During the last module of the MEHRIT Centre’s Self-Reg for School Leadership Certificate”, Dr. Stuart Shanker touched on the idea of Hope.  

A play on Dante’s words “Abandon all hope. . .”, Shanker shares his dream of every person who enters a school building embodying the phrase “Embrace hope, all ye who enter here.”  

As a follow up to this statement, he encouraged educators to reflect on their own sense of hope by asking the question “Is my sense of hope as strong as the day I took this job?” 

My honest answer; No. 

I am starting in on my 20th year as an educator, my 6th as an administrator. During this time, I’ve swung back and forth many times from thinking that I have the best job in the world to spending a considerable number of hours Googling “Things to do with a teaching degree.” 

The game changer for me has been uncovering the work of Dr. Stuart Shanker and the MEHRIT Centre on the science of Self-Reg (I cannot do justice to the concept in through this posting alone, so I encourage you to visit the numerous resources available through the MEHRIT Centre for additional details).  

For those of you unfamiliar with Self-Reg, think of it as the science of understanding stress.

Despite common beliefs, stress is not dreadful thing. In fact, it is an essential component of life without which none of us would ever get out of bed.  

Rather than trying to eliminate stress, Self-Reggers strive to achieve a balance of energy and tension that promotes their growth as an individual and allows them to engage in the most primal of all restorative of practices; social connection.

Finding Self-Reg. was my lightbulb moment. The moment when my love of all that is science collided with my fundamental beliefs.

Finally, here was the empirical backing to support what I (and other Self-Reggers) have instinctually known all along; kids that feel calm and connected are happy and happy kids are ready to learn.    

Even more mind-blowing to me is the fact that the science of Self-Reg. puts the well-being of the educator and families FIRST.

While there are look-fors you can seek to quantify the levels of energy/tension in a building (see here for mine), there is now quantifiable data in the form of PET and FMRI scans that prove the ‘feeling’ of safety, happiness, connection etc. you get when you walk into a building/home/room is indeed real.

This it the science of interbrain connection (think brain-to-brain Bluetooth). This non-verbal communication is the core determinant of the ‘temperature’ within a building.  

You can’t fake calm. If internal alarms are going off within the adults in the building, student alarms will also start sounding.

Unless the adults in the building are calm, we can’t hope to elicit the primal sense of safety within students that is imperative to them being ready to learn.

In other words, unless we look our staff, they cannot look after our babies. 

So, am I more hopeful than the day I started this job?  

That’s a huge YES!  


Building a Haven

I recently completed an amazing course through the MEHRIT Centre aimed at helping school leaders to bring Self-Reg to their building. 

As part of our last assignment, we selected ‘Look-Fors’ that would help us measure our progress towards building a Haven School over the next three months. 

I’m looking forwards to developing a similar list with my school team in September, but for now, here are the top 20 things I believe will help me to realize we’re on the right path.

  1. Each child, staff member and family has an understanding of what it means to feel Safe, Rooted, Balanced, Trusted, and Capable and have been asked to rate how strong this feeling is on a scale of 1-5. This data forms the basis of our school’s Wellness goal.  
  2. Each child, staff member and family can identify at least one ‘caring adult’ in our school they can turn to.  
  3. We have a village around us made up of as many caring adults as possible so students and adults are never far removed from emotional or practical support (volunteers, bus-drivers, community members, co-op students, guest teachers, service and agency representatives).  
  4. Every child, staff and family member that enters our building is greeted with a smile and nonverbal cues that send a message of welcome and belonging. We ‘light-up’ when we see them.  
  5. Every child, staff and family member is given a farewell when they leave that implies, ‘I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.’
  6. We see eye contact in the hallway. People are fully present for all conversations.
  7. We use soft eyes, ears and voices with everyone who comes into the school (staff, students, families, or community).  
  8. As the adults, we model soothing when student’s limbic alarms are sounding.  
  9. When our own alarms are sounding, we confidently ask to tap-out and engage in something that helps us to restore our energy.
  10. Conversations focus on strengths, not deficits. We don’t gossip about each other, students or families. When someone starts to do this, we gently move them back to an asset-based lens.  
  11. The office is seen as a safe place for students, staff and families. People gather there without having to be coaxed in.   
  12. The Staff room is designed to promote restoration. Staff gather there daily. 
  13. Common planning times are used to foster collaborative environments. 
  14. Those who choose to engage in Self-Reg. learning outside of designated meeting times.
  15. Self-Regulation is embedded within every team-meeting. 
  16. Language around ‘backpacks’ and how we can ‘lighten the load’ is heard during conversations.  
  17. Noise levels are kept low (transitions, nutrition breaks, end-of-day routines).  
  18. Students have at least one outdoor learning period a day.  
  19. Students have been consulted about how to improve their overall school experience. All members of the school community can speak to how these suggestions have been integrated and implemented (clubs, recess zones etc.). 
  20. Photos of students learning, connecting, caring for each other are featured prominently in all hallways. 

