, yoga, and visualization techniques to name a few. They tell me about the different programs they use and the various speakers they follow. There is always a lot of excitement UNTIL they next statement. It is at that point that the frustration of mindfulness not working comes to light, they are still seeing highly disruptive behaviours in their classrooms. And I respond the same way all the time, but of course!
You see, like so many skills, mindfulness is a practice. It requires learning, it requires teaching, it requires repetition of skills, but, mostly it requires buy-in from the students. I do not, have not, and will not advocate for or against the different mindfulness curriculums. I have purchased different programs, but I have never fully implemented the teachings into my lessons. The reason is I do not practice mindfulness the way these programs outline. Their teachings are not authentic to me. To clear my mind, I throw on some tunes and go for a run in the woods. When I am angry at my children or frustrated with a day in the classroom, I blast music in my car or I exercise. I have been known to run over the lunch hours just to have a great afternoon- or at least one that I can handle! Systematic evidence-based reviews of many of the pre-packaged' programs fall short of their claim. Did you know that putting on music or exercising do have fabulous reviews for teaching children about self control and emotional regulation?!
Mindfulness is not going to change a child's behaviour that is highly disruptive- until they are ready to practice the skill. A child that is destructive or out-of-control needs a plan of intervention that starts with attempting to understand the behaviour. Once it is deemed not a medical concern and that all their basic needs have been met (food, water, toiletting, appropriate clothing), an action plan can be created. Please do not create this plan around any mindfulness programs, rather, teach the child how to regulate themselves when they are disruptive. If you still want to introduce them to the practice of mindfulness, do so when they are ready to learn and to develop those skills. BUT first, let's calm down this child and teach them about their body when faced with a trigger.
Remember Bradley Bee- he is not ready to learn. He is a busy buzzy bee- in other words, he is too high to learn. Bradley can be substituted for our out-of-control students. The students on overdrive who have a lot of trouble calming down. They act before they think, they turn red in the face, they scream, and they throw things. Returning to the ready to learn or Butterfly zone is a process of slowing the mind, calming the mind, and relaxing the body. It is individual for all students. You, the teacher, will need to understand your disruptive student's calming process in order to create an effective action plan. Your student needs to physically understand what their body feels like and their brain feels like when they are ready (out of the bee zone and into the butterfly zone). Ready to learn: relaxed muscles, able to sit in a chair, follow familiar directions, focused & attentive brain, and filter out small distractions.
In the height of the Bee zone (the red tip on the spectrum) your student or your child, is at their most disruptive and out-of-control. At that point a time-out is ok! I am not speaking about time-out rooms. Like mindfulness programs, I will not advocate for or against time-out rooms. I have heard from parents who told me it is the safest place for their child when they are out-of-control and I have heard the opposite. Again, it is important to understand your student, their individual factors, ensure there is no medical concerns, and that all basic needs have been met.
If a child has not generalized how to calm their body and calm their mind in order to return to the Butterfly zone, you need to do it for them. The best way to initiate the process of calming is to remove the stimulus and have them rest their body in a chair or on the floor. I use a red taped square on my floor (off to the side, but our of grabbing object distance). This past year, I had three students who required time-outs (aka chill-outs, square sits, contemplation time or partially ignore time). One student sat in the square, another used a chair, and the third went back and forth. For each student, I taught the meaning behind the time out: you are not ready, you are too noisey, you are too physical, you need space until you are ready. I set the timer for 2-5 minutes (student dependent), and check on their process. NOW, I never turn my back to the child in the time-out. They can always see my face even if my gaze is over their head. September and October can lead to drawn out time-outs for new students- they need to learn that it is the first step in regaining self-control WHEN at this heightened level of emotion. However, as the months move on, students start to identify the meaning of the red square- I need to slow my brain and my body, I need to feel relaxed, calm and focused. They learn to connect their body and their brains to being ready to learn and to being ready to be a part of the class.
Again, when my clients ask about mindfulness and time-outs, I tell them they are something different. Mindfulness is a practice, like yoga. You need to be ready and willing to develop your practice. Time-outs are a hands-off strategy of controlling an out-of-control child. The aim is to calm their body and their brain. Mindfulness is taught to a room full of students in the Butterfly zone, they need to be ready to accept the practice. Time-outs are used when the child is in the very heightened Bee zone to initiated regaining self control.
- In this blog entry, time-outs are referring to partially and planned ignored timeframes. The ignoring is necessary in order to reduce attention and stimulus for the child. They are partially ignored as the child is in view of the teacher/adult at all times. Due to the possible extremes of disruptive children, I always suggest keeping the space away from any possible objects that could be grabbed by the child.
- I admit to not advocating for or against any prepackaged mindfulness program, yet I created BUG ME...haha, right? Well, BUG ME (Butterfly zone, Bee zone, and Snail zone) is about giving students a visual of how it feels to connect your brain and your body to your learning. I will always suggest to individualize BUG ME to your students' needs and your teaching style- it is a visual support rather than a prepackaged curriculum. It is not a resource that will be right for everyone. Play with it, adapt it, combine it with other resources.