When was the last time you experienced strong feelings in your classroom? Probably every day. Working with children is demanding and can bring up a lot of strong feelings.
Are you considering your own self-regulation needs as well as those of the children you’re working with? How can we process all of what we're feeling so we can move through challenging moments and make a difference for each child in our classrooms?
Dr. Angela Searcy is with us in this episode to talk about how to deal with your own self-regulation in challenging moments. Dr. Searcy holds a Doctorate in Education. Her research revolves around brain-based learning assessed by CLASS and its correlation to aggressive behaviors in preschool children. Angela who began as an educator in 1990 has experience in all levels of education. Currently, Dr. Searcy is an adjunct faculty member at Erikson Institute, a professional development provider for teaching strategies, a CLASS Pre-K affiliate trainer for Teachstone, and a Bureau of Education and Research trainer. Dr. Searcy is also the author of Push Past It!, a positive approach to challenging classroom behavior for Gryphon House Publishing.
Kate: Hi, everyone. I'm Kate Cline from Teachstone and welcome to the Teaching with CLASS podcast. Let's take a moment to consider this. When was the last time you experienced strong feelings in your classroom? Everyday, right? Emotions play a huge part in what happens in classrooms everyday. Working with young children is demanding, both physically and cognitively, but also emotionally.
We hear a lot about young children's need for coregulation as they're learning to self regulate, but when was the last time you considered your own self-regulation needs? How can we process all of what we're feeling so we can move through challenging moments and make a differene for each child in our classrooms?
Dr. Angela Searcy is with us in this episode to talk about how to push past it and so much more. Dr. Angela Searcy holds a Doctorate in Education. Her research revolves around brain-based learning assessed by CLASS and its correlation to aggressive behaviors in preschool children.
Angela who began as an educator in 1990 has experience in all levels of education. Currently, Dr. Searcy is an adjunct faculty member at Erikson Institute, a professional development provider for teaching strategies, a CLASS Pre-K affiliate trainer for Teachstone, and a Bureau of Education and Research trainer.
Dr. Searcy is also the author of Push Past It!, A Positive Approach to Challenging Classroom Behavior for Gryphon House Publishing. Dr. Searcy understands that teachers have feelings too, lots of them. Let's get started with today's conversation.
All right, so Dr. Searcy. Thank you for joining us here today on the Teaching with CLASS podcast. I'm so excited. You have so much wisdom and strategies to share with us. I'm really excited to talk to you today.
Angela: Same here. I can't wait.
Kate: Before we dive in to all the tips and strategies. Can you just give us some background information? What would you highlight from your research? How did you get to where you are today, and what do you want us to know to get us started?
Angela: I guess I would say that I started as a teacher in 1990. I was a teacher for 10 years. I was up there just for 10 years. I taught about all ages from infants, toddlers, twos, preschool, and graduate students. My doctorate is in education. I would just highlight that yes, my research was just something that I was passionate about.
As a consultant, I would often hear about challenging behaviors. I just wanted to highlight that in my research, it showed that classrooms that had high emotional support and high classroom organization had less incident reports. It's just so powerful that sometimes we can just feel likeI don't have the money or I don't have the resources.
But you know what? Having a relationship with a child is not always easy, but it's something that is there right in front of us that are really simple things that we can do or just being organized. I feel it can give any person that works with children the power to empower them, to feel like I can do this, any little thing that you can do can support a child.
Kate: Thank you so much for sharing about your journey. I think it gives a lot of encouragement to teachers to know that someone with the wealth of experience that you have started in the classroom just like I did. So many people out there listening are like okay, she gets it. That's really helpful, and to know that your research came from your classroom experience, your experience as a consultant, and knowing what life is really like in the classroom. Can you give us a little bit about Push Past It! because that's your most recent effort to pull all of that together and tell us a little bit about that.
Angela: Sure, I'm so excited. Push Past It! actually developed originally from my own classroom challenges. I had a child that was consistently biting. That was way back in 1996. I had children bite but this felt different. The child kept biting and biting until it was one day that the child bit a chunk out of the child's face. I was angry. I was frustrated. I felt like no one was listening to me. The child was a bully and kept biting the sweetest smallest child in my classroom.
When I had consultants and everyone come in, the families were upset, they were mad, they were like, ‘him or us, him or us.’ You feel so many different emotions. Whenever consultants or people came in to try to support me, they talk about the child's emotions, which are of course important. They talk about family and I knew the family's emotions are important. They never really talked about my emotions and what I was feeling.
