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Nurturing Emotional Intelligence

Nurturing emotional intelligence in our twice-exceptional learners is not just a school's responsibility; it is a collective endeavor involving educators, parents, and the students themselves. By teaching our 2e students to identify their emotions, providing them with self-regulation strategies, and encouraging reflection, we can equip them to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. At The Lang School, supporting social-emotional skills development is an essential part of our program. It empowers Lang students to harness their exceptional abilities and navigate their unique challenges and sets the stage for success in both their academic and personal lives.

To support this work, we use Zones of Regulation (ZOR), which created by Leah M. Kuypers, MA Ed. OTR/L to teach children self-regulation and emotional control. This program teaches a variety of social-emotional skills to children, starting with early emotional skills and advancing on to self-regulation and the more complex navigation of social situations.

Some of the key skills developed in the program include:

  • Identifying your emotions by categorizing feelings into four Zones (more on this below)

  • Self-regulation: Achieving the preferred state of alertness (Zone) for a situation. This is all about regulating your body and emotional regulation.

  • Identifying triggers, referred to at Lang as “Zone Shifters," to better learn what makes you “tick” and why

  • Coping strategies, referred to at Lang as “Tools”, which are techniques and strategies that help achieve emotional regulation and manage strong emotions

ZOR Uses Four Colors to Help Learners Self-Identify How They’re Feeling.

The four Zones (Green, Yellow, Blue, and Red) each represent a different emotional state or arousal level. The Zones are based on feelings, not behaviors. A core belief of Zones of Regulation is that all the Zones are okay. We routinely experience several of the Zones across a day. It’s critically important that we don’t convey the message that, for example, the Green Zone is the only acceptable Zone to be in.

The Green Zone

The Green Zone describes when we are in a calm and alert state. Some feelings that one may have in the Green Zone include being happy, focused, at ease, and relaxed. In the classroom, we aim to be in the Green Zone because this means we are ready to learn.

The Yellow Zone

The Yellow Zone describes when our energy is higher and our emotions begin to intensify. Some feelings that one may have in the Yellow Zone include anxious, excited, silly, stressed, hyper, frustrated, overwhelmed, or confused. In the Yellow Zone, we still have some control, but experience a heightened state of alertness and elevated emotions.

The Blue Zone

The Blue Zone describes when we are in a low state of alertness and experiencing down emotions. Some feelings that one may experience in the Blue Zone include sad, tired, sick, bored, or lonely. You’re still in control, as you are in the yellow zone, but with low energy emotions.

The Red Zone

The Red Zone describes when we are in an extremely heightened state of alertness and experience intense emotions. Some feelings that one may have in the Red Zone include angry/mad, terrified, elated, hysterical, or devastated. The Red Zone is not an optimal state for learning because when a person reaches the Red Zone, they’re no longer able to control their emotions or reactions. Being in the Red Zone may potentially trigger a fight, flight, freeze, or flee protective response.

How We Use Zones at Lang

At Lang, students are introduced to the Zones of Regulation curriculum in their Foundations class (Lower School) or Guidance Advisory periods (Middle and Upper School). As with our other therapeutic supports, ZOR is integrated into all aspects of our students’ school day. Elements of the curriculum are utilized during whole group instruction and/or in therapy sessions, depending on a student’s developmental level and individual needs.

We teach students about their Zone Shifters (triggers) and how our Zone Shifters shift us away from the Green Zone. Everyone has their own personal Zone Shifters, and what may be a huge Zone Shifter for one person may be a small Zone Shifter, or not a Zone Shifter at all, for another person.

We also teach about Zone Tools (strategies for self-regulation) and how everyone has their own tools that help them return back to the Green Zone. Just like how Zone Shifters are personal and may be different for each person, Zone Tools are different for each person as well; what works for one person may not work for another person.

Students learn about how certain tools are only available at certain times (ex: Taking a movement break in the OT gym is helpful for me to return back to the Green Zone, but sometimes Kevin and Mike are not available; ex: I really need alone time in a quiet space when I am in the Red Zone, but if I am on a crowded subway I can't have alone time in a quiet space), and how we need to have a menu of tools to help us in different environments.

The goal is for all students to eventually build their own Zone Toolbox which will consist of personal tools they can actually use and help them to return to Green.

