Sonoma County Office of Education

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Teachable Moment: Regulating Emotions in Dani Eaton's Classroom

10/21/2019 -

Dani Eaton's classroomSCOE Special Education Teacher Dani Eaton leads a class for second and third-grade students with emotional and behavioral disabilities at University Elementary in Cotati. Many of her students have experienced some kind of trauma in their young lives. Her goal is to use trauma-informed strategies to help students learn coping skills and self-regulation strategies. One tool that is a keystone of her instruction is a curriculum called Zones of Regulation.

“This program helps to teach students that we can’t always control what happens to us in our lives, but we do get to decide how we react to it,” she says.

Dani uses this curriculum to start out each morning on the right foot with an activity called Morning Zones of Regulation. Zones of Regulation is all about helping students identify their emotions so that they can use the proper tools to cope with them. The program compares the body to an engine and breaks down emotions into four different zones, ranging from the blue zone (emotions that make your engine go slower) to the red zone (emotions that make your engine out of control).

“We start the year learning what emotions go in each zone,” Dani says. Then, she takes pictures of each student acting out these different emotions. The pictures go on a classroom wall so that students can reflect on how their bodies react to different emotions. Each morning, students take turns sharing what emotional zone their engine is in. Then they try to figure out what emotion is causing them to be in that zone, and what is causing that emotion.

Over the course of the year, they move from learning to identify their emotions to learning strategies to address those emotions and get them into the green zone, where the body is running just right. The repetition and consistency pays off, with kids eventually becoming experts in how the program works, says Dani.

“The curriculum becomes more effective over the course of the year,” she says.