We went on and I can't say that the program really worked hard to support me and help me understand the reason behind this child's behavior. It ended up that the child was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Kate: Wow, as a young child.
Angela: Yeah, at three. Then that changed everything for me. I would keep doing strategies, they weren't working. I was doing strategies, they weren't working. Once I heard that, I really got a sense of empathy for this child. Once I got a sense of empathy for this child, what happened to you?
This was in 1996, the diagnosis just came out, then I was like what have you been through? Once I had empathy for this child and I stopped being angry with this child, things started to work with this child. Something so small, they told me to be close to the child. Before I was not connecting with the child and their [...] was really flat, mine was really perky, so it was a mismatch and misreading of ques.
Once I really said, let me just think about being close to this child and caring for this child, my words change from share, share, look at me. Why are you doing this to…? I'll keep you safe. I'll keep you close. Then things started to work.
From that experience of me kind of pushing myself to, first of all, honor that oh my gosh, this child. I'm tired of them. Why are they here every day? They’re never absent. They're fighting. I don't know what to do. The parents are here. I feel all these emotions. Once I let that emotion out, I felt guilty about it. I just let it out, and had some cupcakes and relaxed myself. Then I got my emotions together. I found out that I was able to push past it.
It's not this denying emotion. Yes, I was there. A classroom is where teachers can be negative. You could be negative. I'm not perfect. I'm going to say I'm frustrated, I'm tired, I'm overwhelmed, why aren’t you absent, [...] all those things. And it gets you space to fill that. But then you feel that, but you can't stay there.
You can be negative, you can be there. I don't want to shame educators, or shame families, or anyone for being a normal human being. It's a sign that you're normal, you're doing what your brain and body should be doing if you are feeling negative or overwhelmed.
Also, when I found out the research behind this kind of negativity bias that is natural, then I didn't feel guilty. If you felt guilty and you're wondering well, gosh, I love kids. Is this okay for me? Is it socially acceptable to call this child a serial killer? Is this appropriate? What's wrong with me? Why am I feeling this way? You don't feel that way. You're a normal healthy human being. You can be negative, but you can't stay negative. That's what it was.
There I found the space that I can come alongside with other educators that felt like I did without any judgment, that we could just be there together, and bond over these moments. I find that educators like the acronym. It helped me and it helps us as they go, okay. I've done it. I've put it out there. I've talked about it. I took my walk. I got some coffee. Now, are you ready? Let's do it together. Are you ready? Okay. I never do it until an educator says I'm ready. I'm ready to push. Let's do it.
Kate: What I'm thinking about is when I first started the conversation, we're talking about the Emotional Support, the Classroom Organization, and how a Negative Climate shows up when a teacher is lacking in that self-regulation. Maybe in the moment, you do need to shove those things aside for a second because your emotional reaction will be contagious in the classroom.
I'm having a negative reaction to a situation, that just boost everybody. All the children are going to feel that. I might need to in the moment with that child, take that quick breath and move on. But later on, to sit down to say here's all the terrible things. Let me just tell the truth. Here are all the terrible things that I've been thinking and feeling about the situation because I want to move past. I want to push past this and find a better way with this child.
There's this tension, as a teacher to, in the moment, control myself, to be a model of self-regulation for the children that are learning how to do that, to co-regulate with them. But I need to take care of myself too later on. How do I—after I've gotten all those negative emotions out—separate from my moment with the child and now setting aside time to push past it, what do I do then? How do I get started?
Angela: That's a good question. Usually, yes, in the moment, you're trying to take that breath. Sometimes I'll do something in the moment that calms me, like oh, we need some cranky lotion or whatever it is. I'll do those things. Then there is a reflection process where I'm going to reflect on everything I'm feeling because if we're not processing those feelings, then that's going to impact our relationships with children and their families. We want to take that time to process what we're for feeling and then kind of use this.
Of course I said, I take a walk. I'll do all that work of calm down tools for myself. Then after I do that, then I'm ready to use the acronym. The acronym is pick out the positive. Well, first, I have to be negative to get to the positive. That's okay that you go through that process.
Sometimes people are like oh no, don't say that. It's called expression. We must express it in a safe place outside of the classroom without children present to be able to think about what are the positives about that child? Or how can I understand that child's perspective?
