Resource Overview

We are in the midst of a revolution in educational thinking and practice. Scientific advances in a number of fields point to a similar argument—that how well students do in school can be determined by how well they are able to self-regulate. Some theorists believe that self-regulation should now be considered a more important indicator of educational performance than IQ (Blair & Diamond, 2008; Duckworth & Seligman, 2005; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000).

So what is self-regulation and what does it look like in your classroom?

Educational research in the area of self-regulation has been largely concerned with such matters as a student’s ability to set goals and monitor progress; seek clarification or assistance when needed; assess and reflect critically on personal learning strengths and weaknesses; and employ learning strategies and aids to assist in problem solving (Zimmerman, 1994). These traits are especially relevant to the adolescent learner. Indeed, the neural systems related to these functions are amongst the last to mature in the growth of the human brain. But over the past decade our understanding of the development of self-regulation in the early years, which lays the foundation for these higher metacognitive functions, has moved forward in a number of domains.

One of the best sources of research on these foundational aspects of self-regulation is Roy Baumeister and Kathleen Vohs’s Handbook of Self-Regulation: Research, Theory, and Applications (2011). In the handbook, the various authors involved describe self-regulation as the ability to

  1. attain, maintain, and change one’s level of energy to match the demands of a task or situation
  2. monitor, evaluate, and modify one’s emotions
  3. sustain and shift one’s attention when necessary and ignore distractions
  4. understand both the meaning of a variety of social interactions and how to engage in them in a sustained way
  5. connect with and care about what others are thinking and feeling—to empathize and act accordingly

When we think of students who are successful in our classrooms, we see evidence of these abilities. When we think of students who are less successful, we can just as easily see evidence that one or more of these abilities needs strengthening. Perhaps a student cannot break her attention on a task to start to listen to her teacher. Another student may be desperate to have friends but constantly misses the social cues his peers provide. Both students exhibit difficulties in domains of self-regulation.

Self-regulation is increasingly being seen as essential for enabling children to respond efficiently and effectively to the everyday challenges they face in and out of school. The better we understand self-regulation, the better we can implement educational strategies that enhance students’ capacity to learn and develop the skills necessary to deal with life’s challenges. Many of us are at the beginning of this journey and no doubt will learn much more about self-regulation and how we can enhance it in every child in every classroom. For now, I hope this resource will provide a foundation for understanding what self-regulation is, what it looks like, and how to foster it in your classroom.

The Five-Domain Model of Self-Regulation

In this resource, we look at self-regulation through an exploration of five domains:

  1. The Biological Domain
  2. The Emotional Domain
  3. The Cognitive Domain
  4. The Social Domain
  5. The Prosocial Domain

In each of us, there are complex links between and among these five domains. We will explore those links more deeply in the chapters that follow. To get started, we will outline each domain. Keep in mind that, throughout this introduction and the following chapters, our primary goal is to help students to achieve optimal self-regulation, a state of calm focus and alertness appropriate for learning in a classroom.

There are six critical elements to optimal self-regulation. These elements span the five domains and represent, in a concise way, what we hope we can help you to move toward with your students.

Six Critical Elements to Optimal Self-Regulation

  • when feeling calmly focused and alert, the ability to know that one is calm and alert
  • when one is stressed, the ability to recognize what is causing that stress
  • the ability to recognize stressors both within and outside the classroom
  • the desire to deal with those stressors
  • the ability to develop strategies for dealing with those stressors
  • the ability to recover efficiently and effectively from dealing with stressors