By Jennifer Colechin, Senior Trainer of the Berry Street Education Model
One of the most frequent questions the BSEM team hear when we consult with schools is how to de-escalate students when they enter the classroom, especially just after high energy times of lunch, recess and morning arrival. The answer lies in proactively creating a calm, routine and predictable environment. The more proactive teachers are in creating calmness the less reactive they have to be later when it is not present.
Our days have a natural rhythm of up and down, of escalation and de-escalation. As grown adults most of us have learned how to modulate our external and internal rhythms to create a balance within ourselves. The ability to do this is an advanced skill that takes time and practice. Because school students have not had as much practice in this skill, due to their shorter time on the earth thus far, they require some guided assistance to modulate their rhythms and match them with the expectations of the various environments they encounter throughout the day.
Our brains are wired to constantly be scanning what’s going on around us to keep us safe and prepared. Environmental cues provide subtle messages to our brains and nervous system that based on the information provided tell us to either be on alert or allow our bodies to relax. Walking into a calm, ordered and predictable space helps to:
- De-escalate students
- Set expectations
- Alleviate anxiety, and
- Prepare for learning
Some ideas on how to set up your classroom ecology to reflect a composed, peaceful space include:
- Dim the lighting or use fairy lights to create a warm glow
- Use a white noise app to play rhythmic sounds like ocean waves or rainstorms
- Play a song that has 80 beats per minute as students enter the room. This is the average resting heart rate of a healthy person and our heart rhythms naturally mirror the rhythms in the environment. Beyonce’s “Halo” and “I’m Yours” by Jason Mraz are two examples of such songs
- Have a classroom calm box that is filled with calming sensory items students can choose from
- Integrate the use of Patterned, Repetitive, Rhythmic, Somatosensory Activities into your classroom routine, brain breaks and circle time
Proactively creating a calm and predictable environment goes a long way to setting students up for success in the classroom. Student engagement and achievement thrive when teachers create the understanding that their classrooms are safe places to learn.
Jennifer Colechin is a Senior Trainer of the Berry Street Education Model at the Berry Street Childhood Institute. She holds degrees in Secondary Education, Secondary English, Disability Studies and a specialist certification in Criminology (Forensic Disability). Jennifer specialises in trauma-informed positive behaviour support and has over 17 years’ experience in trauma-informed complex behaviour analysis.