One thing that is common among many traumatic events is a complete lack of choices. When a person feels like they do not have a choice or control, it can be triggering and cause the negative emotions that the person ties to the original trauma. While teachers can do a lot relationally with how they interact with their students, they can also set up their physical space with choices in mind. As they think about choices in their classroom, here are a couple of options they may want to consider.
First of all, when setting up a seating chart, ask students if they have any special preferences, these preferences are less about who they want to sit with and more about where they want to sit. For instance, some students feel a lot safer if they are closer to a door, some students feel safer if they are sitting in the back of the room because they have their eyes on everyone. There is often the stereotype that those who gravitate towards the back are the troublemakers, but in reality, they are likely sitting there in an attempt to feel a sense of safety. I would recommend thinking twice before punishing a student by forcing them to sit in the front of the room, as that lack of safety might backfire.
Additionally, thinking through the type of seats available can be really helpful for students. Providing an array of options (rocking chairs, standing desks, seats with bouncy bands, desk cycles, etc.) provide different types of physical outlets for students that can be calming and help them focus. In the case of flexible seating options, please recognise that many students will want to try them at first, but quickly the students who benefit from them will keep wanting them as an option, while other students will lose interest.
Lastly, it’s important to consider what other choices a child might be able to make for themselves over the course of the day. How easy is if for them to choose to get water or use the restroom ? Can they get up to grab their favorite fidget or other regulatory tool ? Is there a space in the room that they can go when they are feeling frustrated and need a brief break to do some Tapping or EFT ? The more choices they have to access tools that keep them calm, the more likely they will be able to handle the high loads of stress that naturally comes along with being in a school.
The benefit of having a space in the room where a child can go to help them calm down and become regulated is really huge. While this has become increasingly common at the elementary level, teachers have found that this is a tool that can work for students of all ages. Even when we survey adults about the things that help them to calm down when they are upset, one of the most common answers we hear is that they want time and space. These are both things that aren’t consistently available to students within a school setting. We highly recommend creating a space where students can go to when they feel frustrated, angry, upset, etc.
Some of the basic components of calming/peace corners:
1. Proximity- we know some classrooms are quite small, but even a couple feet further from other students can go a long way in providing some additional sense of safety. Also, when possible, some obstruction that shields the student from most of the other students in the classroom helps. Obviously, you need to keep your eyes on the student, but the less the students feel like someone is watching them, the more they should be able to relax and regulate.
2. Comfort- Provide some sort of comfortable seat, as well as some tools that can help the student to relax. This can be some form of flexible seating, a spot with colouring books (adult colouring books for older students), a Tappy bear (for younger students), calming music, blankets… The fear is that this seems like a reward, but the reality is that these spaces are tools to help a student prepare to handle the stressors of school.
3. Timer- About five minutes should be a sufficient amount of time to re-set and get back to class. With this in mind, it’s important to encourage a student to get back to class after the timer is up, but also to allow them to transition back to the calming corner as soon as they feel they need it again.
One of the primary concerns that often comes up with calming corners is that students who do not need it will use it, or that students will misuse or over-use it. We highly recommend opening it up to all students at first. While there are likely some students who you know could benefit from it, we never know which students are barely hanging on, and could use the opportunity to calm down. Additionally, it is ok to place rules and parameters around tools like this, but if teachers start out by only allowing certain students to use it, it will create a stigma to using it, and the area is likely to go under-utilised or have an adverse effect. As with any change, it may take some time to incorporate this into the normal culture of the classroom, but it is worth that effort. As students realise that teachers want them in the classrooms, and that they are willing to bend over backwards to keep them in the room, this will improve their attitude towards them and school, providing an impact that truly cannot be measured.
By Alexandra Murtaugh (retrieved from https://www.acesconnection.com/member/alexandra.murtaugh)