Keeping calm in class

‘Self-regulation’ now a key education strategy as B.C.’s largest school district brings neuroscience to the classroom.

Dr. Stuart Shanker is Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at York University in Toronto and director of the Milton and Ethel Harris Research Initiative

Walk into any classroom and you’ll see an array of kids exhibiting a variety of behaviours.

One might be half-asleep and staring at a wall, another may be calm and working hard at the task at hand, while a third might be so hyper she’s not unable to concentrate and is disrupting fellow students.

While the calm, focused child is the one able to learn most effectively, the best way to help foster that behaviour has often been elusive.

Enter Dr. Stuart Shanker, a researcher at York University in Toronto and expert on self-regulation.

Self-regulation is the ability to stay alert and focussed by managing emotions, behaviour and energy. Research has shown a direct link between self-regulation and successful learning. (For more information, check out

Often, it’s about figuring out a child’s stressors and what helps them stay relaxed and attentive, and then giving them the tools they need to bring themselves to that optimal state.

For a hyperactive child, it may be something as simple as playing with a ball of plasticine to re-direct excess energy, or using play to spark a particular interest and engage focus.

The connection between student success and self-regulation is something the Surrey School District is championing.

It’s not experimental or a fad, says district Supt. Mike McKay, it’s neuroscience, with proven biological, cognitive and social components.

“People are starting to embrace it in a big way,” McKay says, adding self-regulation practices are catching on across the province and the nation.

Surrey is welcoming Shanker back this week (he was here in August for a seminar), when he’ll be working with local teachers to prepare for a “first wave” of implementation of self-regulation strategies in a handful of local elementary schools.

It’s all part of Surrey’s ongoing drive to address children’s unique learning needs early. McKay compares the benefits of such early intervention initiatives to saving money and the power of compound interest.

“If you start early, you reap the rewards.

“It’s about locking in on what really works.”

Five other B.C. school districts – Coquitlam, West Vancouver, Bulkley Valley, Greater Victoria, and Nanaimo-Ladysmith – are also moving ahead with self-regulation practices.

• Parents are invited to learn more about self-regulation at an information session Tuesday at the District Education Centre, 14033 92 Ave.

The session, which takes place Sept. 18 from 7-8:30 p.m., is free, but registration is required. Email or phone 604-595-6032.



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