Moments of Mirroring — Looking to our Nervous Systems in School, Work & Caregiving

I’ve been having one recurring conversation.

Within my communities of caregivers, academics, and working professionals, one area of my skill set has been called upon in particular, and it has nothing to do with my pedigree.

Strangely, it has to do with my nervous system.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon this meme on Edutopia.

It read, “It’s not “social emotional learning” and “academic learning”. It’s just learning…they’re interdependent.”

Quoted was principal Amy Fast, in league with educators seeking to translate a growing body of research that challenges some of our tried and true assumptions about little brains and bodies.

Just afterwards, this headline caught my eye.

The Ability to Regulate Your Emotions is Quickly Becoming the Premier Skill of the 21st Century

By Thomas Oppong

In his medium post the author references several researchers, stating plainly that emotional regulation has become the fastest growing area of study within Psychology, as we’re getting better at articulating the skills that it underpins — things like emotional intelligence, impulse control, reactions to stress, concentration, social behaviors, mental resilience, self-awareness, and situational awareness and responses.

Within the fields and topics of trauma, neuroscience, counseling, parenting, organizing, family science, public health, mental health, relationship health, organizational behavior, higher education, entrepreneurship, caregiving, education reform, human development, child development, and trends in the work place, this concept of regulation is rising to the top of our attention — whether in research or out of our own experiences or those noted by practitioners.

So, what are we really seeing play out?

What is different about how this term is being referenced, and why is that key?

What would taking this research seriously ask of us?

What could be different, if anything?

My pithy answer is, well, everything.

I’m reminded of an anecdote from a few years ago in the context of a K-12 school.

I was experimenting for the first time with extending a youth development centered student group to elementary aged students, and had partnered with a small group of administrators to initiate a pilot.

Twenty-five fourth and fifth graders volunteered to spend their lunch and recess time once a week with me, learning alongside each other how to practice advocacy, and emotional regulation. Every day if I’d offered.

A classroom would be redesigned to assist us in building this microcosm.

Things would be tactile; movement would be encouraged.

Collaboration would be embedded, and activities that nurtured self-knowledge.

Gradually the adult would transition to be less of an authority, as a culture of peer accountability was birthed, and alternate norms established and embraced.

Fluidity would be encouraged, without compromising a stated culture with articulated values and ways to practice them.

Not coincidentally values that required environment design, facilitation, relationships and individuals to opt into changing their behaviors, and engaging consistently from a place of self-awareness and emotional regulation.

The space itself would have to assist in this, and as it did, individuals’ tools for emotional regulation grew in kind.

A viewpoint emerged that recognized that spaces are normed, and those norms can be chosen.

The positive feedback loop was maintained by the positive self-regard that students felt as a result, not just towards themselves, but towards the culture and relationships they had adopted and cultivated in a short period of time. Within one school year.

When it came time to plan to continue the school club, administrators declined to continue, in spite of unanimous support from students.

The rationale? Because it was difficult to evaluate.

It turns out that our lens of evaluation means something too narrow, and much of that has to do with our false separation of social-emotional learning and all other areas of knowledge.

We falsely believe that we can practice norms in one framework, without them influencing how we are and what we need to learn everywhere else.

We falsely believe that we can invest in emotional regulation, without having to change anything else.

We naïvely carve out exceptions to our general operating, and wonder why they so regularly fail to mature.

We wonder why our spaces remain so white, so inaccessible, so poorly adjusted to stress and crisis, or individuals with those histories and present needs.

We wonder how we can take what both our lived experience and research are telling us, and keep it in its own lane culturally and practically.

The conversation I’ve been having can be summarized in three words.

Why you can’t.

Emotional regulation is a cultivated, interior capacity, and it is gained through practice and environments that are fundamentally changed in how they’ve been normed.

The space changes, and two things happen next.

People arrive, and skills are invested in.

The people, with their additional skill sets, then realize that they have choice in what they value.

That, I would insert, opens up everything.

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Amanda Lindamood

Writer. Thinker. Facilitator. Advocate. Invested in accountability for power based violence, creative initiatives, and meaningful, nuanced dialoguing.