Getting in the Zone

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Now that we have established an understanding of our brain’s limbic system which is in charge of our emotions and behaviour, it is time to become familiar with the range of emotions we may feel throughout the day and what we can do to help manage them, or self-regulate.

I have introduced the classes to the Zones of Regulation Curriculum. To be honest, when I first learnt about this program I wasn’t ‘moved’ by it in any life changing way. It seemed to be a rather rigid way of identifying emotions with too many categories and boxes. I am not very good at putting things in boxes, I am usually trying to take things out. However, a dear colleague of mine tested the program in her class for a few years and recommended that I give it another look. I guess this was a personal test in approaching something more mindfully.

Upon further investigation, I realized that the ‘heart’ of the program spoke to the ‘hows’ and ‘whys’ of self-regulation in the classroom. The goal is to have students be able to identify their emotional state or ‘zone’ independently throughout their day, and then with the introduction of a variety of tools and strategies be able to choose one that will help them regulate their feelings and be ready to face their day in a more optimal state.

Here is how it works:

There are four zones, often represented with these four road signs:

Zones traffic signs

The blue zone is represented by the rest area sign, as it is when our energy is low and we need to stop to re-energize ourselves.

The green zone is represented by the green light as it is the ‘good to go’ zone.

The yellow zone is represented by the slow sign as it is when we need to exercise caution or slow down. Our energy is usually heightened in this state.

The red zone is represented by the stop sign as it is when we have lost control and need to pause or stop what we are doing.

The program offers a list of basic emotions attached to each zone:

Zones Emotions Poster

One of my struggles with this program was that I know kids have a much wider range of emotion and what if they don’t identify with any of those in a particular moment?

So with each class, after introducing the basic ‘feeling’ attached to each zone, we brainstormed a more extensive list on how else you may be feeling in that zone. Here is what they came up with:

The Blue Zone: Students described this zone as feeling tired, sad, bored, sick, lonely, unhappy, slow, hungry, depressed, lethargic, emotional, drained, lazy, played out, out of it, confused, need a friend, low energy, annoyed, grumpy, forgetful, uncomfortable, shy and not ready to learn.

The Green Zone: Students described this zone as feeling happy, good, ready to learn, strong, comfortable, kind, nice, helpful, well rested, confident, awake, focused, in the zone, up beat, patient, proud, mindful and calm.

The Yellow Zone: Students described this zone as feeling frustrated, anxious, over-excited, about to blow up, nervous, irritated, stressed, hyper, fidgety, twitchy, grumpy, unable, tense, unfocused, ready to burst, on edge, impatient, ecstatic, caution, needing relief.

The Red zone: Students described this zone as feeling mad, angry, explosive, extreme, elevated, at your witts end, fed up, short tempered, violent, aggressive, want to be alone, isolated, out of control and had enough.

I was very impressed how the students articulated their feelings in each zone and deepened their understanding of the range of emotions we might feel throughout our day. This brainstorming session helped me take the zones out of the box and make it come alive for the students. Looking at the lists they generated, they could identify with how it feels when our energy is low, elevated, balanced, or out of control.

I wanted to make sure that students weren’t casting a negative or positive tone on any of the feelings. It was important for them to understand that throughout our days we all go through a range of emotions and that it’s OK to feel frustrated, angry, or sad sometimes. I really wanted students to get comfortable with the idea that the zones are here to help them identify how they are feeling so that we can help them through those feelings and give them tools and strategies to work towards knowing what they personally need to regulate their emotions. But the first step is to simply be able to identify and be aware of our emotions.

What zone are you in?

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