First, to do that, I have to know what I'm feeling to be able to connect to what the child might be feeling. I need to seek out neutral support. Sometimes, it gets really good as we get to the S. We're talking about the P, the U, the S. The S is like, okay, it feels good when someone's like they're wrong. You're right. Of course, it feels good, but it's probably not really good for problem-solving. I need to have someone neutral to bounce ideas out of to make sure I'm not in the echo chamber.
I also want to hone in on everyone's intentions, that's the H. I'm in my emotional self where I'm like oh, my lesson plans ruin. It's not ruined, the child doesn't know how to have a lesson plan. Hone in on that three- or four-year-old child's intentions, and their intentions are to get their needs met.
It's just like these reminders to me to P, pay attention to my own behavior. What am I doing? I was guilty of why are you doing this? My emotion is elevating. Look at me, look at me, that kind of thing that wasn't helpful in the moment. I had to reflect on what I was doing. Ask lots of questions and take a step back and take care of myself. I wasn't taking care of myself and that's really key as well.
Kate: You're taking this time for self-reflection, to say okay, I've had all these negative thoughts but now what do I know about this child? What are the positive things going on here? How might the family feel about this? How will my coworkers feel about this? How could it be different? Who are the people who can help me solve problems by not just taking my side, but helping me think about different things, seeking that neutral thing, and really trying to understand what is everyone trying to get in this situation?
This child did not get out of bed to come to school to ruin my day. They are only trying to get their needs met and how am I responding? What do I need to understand about the situation so I can step back, see things from a neutral perspective, and taking care of myself is important so that I can respond well in the moment.
Pushing past it isn't pushing it down. It's processing it, getting different perspectives, getting ready to be planful about what to do. What do we do then? Help us. There are challenging behaviors every day in classrooms. We're getting this mutual perspective but we need some strategies about what to do.
Angela: Absolutely. The first thing I would say is for leaders to create systems. Where's the system where teachers can push past it? Where's that bulletin board that's hidden somewhere? Papers where they can write down what they're feeling and throw it in a basket or get it out? Where's that system for a Push Past It! so that they feel safe?
I'm also thinking about once you've kind of done this kind of reflection, it's easy. Okay, you guys, don't worry. It's the same steps you use to do your laundry. To clean up your act, it's the same steps.
First, sort what you're feeling. That's the first thing, is to sort out your feelings. Next, put the problem through the meaning-making machine, which is just what is the problem? What am I seeing? I have a chart called the meaning-making machine on Gryphon House. You can just download it. It's easy, it’s on my author page. It helps you to think about what is the reason behind this behavior.
Then you go into strategies that I have organized into three buckets—change you, change the child, and change the consequences. Changing you can be changing your perspective. Instead of saying something like share, share, you might say something like I'll keep you safe, lowering your tone, changing your [...], adjusting and tuning with a child.
I love the paperclip test. The paperclip test is just put paper clips along your collar and every time you say oh, stop it, take a paperclip off. It's something small to look at your own dosage. Yes, I'm positive. How often am I positive?
Kate: Right, let's be realistic and gather some data on ourselves about how we respond in situations. Paper clips on and keep track of how many times I might say negative things to children or positive things or whatever my target is. It's my own data about myself.
Angela: Your own data, then looking at the child. The next bucket is thinking about what skills can I teach that child? What things can I do in the classroom? So reflecting on yourself.
One thing I want to add is the environment. That's another one. That classroom organization. What are the three steps? Before transition, what am I doing? During a transition, what am I doing? After the transition, what am I doing? Be really concrete laying that out, talking about that, and really planning that.
In addition to creating activities for a child, when they're not upset, when it's a low stakes situation of where you're just playing with them, reading a book, can I share my ice cream? Reading a book with a child about sharing your feelings or emotions where they're pointing. Talking about emotions or talking about how it feels to share. If they don't want to do it, what can they do? Getting a hula hoop and everything in your hula hoop that works for that child, everything in your hula hoop is yours.
Kate: This is what personal space is all about. It's this personal space.
Angela: Absolutely. Everything outside of this hula hoop is space for everybody like being so concrete and so supportive of that child. Then reflecting on how you respond to that child. Children don't respond well when they feel like they're in trouble.
Kate: Who does?
Angela: I know, right?
