Achieving Well-Being and Success Through Self-Regulation

Area(s) of Focus: well being, curriculum
Division(s): Intermediate
Level(s): Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8

This project helped students develop skills and methods for managing their emotions (stress and anxiety), behaviours, thoughts, attention and focus as a way of improving academic achievement and success, personal well-being, and self-regulation.

Our project:

  • Responded to the elementary report card data for Valley Park Middle School and our Learning Centre that shows a three-year trend of low achievement (67 per cent overall with Excellent and Good) in the area of self-regulation. The data, furthermore, highlights a gender gap in student achievement in self-regulation (VPMS data showing male students with 59 per cent E or G and female students with 76 per cent E or G). This strongly suggests the need for additional support in the area of self-regulation.
    • Our community is comprised largely of new immigrant families who deal daily with the negotiation of ways of living and learning within a new country, school and language, and with various cultures, customs and economic uncertainties. This information necessitates an explicit, intentional and directed focus on the skills that consider the well-being of the whole child.
  • Trained a team of six teachers to become mentors through the smartEducation “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction” training program for educators (K-12) and professional support staff
  • Developed and designed, as a mentor team, “Grab & Go: Mindfulness” resources for teachers which will support the explicit instruction of learning skills
  • Built the capacity for personal growth and professional development for teachers and staff, as well as personal well-being and academic success for students through mentor-teacher modelled classrooms.

Team Members

  • Susie Barraud

    Toronto District School Board

  • Michelle DeMerchant

    Toronto District School Board

  • Hilary Farrell

    Toronto District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

Our professional learning goals surrounded four main areas:

  • Mentor teachers: Learned effective mindfulness instruction strategies through the smartEducation “Stress Management and Resiliency Techniques” nine-session renewal program for educators
  • VPMS Staff: Educated staff on a mentorship-based, model classroom initiative in order to link learning skills to the curriculum (through literacy, health, science, math, the arts) in order to build capacity at the school level
  • Students:
    • Modelled ways for students to build positive, calming relationships, and co-regulation by learning how to respond in a non-reactive way in order to resolve conflicts
    • Provided direct instruction in classrooms through the implementation of various mindfulness stress reduction activities that teach skills of mindful awareness. This instruction will teach students techniques for managing and regulating their own emotions, behaviours, attention and focus, and will support the development and achievement of goals within and beyond the academic setting.
    • Taught strategies that supported the ability to self-assess with an emphasis on wellness, achievement and equity as it relates to the categories of learning skills and work habits on the Ontario report card.
  • Resource: Provided teachers with cross-curricular opportunities for extracting concrete data regarding report card learning skill evaluation

Activities and Resources

Our project has centred on empowering teachers with mindfulness tools, strategies and resources (i.e., “Grab & Go: Mindfulness” resource for teachers) that have given them a variety of curriculum-connected activities and lessons of various lengths and depth that will fit easily within their unique schedules and program goals.

The following activities and resources helped our team achieve our goals:

  • Self-regulation committee meetings (open for all teachers and staff to attend)
  • smartEducation nine-week workshop in Stress Reduction and Resiliency Training for Educators (via University of British Columbia)
    • smartEducation participant workbook
  • Model/demonstration classrooms and one-on-one debrief sessions with teachers to discuss the modelled lesson and future implementation of our “Grab & Go” resource
    • and Calm app, Headspace app
    • Spotify meditations
    • MindUP Curriculum
  • Staff meeting and grade team meetings  
  • Professional Development Opportunities – Mindfulness Lunch-and-Learns, PLC and Book Club (see book/resource list in “Daily Mindfulness Practices” lesson folder)
  • Sharing resources via Google Drive, social media (i.e., Learning Coach (Chris Lee) Twitter account (Lunch-and Learn-live tweet), VPTV Instagram, YouTube and Facebook)

Unexpected Challenges

While our school-wide survey indicates that most teachers agree that explicit instruction regarding the skills of self-regulation is important and worthwhile, there is also hesitancy surrounding how to model and support effective self-regulatory strategies, particularly around meditation and mindfulness. Through dialogue with many teachers, time constraints were indicated as a factor for their willingness or readiness to buy into explicitly teaching strategies to help students regulate their emotions and behaviours through meditative practices. In conversation with one teacher after our model classroom lesson, she spoke about her hesitancy as negotiating the value of spending the time doing the mindfulness activities while considering the time it takes away from class time versus the value of mindful activities in reducing the amount of distracted or disruptive class time. Encouraging teachers to begin this work with their students at the beginning of the year, we believe, will illuminate the benefits that it can have for student success and classroom management.


