Wednesday, October 31, 2018

What's Your Zone?

By: Sara Derdiger

Imagine this: You had a big fight with a family member, significant other, or friend yesterday. You then, in your anger and frustration, fail to set your alarm and didn’t wake up on time this morning. You’re late. You’re angry. You’re probably also tired and even hungry because you had to rush this morning and didn’t wake up fully before bolting out the door without having breakfast. You get to work and a student isn’t listening...again...and you’ve just been asked to take on an additional task for the day. You’re about to explode, and the only one who knows it is you.

We’ve all been there. Part of being a person is dealing with the personal stuff, and sometimes we do this rationally, calmly, and maturely. Other times all of our coping skills vanish in a plume of smoke from the fire that is coming out of our ears Looney-Toons style. Imagine, though, being a teenager who is still learning coping strategies, might not have anyone to talk to, and probably has way bigger problems than those featured in my example above. That teenager walks into our school or classroom and before we know it, a power struggle ensues or a fight occurs. What if we could find out that our student is “in the red” before that interaction even occurs?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I watch our students interact with teachers and with each other. Last year I attended a number of PD sessions on Zones of Regulation, but I struggled with applying the Zones to high school students until now. What Zones do, as far as I’ve been able to decipher, is give students the language to talk about their feelings without having to spill all the details, and then teach them strategies to help cope with those feelings and re-regulate. It’s broken down into only four categories (Red, Yellow, Blue, Green) and each category is associated with certain moods, feelings, or situations, as well as levels of self control, none of which is “bad” or “good,” but rather just where a student is in that moment.
What I’ve seen in our classes is that students often don’t have the skills, language, comfort, or awareness to tell an adult what “zone” they’re in, nor do they have the strategies to ask for help or to self-regulate. If they’re not regulated (in the red, yellow, or blue), then they’re not ready to learn.

I wanted to create a quick and easy way for a check-in to take place, allowing students a method to provide us with that information in order to avoid or reduce conflict in our classes. This tool had to be accessible, easy to manage, simple to use, and provide language and strategies students may not be able to come up with themselves. It needed to show a level of support, but also put some of the responsibility on the students. The simplest solution I came up with was a Google Form. Students record the date and their name, then identify their zone using the included graphic. They are then presented with a checklist of things they need that teachers can help provide and a list of things they can do to help themselves. There is also now (at the suggestions of Ray Galarza and Kristen Lesniak) a space for students to set a goal for a new zone and to tell us anything else they want us to know.
Forms response chart. Question title: Today' I'm in the:. Number of responses: 330 responses.
One of the reasons I love this in a Google Form format is that it is easy to view the results of the survey and collect data by class, student, or date. Students can take a few minutes at the start of class to fill it out and submit and while they are doing a bellringer, working in groups, reading, etc. the teacher can quickly scan the results in Forms or an associated Google Sheet. It also gives the students suggestions for how to be proactive in getting what they need before the teacher even looks at it. You need to go see your social worker? Ask the teacher. You need to move away from distractions? Ask the teacher or move yourself. You need to step out for a second for a breather? Go get some water. For the teachers, it lets them know any students who might be in the red and lacking self-control. It gives information about regulation strategies that the student thinks will be helpful to him or her. 
Forms response chart. Question title: I need:. Number of responses: 330 responses.Forms response chart. Question title: I can help myself get to a new zone today by:. Number of responses: 330 responses.

This isn’t a perfect system, nor is it a one-click-and-your-done approach. The teacher needs to buy in and craft the survey to meet the needs of his/her students. There needs to be trust that the students are being honest in completing it and that the teacher will follow through on the options given to students for self-regulation. It will take a few minutes out of your class period, but it doesn’t need to be an everyday thing.

Here’s how this looks in our class: On Mondays and Fridays our students come into the room and scan a QR code that links to the survey or they find the link in Schoology. They check in. I shoulder-tap specific students who haven’t been filling it out or who do so inconsistently. I also take care to let specific students know that I really want them to fill it out regularly because we want to know if they’re doing ok. These two strategies have worked so far in increasing participation among the students we feel need it most. Then, when students begin working, I scan over the results (I’ve found this easiest to do in the linked Google Sheet). I make a mental note of our class’ general state, as well as any students who report needing specific things or make notes about things they want us to know. Any student who is “in the red” gets a subtle 1:1 chat with me once class gets going. It can be anything from, “Hey, I saw that you said you were in the red today. If you need to get some water or go to the bathroom for a break, go ahead, ok? Let me know if you need anything else, and I’ll check in again later” to “I saw that you said you wanted to talk to someone (a counselor, social worker, or teacher) today. Who do you want to talk to? I’ll write you a pass.” The follow through here is key. It lets students know we’re not collecting meaningless data and that we actually care about what they’re putting down.

The goal is to provide language and strategies for students and to hopefully reduce conflict in class. If we can teach these skills with just a few minutes in class, then the ideal would be for them to translate to students’ interactions with others out of class as well. My hope is that students will complete the check-in on their own without prompting whenever they feel they need it, and that eventually they will use the language in it to advocate for themselves without needing a survey at all. Having the tools and skills to advocate for themselves is a big step in decreasing conflict and increasing autonomy for our students. For us, it’s another way to interact and develop positive relationships with students and to build a classroom culture of respect, communication and understanding.

We asked our students for feedback on this survey and their responses were a mixed bag of, “It hasn’t helped at all” to, “It helps me think about how I’m feeling and let the teacher know if I need help.” Their feedback led to a follow up question: How do we make it better or more useful for them? Many of them didn’t know, but we did get some ideas that we intend to implement, like asking what classes they need help in or having 1:1 conversations with students in the hall, where they might feel more comfortable talking. Everything we do is a work in progress, and this form and its uses are no different.

If you’d like to try this in your classroom, you can find a copy of the form here. Feel free to make a copy of your own, edit it to fit the needs of your students and your classroom, and give it a try.

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