Kate: I have to say I don't respond well either in that situation.
Angela: None of us do. Yeah, that's so correct. Just really a child feeling wow, that's a good problem. How can we solve that? What a good problem. Do you remember the song that goes with that? Do you remember? Where's our calming cat? Where could that be? Let's look around. Oh my gosh, I think I've lost my patience. Let's go get a flashlight. Is it under the table? Where did it go?
Kate: Find my patience. Yes. Children lose their patience too. We could look together for patience. I love it.
Angela: We can. We could get our flashlights and we could find them together. Then a child can feel more comfort knowing that I've lost mine and where's yours? Let's go look for it. I think it's under the table. I think it's under here. By the time you do that, what does that feel like to be calm? A child is maybe more regulated at that time and then you've done it together. Just being able to use those tools to support the child and even their family.
Kate: You also have some thoughts about incorporating families in this too and how they are part of the support that happened?
Angela: Absolutely. If they need a patience flashlight that they need to grab, this is yours. This is something concrete that they can hold onto. That's what we all need, isn't it? Something concrete that we can grasp onto when things get hard and that's what that cranky spray, the patient flashlight, the songs, and the whoa this is hot. I think we're stepping in lava. Talking about those oh, my face feels warm, my heart's beating fast, to actually kind of go through that process. Yeah, we share them with families too.
Kate: It bridges that. What I'm trying in the classroom, parents can also try at home so the child's getting a consistent response, talking about how we respond to children. If I'm responding one way, my co-teachers responding another way, and families are responding another way, how confusing, If I have empathy for that child's perspective, that would be very confusing to know what's really expected of me here? How am I going to be supported and get my needs met?
Kate: What do you think about okay, I've seen this happen in classrooms. It may have even happened once or twice with myself, I'll just say, where I have felt all right, Dr. Searcy, I've tried everything. I have been working with this child. I've tried this, I've tried that, and nothing is working. I try something new every week almost. I'm just out of ideas. What do I do now?
Angela: Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for sharing that. I definitely have been there myself. As a teacher, as a parent, as a therapist, we all have been in that space where we're like, this is not working. You know what? That's a good space. Knowing something doesn't work is a good place to start, but that's not where we stop. That's a good place to start.
I would say teachers, therapists, and parents do great strategies. I don't know if people have heard of RuPaul and thinking about how he worked it. It’s just thinking about how to work it. It's just thinking you may have tried too many strategies at once. Because maybe I'm trying the best strategies, but it's too many all at once.
You mentioned consistency. Before I try a new strategy that's actually on my tools there of the meaning making chart and I do have a WERK It! worksheet as well. That WERK It! worksheet reminds you that it takes 4–6 weeks. You do things in cycles and those cycles are 4–6 weeks, just like you put your clothes in your dryer and it goes through cycles. So 4–6 weeks gives a time for the child to learn the strategy, and other children to understand the strategy.
Kate: Because I'm going oh, so you're saying if I try something on Monday, by Tuesday it won't be fixed? Is that what you're saying? I have to be patient, I have to slow down, and know that it's going to take a while.
Angela: Give it that time. Every child will want to try the strategy except the child that you want to try the strategy. I haven't left you in a lurch. I have tools for you and that's the other thing. I try to be positive but in a way that is supportive.
I don't know what's going to happen with that child. I don't know if we'll take six cycles, five cycles, one cycle. I don't know, but I know that I could be there with you and I can give you tools to help you self reflect on am I doing too many? Am I taking my time? How am I doing this? And reflecting on how it does work, and do I have a relationship with a child. Because if we don't have that relationship, that's also going to impact the success of the strategy.
Kate: That's that foundation. It comes back to CLASS all the time. That Emotional Support is so foundational to all of that. And you mentioned Classroom Organization. Any other sort of CLASS-focused things you would want to mention?
Angela: Oh my gosh, CLASS is just a smorgasbord and a buffet of great support. We talked about Emotional Support and Classroom Organization, but even just asking how can we make a good line? That is so right there in the analysis. What could we do to solve this problem?
You're thinking. I see you tried one thing and you got a little hurt so let's try something else now. That is Instructional Support. That is that scaffolding. CLASS is just this huge bouquet of great strategies and ideas that help us to respond, to have great interactions with young children.