If I Believe, Then . . .

This week marks the end of my journey through the MEHRIT Centre’s “Leadership for Self-Reg Schools Certificate” (See previous posts highlighting this adventure).

This last module focused on building a Self-Reg Haven. Like the other three streams (Seeds, Sunrise and Quilt), the Haven stream is a continual, reflective process vs. a program.

However, unlike the other three streams in which Self-Reg is practiced alongside existing structures, in a school committed to a Haven journey, Self-Reg forms the foundation through which ALL else is framed.

As part of this module, we created If/Then statements to help us reflect on where we are in terms of our Self-Reg journey and priorities.

Here’s where I sit as of right now (August, 2021)

  • IF as a school administrator I believe that Self-Reg is a universal platform and not a targeted intervention or a behaviour management program, THEN: Self-Reg will be a part of everything we do.
  • IF as a school administrator I believe that Self-Reg is a continual, reflective process vs. a program, and that there are no quick fixes or single way to do Self-Reg, THEN: I will value the journey by celebrating each step (successes and failures) we take.  
  • IF as an administrator I believe that Self-Reg is not just about children and youth and that everyone is capable of learning growth-promoting modes of self-regulation, no matter their age, stage, or ability level, THEN the opportunity to learn about Self-Reg will be offered to all those who are interested.
  • IF as an administrator I believe that the well-being of children is inseparable from the well-being of the critical adults in their lives and that each individual, family, culture, and community holds unique Self-Reg expertise, THEN every stakeholder will feel Rooted within our school. I will seek out multiple voices, listen to their stories, lean into the discomfort that comes when presented with opposing beliefs and continually reflect upon how each unique perspective is reflected in the school community.  

‘That’ Teacher

I was asked recently to think of one ‘magical’ teacher (or leader) that left me in awe at their ability to move a whole group of students into a sense of calm, connected, focus.  

This wasn’t a hard one for me.  

When I think what a ‘magical’ teacher looks like, my mind instantly goes to four young educators that I’ve had the honour of working at my current school.  

All four of these women ‘magically’ calm a room when they enter. Classes that that other educators have deemed ‘impossible’ settle overnight. Students that before they entered into the picture spent most of their time running around the building drop their armor, start to engage and begin to show us the amazing little people they are.  

All four women have a quiet confidence about them and gentle voices that never let their students know how frustrated/exhausted/overwhelmed they are. They are the type of educator that can name all five of a student’s cats as well as what they like for breakfast. They always have a dry pair of socks on hand for the child who can’t stand having wet feet, and they instinctually know how to calm a storm before it reaches land.  

All four of these women view their students through an asset-based lens. I never hear about their concerns though backroom channels. Rather, they come into my office filled with heartfelt concern for a child and leave (sometimes after they’ve let their tears fall to clear the extra cortisol built up in their bodies) ready to once again give their struggling student all the love and energy they need.  

Who is ‘that’ teacher in your life? 


