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Children sit next to each other on a classroom carpet. One child has her hand extended, thumb raised.


Paulette Maggiacomo

Paulette Maggiacomo

June 25, 2020

Hi everyone,

As I was downloading my next virtual conference, I wondered what new tools I was going to add to my toolbox in helping transform challenging behavior. Laura Fish’s talk on Mindfulness, the Brain, and Behavior reinforced tools that I already had. When I think about mindfulness, the words meditation and yoga immediately pop into my head.

It turns out that mindfulness is not what I thought it was! Laura uses the phrase uploading our software, which translates into the fact that we are always learning. She believes that using strategies based on brain research helps teachers work smarter not harder.

We practice mindfulness when we pay attention on purpose, with love, with compassion, with intent, and without judgment. It is not meditation. When we are fully present with a child, we are curious about what they are thinking and feeling. Imagine looking through that lens when a child is misbehaving. Let’s get off of auto pilot and focus on the child.

Laura talks about three zones that the brain can be in:

The Red Zone

  • Brain is reacting without thinking

  • Threat detected

  • In fight-or-flight state

The Blue Zone

  • Brain is reacting without thinking

  • Threat detected

  • In freeze state

The Green Zone

  • Brain is fully integrated

  • Threat can still be detected

  • Using planning, thoughtfulness, reasoning, emotional imbalance, attuned communication

Does this sound familiar to you? What other trauma informed social-emotional learning and classroom management philosophy ties in with this? Just like Conscious Discipline, the objective of this method is to raise the child to the upstairs part of the brain – the prefrontal cortex. How do we add to their tool box to help them do this?

Laura states there are two ways to do this:

Asking open-ended questions can be an excellent alternative to correcting or redirecting. When we ask these questions it activates the upstairs part of the brain and helps the child develop the skills they need. By doing this, the teacher helps build and/or reinforce the connection she has with the child – they become partners. There may be times when a child is simply not in a place to consider open ended questions. When that occurs, Laura says to just be with the child and breathe until he is ready. She talks about Alternate Nostril Breathing. I can’t even begin to explain this technique to you – I simply could not get the hang of it. For more information about it, please Google it. If you do, let me know how it works for you.

The second strategy is narrating/broadcasting/parallel talk when you are describing out loud what the child is doing/or what they might be thinking/feeling. (For those of you familiar with CLASS, this indicator is seen in the Language Modeling Domain.) One form of this strategy is Positive Descriptive Acknowledgement – PDA. When using this, the teacher describes the positive behavior that she observes and can at times connect it to a feeling: “Jeffrey and Robert, you are sharing the blocks, you look so happy to be sharing. Now you can build the tower that you talked about.”

By doing this, how do you think these PDAs help a child develop a more positive attitude toward themselves, and even be more receptive to working with others?

This statement by Laura resonated within me: Praise is like sugar. PDAs are like vegetables. When you say “Good Job” to a child, you are assuming that they know what you are talking about and it gives them a moment of happiness. When you use a PDA, the child knows exactly what they have done and they are acquiring the skill to move into the Green Zone, which is our ultimate goal. Imagine a classroom where children have the skills to stay in this zone! You can do it with the tools in your toolbox. I have faith in you!

As I continue to participate in these virtual conferences, I too feel as if I am upgrading my software. I hope that you are too.

Until next time, I wish you well.

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