Zones of Regulation in The Lower School

In the Lower School, students are introduced to the Zones of Regulation program by focusing on feelings-identification and simple self-regulation strategies. Our Spring Creek students are utilizing the curriculum to strengthen their understanding of feelings vocabulary. Instead of simply happy, sad, and mad, students are learning more advanced and subtle concepts, such as frustrated, confused, surprised, or worried. As students progress, they may begin to learn simple strategies to help them move from one Zone to another. For example, a student learns that when they are worried in the Yellow Zone, they can take deep breaths to get calm. Or a student that is tired in the Blue Zone will learn to do a movement break to get their energy level up.

Our High Rock and Idlewild students build on this knowledge by using the Zones curriculum to broaden their understanding of how to navigate tricky social situations and become more self-aware. Students learn about specific triggers that send them into another Zone. For example, a student may learn that beginning a new topic in math is a Zone Shifter that causes them to feel worried. They may choose to use positive self-talk or another calming strategy when they know this trigger is approaching. Our Idlewild students are learning about how our understanding of these Zones can influence the way we interact with others. They will learn to make note of their friends’ triggers, so they can avoid topics that might make a friend upset. Similarly, they also focus on analyzing how changes in their Zone can affect others. A child who starts humming in the Yellow Zone may in turn cause another student to go into the Yellow Zone when they become frustrated by the extra noise in the classroom.

Zones of Regulation in The Middle School and Upper School:

In the Middle and Upper School at Lang, we are moving in the direction of ensuring that social-emotional check-ins become an essential component to the start of classes. In Guidance advisory, students were provided with the opportunity to anonymously label their “entry” feelings/Zones in addition to sharing their “exit” feelings/Zone. For some students, they entered the class feeling “restless”,exhausted” and “excited” and exited feeling something entirely different; students had the opportunity to jot these feelings down on a post-it, and optionally share why they felt the way they did. Turns out, Monday morning classes had a trending set of “tired, exhausted” learners. That data is important for staff to know as they plan their lessons, with intentionality.

When Jimmy, the Upper School History teacher, was asked how he uses the data from students check-ins to differentiate his lessons, he shared that “students are actually sharing more about their feelings, and sometimes they come in stressed from something else- and when that happens, we start off with some less-demanding opener work”. Reading the room and modifying as you go is a critical skill that we are trying to integrate throughout our classes. It is essential for the adults in the building to be labeling the feelings as they come in.

“Oh wow- I just had a super active class just now.

I need a few minutes to get myself back to a Zone

where I can teach comfortably.

I’m going to put on some calming music

and dim the lights for the first few minutes. Okay?”

Zones at Home

Although Zones of Regulation is often taught in a school or therapy setting, teaching and using these concepts in different environments increases the success of the program. Utilizing ZOR at home improves carryover and generalization of learned skills. Here are a few suggestions of how to incorporate Zones at home:

  • Labeling your own emotions (ex: I am feeling frustrated in the Yellow Zone right now because we just missed that train.)

  • Labeling your child’s emotions and physical indicators of each Zone (ex: Your body is jumping around and your mouth is laughing loudly. You must be feeling silly in the Yellow Zone!)

  • Draw attention to strategies that you use to self-regulate (ex: I need to take four deep breaths to help get me back to the Green Zone.)

  • Point out Zone Shifters to your children to improve their self-awareness (ex: That iPad game is usually a Shifter that causes you to get excited and go into the Yellow Zone, so let’s make a plan to wait until after you finish your homework.)

  • Discuss which Zone a character in a film / book might be in. (e.g.: “Dogman looks sleepy. Do you think they are in the Blue Zone?”)

  • Teach your child which tools they can use. (eg: “It’s time for bed. Let’s read a book together in the comfy chair to get you in the Blue Zone.”)

  • Regular Check-ins. “How are you feeling now?” and “How can you get back to Green?”

ZOR helps our students to identify how they are feeling and to expand the vocabulary that they have to describe the many varied states that can exist within a given zone. This more nuanced naming is itself an important tool that students can use to understand how they are feeling and then use to know what tool(s) cna help them to move towards a desired state of feeling. This is just one of the many ways that we work with our students at The Lang School to develop their interdependence, independence and self-advocacy skills.

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