My Discovery of Stuart Shanker

Stuart Shanker’s People for Education Keynote address posted on YouTube by TVO kids fascinated me. He has a very engaging and accessible way of speaking. Within the first few minutes I was hooked. I decided to explore his ideas further and located a selection of articles he has written. The links are at the bottom for your perusal.

In, Calm, Alert and Happy written for the Ministry of Education in Ontario, Shanker begins by outlining the tendency for people to confuse self-regulation and self-control and dispel the myth that compliance equals self-regulation. Self-control is more of a means to resist an impulse and may be born out of difficulty with self-regulation. Outward compliance often does not reflect the inner turmoil of the child, who may be quiet but is unable to process anything you are saying because all of their energy is concentrated on being compliant. Definitely, something to consider as a teacher. Compliance does not equal engagement.

Shanker moves on to speak about the development of self-regulation. This part shocked and saddened me a little. He commented that “tactile stimulation that the baby receives when you hold or stroke her release neurohormones that are highly calming; through your voice, your shining eyes, your smiling face, or gently rocking or bouncing your baby when she is fussy, you are laying the foundation for good self-regulation.” My first thought was, this is why my son has trouble self-regulating, I’m a horrible parent. The nights filled with harsh shushes, tears and pleas for sleep……Shanker continues with the next critical stage, Social Engagement and explains how it is important for developing the ability to ‘up-regulate’ and ‘down regulate’ by reading the cues of the child and responding calmly and warmly. Uh oh..

As outlined in his Keynote speech, the Arousal Continuum is found in the article, as are the five primary sources of stress in children’s lives today.

Arousal Continuum

  1. Asleep
  2. Drowsy
  3. Hypoalert
  4. Calmly focused and Alert
  5. Hyperalert
  6. Flooded


  1. Biological
  2. Emotional
  3. Cognitive
  4. Social
  5. Prosocial (dealing with other kids emotions)

He continues by explaining signs of excessive stress-load on children (some of which we may not even consider stress) and three key steps to self-regulation, which include; reducing stress level, developing self-awareness about the difference between calm and hypo- and hyperalert, and to teach children what they can do to return to a state of calm. All important when dealing with students on a daily basis.

As a teacher in Ontario, I’m a little embarrassed I haven’t read this article before now.

The Self-Regulating Student written for Learn Magazine comments on much of the same material mentioned previously with some notable inclusions considering the concepts of motivation and physical space in more detail. For example, it comments that when motivation is internal, the brain produces neurochemicals that provide fuel for the brain. As a teacher this becomes relevant when considering lesson plan and delivery. Also of note, is the time spent on developing your physical space at school for self-regulation. Consider that too much color, too much noise or too much of anything is an obstacle for learning for many kids.

Why Are Canadian Kids So Stressed Out? written for the Huffington Post details how “kid’s sleep, eating, exercise and leisure activities, or their environment – might be adding considerably to their stress load.” As parents and teachers it is important that we identify and reduce the stressor’s in our kid’s lives. One comment from this article I really liked was pertaining to the assumption of ‘strict discipline’ which often increases stress. Shanker comments that “one of the key systems that shuts down under excessive stress is the very one needed for exercising self-control.”

. Stuart Shanker has a very accessible speaking and writing approach that conveys meaning easily to his audience, important if we are to learn from and adopt his ideas. Which I believe we should.


Looking at Some Resources about Self-Regulation

This week, I looked at some scholarly articles (listed below) on Self-Regulation by Zimmerman and Pintrich. The ideas presented in the articles were fairly similar. What stood out for me, as a teacher, was the idea that self-regulation could and should be taught but often isn’t. However, self-regulation ultimately lies in the responsible hands of the student. Teachers can present strategies, give choice and help students reflect on their strengths and weaknesses but the student has to move forward with this information. Below is a video of my comparison, questions and connections.

Pintrich, P. R. (September, 1995). New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Understanding Self-Regulated Learning. Issue: 63. Pages: 3-12

Zimmerman, B. J. (Spring 2002). Theory into Practice. Becoming a Self-regulated Learner: An Overview. Issue: 2. Vol. 41 Pages: 64-70.