Perry Creek Elementary students learn connection between emotions and behaviors
Counselor Darrell Langley is using superheroes and traffic sign colors to give Sioux City elementary school students strategies to help them recognize and regulate emotions and behaviors.
On a Monday morning, Langley stood among a sea of desks in a second-grade classroom at Perry Creek Elementary School singing the Jeopardy theme song as 8-year-olds Charlie Avery and Josh Castle whispered in front of a whiteboard. The boys and a few of their classmates were asked to role-play scenarios using the behaviors of superhero Rex Flexinator and villain Rock Brain.
“Can we take turns with the ball?” Charlie asked.
“Yes,” Josh said, nodding in agreement.
Josh and Charlie were imitating the flexible thinking of Superflex curriculum character Rex Flexinator, a “Thinkable” who never gets stuck on his thoughts. The superhero’s opposite, Rock Brain, an “Unthinkable,” does only what he wants to do without thinking about others in the group.
“Hey, give me that ball,” Charlie said.
“No,” Josh responded curtly.
Langley provides social-emotional learning lessons once a month in classrooms at Perry Creek and Riverside elementary schools, as well as Clark Early Childhood Center.
Students in grades TK-2 use Superflex, a superhero social thinking curriculum that teaches self-awareness, self-monitoring, self-control and social problem-solving, while students in grades 3-5 are guided by Zones of Regulation, a curriculum geared toward helping students gain skills in consciously regulating their actions, which leads to increased control and problem solving abilities.
“When teachers engage with a student who’s struggling with behavior, the approach can be different, the conversation can be more about the inappropriate behaviors or the unexpected behavior rather than this child is misbehaving,” Langley explained. “I think there is a power in that and we can grow more with that sort of language and focus.”
The Zones of Regulation are blue, yellow, red and green. Green, Langley said, is the optimal zone because things are going well. He likens blue to a rest area sign. Children and adults in the blue zone are tired and need to re-energize themselves.
“Yellow is that zone that I talk about with the students as being caution. If we’re starting to get tense or feel unsettled, what are those signs that are telling us that we’re leaving the green zone and getting into the yellow zone,” he said. “The red zone is probably our least optimal zone. In the red zone we’re maybe making behaviors that are unexpected. In school that might be running in the hallway, interrupting in the classroom or being physical with students around them.”
If students can recognize when they’re leaving the green zone, Langley said they can use tools to manage their emotions and prevent negative behaviors from escalating, such as deep breathing, counting to 10, calming poses, or pushing against a wall to relieve tension.
He said some students have individualized plans in place, which their teachers are aware of, to help them cope with emotions. When they start to feel a rise in anxiety or anger, Langley said they take a break by walking the halls or visiting another teacher’s classroom.
“We talk about four different zones that we may be and what might trigger us to get into those zones,” he said. “Really the meat of it is the strategies to keep us in the most appropriate zones, and then actually talking about how our emotions, feelings and behaviors affect people around us.”
Meghanne Anderson, an intern from the University of South Dakota who is working with Langley in the classrooms, said children struggle trying to understand and express their feelings and behaviors. The Zones of Regulation and Superflex, she said, give them a language with which to communicate.
“This kind of provides a foundation and gives them that language to discuss it, understand it and kind of map the influence of that,” she said.
by Dolly Butz