Hello, My Name Is. . .

I came across this exercies during the “Leadershp for Self-Reg School Certificate” course I took this Spring/Summer though the MEHRIT Centre.

The main purpose of this exercise (as I see it) is to lay the groundwork for building a strong connection between students and families and the educators working with them.  

Much more effective than a single “All-About-Me” profile page, this technique provides families and students with a chance to not only approach student profiles from an asset-based lens, but also to speak about typical stress behaviours and restorative activities in a narrative format (brain science nerd moment – our brains learn best through story because it evokes emotions!)

Here is the letter that I penned to my son’s future teachers.  

Hello, my name is Thomas.

I am inquisitive and creative. I love climbing, finding out how things work and building new things with materials I find lying aroud.

I will spend hours listening to audio books if you let me. Ask me anything about Harry Potter or the Very Nearly Honourable League of Pirates.   

I’m looking forward to being back at school, but it may take me awhile to adjust to the new routines. I haven’t been away from my family in a long time. It’ll likley be strange for me to not having my sisters close by and I might feel a little lost without them.

If I trust you and you take the time to listen, I will talk with you for hours on end about funny things I’ve seen or give you detailed descriptions about working on boat engines and building kitchens this summer. 

I have three older sisters whome I love more than anything in the world. I’m also very close with my grandparents who all live nearby.  

We have two house rabbits named Ginger and Hoppity and my Nanna just got a new puppy named McGee that sometimes lives with us too.  

In the winter, I like to play hockey (my dad is the coach) and skate on our outdoor rink and during the summer my whole family (including my grandparents) lives at our cottage. I am a little fish and will spend hours jumping in and out of the water. You should see me dive!  

I am learning to self-regulate in an adaptive form. I crave being accepted by my friends and having good relationships with my teachers, but my feelings are easily hurt.

When I’m embarrassed or ashamed, I will often scrunch up my face and run away/hide or turn my back to you. If this happens, please give me the time and space I need to calm down. I always come around when I’m ready.

When I get too hungry or thirsty, I shut down. If I ask for a snack or a drink, please let me grab one before I get too dysregulated. Once I get past a certain point, it’s hard for me to get back on-line.  

My mind runs at full speed. I’m aware of everything around me and drink it all in. When I’m nearing my fill, I’ll tune out to recharge myself.

This may look like me playing with a pencil, or pacing around the room. Please don’t call me out on this in front of my peers. Talk to me quietly (but not during recess), and together we can find a way to ensure this doesn’t interrupt those around me. My mum and dad are always happy to be a part of this conversation.  

Pen and paper tasks drain me quickly and I’m just learning to see mistakes as a reason for celebration. As the youngest sibling, I feel embarrassed that my reading and writing skills aren’t yet at their level. If I shut down, please don’t continue to push. Just let mum and dad know and they’ll finish it with me at home. 

I’m looking forward to getting to know you and hope that you’re excieted to get to know me.

We’re going to have a great year.



Viewing the World Through an Asset-Based Lens

As a society, we are inherently focused on deficits.  

Every day we are continually bombarded by messages that remind us of what we can’t do; messages that highlight our shortcomings in relation to societal standards. 

Given this fact, it is little surprise that our current education system is based on these same ideals.  

Although educational science recognizes that we should be building on each individual student’s strengths and valuing progress rather than product, the model of education that our current system is based upon requires us to adhere to strict accountability standards.

As an educational leader, I believe that one of the most impactful changes you can make towards influencing the systemic change so desperately needed within our educational system is to prioritize the development of relationships between staff and students within your building. This prioritization will look different in every building and with every staff member, but the benefits will be the same.

When strong bonds exist, educators will naturally differentiate their instruction and will let go of the assembly line model of teaching that they have been clinging to and students will be able to embrace the vulnerability that is needed to adopt a mindset that will allow them learn.

 What have you tried within your own buildings to strengthen relationships between staff and students? Please share your ideas below.