Getting the attention of elementary students can sometimes feel like an extreme sport, and maintaining it can feel like a circus act. While I generally strive to start my day as Mary Poppins, my students' unwillingness to listen can quickly send me spiraling toward Supercali-fury.
So, why is it that even the most tried and tested attention-getters work for our programs... until they don't?
If you've clapped without receiving any recognition, to the point where you felt like an unhinged seal about to take flight...
If you've asked them to place their hands on top, yet not a single student stops... then this article is for you.
But first, let me clarify. Traditional call and responses have their place. I love that 'hands on top, that means stop', in particular:
a) is universal
b) is simple and rhymes
c) is a quick way to convey a message to recognize and validate positive behavior.
But what could be even better?
During those moments when disruptions are high, students are unfocused, which causes conflict, outbursts, and other escalated behaviors... simply saying 'stop' will not address the underlying cause.
Connection-seeking behavior is a message that our students are dysregulated. So when little Johnny and his crew prefer to sing a song about pickles during their collaborative project, or do the wave as you try to get through a lesson on heart words, they are just sending signal that there are unmet needs that they don't yet know how to communicate.
The good news is that we can decrease the likelihood of interruptions and off-topic behaviors by giving our students more opportunities to regulate through breathing or movement. Simultaneously, we can reduce our own stress and frustration by creating space for the same, thanks to co-regulation.
Co-regulation is the most powerful tool in our classroom management toolkit, and it serves as the foundation for a system I created that is as simple as it is fun, yet goes a step further in helping us stay grounded.
How it works:
Choose one of the two call-and-response prompts from our SEL attention grabber pack: either 'Knock Knock Breathe & Stop' or 'Ding Dong Find Your Calm,' and hide a breathing buddy behind the door.
The buddy behind the door (e.g., the shark with shark breaths) will be the secret visitor for the day or week.
I typically keep the door closed as students arrive (as a little incentive for them to come to class for mindful morning work quicker), and I reveal one of the 26 breathing buddies during our morning meeting. As a group, we review the breathing exercise associated with the special visitor.
It then goes something like this:
Me: Knock Knock
Them: Breathe & Stop
Together: We engage in the breathing and movement exercise of the character who's paying us a visit.
Me: Ding Dong
Them: Find Your Calm
Together: We do the action and breathing exercise of the character who's visiting us.