My most widely read post ever has been Dr. Stuart Shanker and Self-Regulation, which is a summary of Dr. Stuart Shanker’s presentation at the November 2010, BCSSA Fall Conference. It was around this time Shanker started to become known in the BC educational community, because of his work in Ontario and from a few presentations he had made on self-regulation in British Columbia. Since then, he has become an extremely influential figure in early learning, as well as on how we look at students with unique needs, and at student support service models throughout our province. And, last month, he shared centre stage with the Honourable George Abbott, Minister of Education, as they discussed ‘the way forward’ in education to board chairs, superintendents, secretary-treasurers and principals.
So, what is the message he is sharing?
Shanker has presented the marshmallow test video on several occasions to provoke a room. And, just as the Did You Know videos became synonymous with the changing world of education and Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Animate video, so directly linked to educational change, it is rare for someone to present now on self-regulation without showing or at least referencing this video:
Shanker argues that approximately 70 per cent of kids cannot wait to eat the marshmallow, and that longitudinal studies done on the kids who do wait show they do perform better in life, have better entrance scores to university, better relationship success, and higher standings on a number of other factors (Shanker does acknowledge there has been some debate about this test and what it represents — but maintains that recent data has supported the original findings).
Using the marshmallow test as a backdrop, Shanker argues there is research to show that we can actually improve a child’s ability to self-regulate — that is, to manage stress (environmental, physiological, emotional, cognitive, and social) and this ability is particularly important for students with special needs, because these students have too many stresses to control themselves and not enough energy to self-regulate.
In the classroom, Shanker says we need to support children so they are not overstimulated or overstressed. This involves giving students the ability to learn self-regulatory skills so that they can self-regulate when stressed, and this can also include adapting to their learning environment with more opportunities for physical activity (see Spark for more information on this).
Shanker is not afraid to be bold. Here is a collection of other semi-related ideas he has shared at the recent event with the Minister:
- Diagnoses get in the way of student progress. It is better to identify a child’s strengths and work to mitigate the child’s deficits by focussing on strengths
- Parent education does not work — we need models where parents actually engage (StrongStart was shared as a positive example)
- Since interventions for FASD, ADHS, ASD etc. are similar; don’t focus on the diagnosis; rather, focus on the menu of interventions appropriate to the child
He ended with something I have heard him say many times before . . . . there is “no such thing as a bad, stupid or lazy kid.” These are powerful words with a powerful message.
Over the last 18 months, Shanker’s work has become hugely influential in West Vancouver and around British Columbia. There are three key areas of energy that I often speak on currently happening in West Vancouver: digital literacy, inquiry and self-regulation, although, I did not know what self-regulation was just two years ago.
Shanker’s work is exciting, and it offers a new lens on the struggle children have growing up. We are looking forward at thoughtful research on the success of self-regulation initiatives to better meet the needs of our most needy learners, as well as the needs of all learners.