Enhancing Student Learning and Development

Our project placed equity, well-being and achievement at the centre of our learning goals through an emphasis on:   

Emotion Regulation

  • Working with students to build positive, calming relationships together
  • Co-regulation of rules and emotional responses
  • Teaching strategies and techniques that will increase students’ awareness of internal (emotional) and external (environmental) distractions that make learning more of a challenge 

Mindfulness (Wise Mind)

  • “What Skills”: teaching students to observe, describe and participate wholly
  • “How Skills”: teaching students to be non-judgmental and to consider how the present moment influences their future self

Interpersonal Effectiveness

  • Using behavioural therapy techniques to teach students objectivity when problem-solving, relationship-building and self-respect
  • Developing social skills and relational abilities as an annual program goal for all students

Distress Tolerance

  • Teaching students to self-soothe by engaging their five senses to manage and improve the present moment
  • Teaching students to accept reality and increase their willingness to consider different perspectives


To date, we have shared our information via:

  • Self-Regulation Committee meetings (open for all teachers and staff to attend)
  • Model/demonstration classrooms of mindful strategies for learning lesson (teacher’s choice) and debrief session with teachers
  • Staff and grade team meetings
  • Professional Development Opportunities – Lunch-and-Learns, book club, PLC meetings
  • Sharing resources via Academic Workspace, Google Drive, social media (i.e., VPMS Twitter account, TDSB Learning Coach, Chris Lee’s live tweet feed of Lunch-and-Learn), VPTV Instagram, Facebook and YouTube

Future sharing plans include a continuation of all of the above next year, as well as:

  • Special Day of Mindfulness for SMART Graduates (through Mindfulness Everyday) – June 3, 2018
  • Key to Learn conference – September 2018
  • smartEducation individual professional development workshops and/or nine-session program, hosted at Valley Park Middle School
  • Teacher workshop training with our resource with teachers from our school, as well as our feeder schools in September 2018

Project Evaluation

We feel that our project was a great success. We are able to measure this success through a variety of sources:

  • The 19 mentor teachers who participated in the the smartEducation training found the course to be extremely helpful not only for our personal well-being, but also for understanding how emotional regulation and mindfulness can impact our personal well-being and success as well as that of our students. The teachers found it comforting to have a forum of like-minded individuals with whom they were able to share life’s ups and downs, and especially focus on how an educator’s role often spills into their home life often leaving them feeling burnt out. This course allowed teachers to carve out time to focus solely on ourselves as individuals, in order to understand how to create resiliency and to set daily intentions to be our best possible selves. Teachers who completed the course were motivated to share the strategies and techniques learned and practised with their colleagues and students. It was an incredible experience to have participated in a safe space, our own little community, to be able to share truths, thoughts and emotions freely without fear of judgment or striving. Four of the 19 teachers had previously taken mindfulness courses in the past, while most the remaining teachers said that they would continue to take refresher courses in the future to ensure continued well-being for themselves and their practice.
  • We saw enthusiastic interest from some of our Valley Park staff members during our Mindfulness Lunch-and-Learn, as well as from those teachers who participated in our model classrooms. Overall, most teachers agreed that increased instruction is needed in order to deliver explicit implementation of a mindset shift toward supporting various learning skills and strategies. Teachers feel this is necessary in order for students to self-regulate and change their emotional responses to everyday stressors. However, as stated above in “Unexpected Challenges,” teachers feel the impact of this training is more significant for students if it begins in September.
  • Our Grab & Go resource has developed into a working document that can and will be easily used across a variety of subjects, grade levels and learning communities. Our ability to share our resources with our staff members through the various forums listed above will encourage and support the implementation of mindfulness and self-regulation in the classroom, increasing students’ success and well-being.
  • We were able to assess the impact that our project had on student well-being at a variety of stages.
    • Learning Skill Reflection: Following Progress Reports and Term 1 Reports, classes were asked to take time to reflect on their successes and challenges and to set a few goals to for the upcoming term. Students indicated self-regulation as a common area of focus. They were able to evaluate their own learning needs as well as ways their teachers and parents can support their goals.
    • Learning Skill Data: With the knowledge of Student Learning Skill data as of September 2017 as our baseline, our team will again review the TDSB Learning Skills data of the VPMS student population in September 2018  to assess the implications that explicit instruction around mindfulness and self-regulation can have on students’ learning skill.
    • Entry/Exit Slip: During our Model Classroom Lessons, we asked students to self-assess before and after the lesson with regards to the emotions they were experiencing and their overall ability to manage those emotions. Here are their responses:

NOTES FROM STUDENTS (paraphrases from student responses before and after the Model Classroom Lesson – handout template attached in “Introducing the Mindful Classroom”)

BEFORE: I feel anxiety and stress … want to isolate myself because of all the noise and people at school, and it becomes overwhelming. When I feel stressed, worried or anxious, my plan is just to hold it in until the school year ends.
AFTER: I felt better – I liked being on the “beach”during the visualization meditation … it gave me hope.

BEFORE: She stated that they wanted to talk to her teacher about what she was feeling. She was worried and anxious about having too many things to do today, and worried if I will do what is in mind. I often feel nervous at school because I don’t understand what to do in my work, and not sure what will happen or what to do. My plan is to keep myself down so no one notices, and to act happy, not to show everyone I am sad and just sleep it inside me.
AFTER: I feel chill and calm … makes me sleepy. I will use it when I feel sad or unhappy to make me feel chill. I feel like I want to learn more to not be sad anymore.  

BEFORE: I felt “mad” (this child added this bubble as it was not previously indicated on the handout) because I am at school and not at home. I just wish that the things that teachers teach us could be entertaining and educational at the same time.
AFTER: I feel chill, even though most things that we learn in school are not relevant in my life, but will likely forget about it in a few years, but I can see how these things can be relevant for other people.

BEFORE: I am feeling worried and overwhelmed, I have a ton of work and due dates … always feel like there is something due soon that I haven’t done. Everytime I finish an assignment, I feel like there is something else to do or start … and whole new pile of work drops on me. No time for breaks or time to rest.
AFTER: Feel chill, but still worried and overwhelmed. I am worried and stressed, but relaxed after using that “CALM” situation. I do feel more relaxed, and would really like to do and learn more to feel better.  

BEFORE: I am feeling chill, but kinda anxious. I know I am feeling this way because I don’t know what we are doing exactly and want to get things started in order to feel better.
AFTER: I feel chill now, and like to feel chill after mediation. I will use these skills every day, until school is over.

BEFORE: Overwhelmed and stressed because they have a lot of geo work and test in french.
AFTER: Chill because of the meditation and because they learned many techniques they found helpful, and would use these skills in the future when they are mad at their friends.

BEFORE: Feeling worried and anxious because I have feelings inside myself and I keep overthinking things. At school, I often feel nervous because I don’t want to mess up. I tried to think about something fun or exciting I have planned to try and calm down.
AFTER: I feel chill. I feel like I have nothing to worry about … I felt the lesson was helpful because I can take some belly breaths and take control of the moment. I can just put my head down and relax.   

BEFORE:  I feel overwhelmed and stressed. I have a lot of work and a little time left to finish it.
AFTER: I feel refreshed and like a new person. I think I will repeat this method daily and feel it will help a lot because I often feel stressed and the strategies worked for me.

Overall, we feel like our Grab & Go: Mindfulness resource was as much of a great success as it is a work in progress. As our emotions and day-to-day stressors change due to a wide variety of life circumstances, this resource has the opportunity to give teachers and students a starting point for addressing these situations, while keeping their emotional responses healthy and regulated. Emotions and well-being is something that needs to be talked about, sorted through, understood and not judged. It is critical for us as educators to take a holistic approach to teaching. We need to look at the whole child, as well as the whole teacher. We need to work as a whole community to ensure that our future society is properly equipped to handle what life throws at us, as well as to learn and remember to find the joy, happiness and love in all of the ups and downs along the way, both in and out of the classroom.

Resources Used