Invite students to safely inquire into what they notice when they are in their emotion regulation process

While identifying external well-being re-source experiences may be useful, sometimes, students won’t remember to bring their well-being re-source objects with them or they will forget to pull out their index cards when they need them. As such, it may be useful to explain to students that we, as educators, know they won’t always be in the most optimal state to learn and develop at all times.  As such, it may be useful for them to begin to identify when they start to move out of that optimal state so they can take care of themselves to the best of their ability, which includes their giving themselves permission to seek professional support that the institution provides them and expects them to use.  The intention here is to normalize help-seeking behaviors, while also reinforcing they have the educators’ consistent and constant permission to seek those resources.

The diagram below is adapted from Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (Fani&Ghaemi, 2011) and Kristen Neff and Chris Germer’s work on mindful self-compassion (2018).    It may be  useful to share this diagram or one that you adapt with students to illustrate how the blue safe and comfortable zone is a great place to return to when they are challenged by learning and development. It is state that we hope their well-being re-source practices brings them to.  The yellow zone is when they will likely feel emotional activation or arousal; it is an optimal place for learning and development as long as they don’t become too aroused or emotionally activated to where they no longer feel safe in their learning environment.  When they notice they begin to feel unsafe, as educators, we want to be sure to give them permission to return to the challenge learning and development zone, but that may mean they need to ground themselves by using their re-source well-being practice or other practices (some of which follow).  Returning to a sense of safety, once they feel they are approaching feeling unsafe, may be the only way in which they can then re-engage in their learning and development experience.

Once you share this diagram with your students in the context of learning and development, invite the students to journal for 1minute on each of the following prompts for each zone.

A) What within you (thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations) signals to you that you are operating in this zone?
B) What well-being strategies help you stay within this zone (if it is zone 1 or 2) or empower you to return to the zone of feeling safe?
C) In what ways can your educator(s) empower you stay within this zone (if it is zone 1 or 2) or empower you to return to the zone of feeling safe
D) What would you like your educator(s) to know about how they can best empower you into your optimal learning and development zone?

The point of emphasis is that if students can begin to recognize the experiential attributes of each zone as they arise, they can utilize strategies that serve them well in order to move back to the optimal learning and development zone or the safety zone.  The intent is also to re-enforce permission for them to seek their educator’s and/or professional support if they find themselves in the feeling unsafe zone or check out zone and not knowing what to do about it.  As educators, it is important for us to infer that if students find themselves in those zones, they won’t be alone to navigate their way out.  We must consistently invite our students into awareness of the choices they have to respond, so they feel empowered to healthfully respond to what they know they need in any given moment.


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