Kate: Awesome. That is really encouraging that we can look for strategies for supporting children in each domain. That's awesome. I was wondering. You've been working with people all over the country for years now; pre-pandemic, post-pandemic, all of those. We've all been going through it. What is the wisdom you're gathering as we're moving to this (hopefully) post-pandemic phase of things? What kind of encouragement would you offer us?
Angela: I would say that one, we're here together. We're going to support each other. We have tools, like on Gryphon House, books and things like that, that support us, that support this class. That would be one thing I would say. Work on pushing past it. You can be negative. Don't stay that way, keeping that in mind. Keeping that intense challenging behavior and thinking about emotions.
We know that Emotional Support is the springboard to everything else, and that foundational piece. The CLASS gives us a language that we can use to say, this is Sensitivity and this is Emotional Support. I just want to maybe add to that during the pandemic that those are great strategies and you can even think about this language of just push, I got you. You can be this way and I'm not going to judge you, and that creating a system to help educators to push past it is also important. Those are some things that I think are key. Just thinking about our emotions, as well as the emotions of young children and families.
Kate: I used the word contagious earlier. I don't mean to sound like a pandemic person. I'm thinking that I have heard that if my heart rate goes up, people that I'm in close proximity to, their body will also start to react in that way. I was thinking about teachers where when something happens in the classroom and my heart rate goes up as a teacher, my cortisol levels start to increase, and I'm having this reaction that will affect the children around me. Whether they're involved in that challenging behavior or not, they are experiencing that same thing.
Angela: You're so right. Behavior is like a bike, and it's a tandem bike. You're in tandem with the child. The children are in tandem with the entire classroom. You mentioned something really important, that they're learning something from that interaction. They're learning about themselves, what you might do when they experience it, they're learning about that child. They're learning about how to perhaps even get some strategies for themselves. What are you going to do with that child to support them? They're listening and they're learning from that. I love how you said that, that they're all gaining and you’re not like no, they're not learning. They are. They are learning from this experience.
Kate: They will focus just like we as humans tend to focus on the negative stressful moments, and when everybody's heightened about that, then they become this child with the challenging behavior that becomes this focus of everyone's energy.
When we all learn how to manage that, and like you're saying, push past it, get to the point where we understand what's going on for each others, we take care of ourselves, we gather these different perspectives and take a moment to find a new way to respond, we help build in the resiliency that we need to have this calm thing happening in our classroom because each child needs that.
Angela: Yes, absolutely.
Kate: I think I'm getting it.
Kate: Thank you so much for this conversation. I think our three takeaways are it's okay to be negative, but don't stay negative. Find that way, that one small thing we can do to change that my response to the child, the classroom, what's happening with the child, so that the child can experience that change too. Then making sure that we're building these relationships with children, that that’s the foundation of emotional support. Then the last and most important thing is that you have so many resources. Where can people find them? You've mentioned it a couple of times.
Angela: If they go to Gryphon House, there's Push Past It! They go to the Push Past It! page. On that page, look under where it says author, all about the author, they'll find all kinds of workshop downloadables and all kinds of meaning making charts and working at charts. Why are they eating the fidget? We got it covered. We're going to give that great support.
Kate: There's so much there. It's amazing. So much is available and thank you so much for your willingness to share all of your wisdom and expertise with us here today and other resources people can get later on.
Angela: Oh, thank you. Thank you. It's been a pleasure.
Kate: Wow, there was so much in that conversation. Here are three invitations. First, take time to process your own emotions. Remember, it's okay to be negative but don't stay there.
Next, use strategies like Push Past It! to build relationships and support behavior change in your classroom. Push Past It! reminds us to pick out positives, understand everyone's perspective, seek neutral support, hone in on everyone's intentions, pay attention to your own behavior, ask questions, step back, and take care of yourself.
Last, you can access tons of additional resources from Dr. Searcy on her author page on the Gryphon House website. Until next time, take care of yourself and your team because what you do matters.
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The school year is at an end, and many educators and leaders are reflecting and planning for the future. Today’s episode is about both.
Today, Marnetta is joined in conversation with Today's guests are Kristy Umfleet, early care and education specialist at Randolph Kids, and Katherine Davis, childcare director of the Growing Place, and Amy Cubbage, president of the North Carolina Partnership of Children and lead of Smart Start North Carolina. Today's discussion focuses on how children, families, and educators in North Carolina have been impacted since the pandemic and how these leaders are planning ahead for the new school year.