Voices in Education

Supporting Students by Showing Up for Ourselves

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Have you ever had one of those days where you felt like if one more thing went wrong that it would push you over the edge? You are not alone! 2020 has felt like 10 years in one, and there is no escaping the stressors of a global pandemic, catastrophic forest fires, school closings, extended quarantines, canceled trips, social distancing, racial injustices and all of the polarity messages we receive from social media on a daily basis. But the story doesn’t have to stop here.

My whole relationship with stress changed once I learned about Dr. Dan Siegel’s Window of Tolerance Model and explored how to widen my window by integrating difficult emotions, feelings, sensations and stressors through his Wheel of Awareness meditation practice. My relationship with stress has transformed from a place of no control to my SUPERPOWER.

What are the implications of the Window of Tolerance for Parents & Teachers? 
We all have different tolerance windows based on our biological nervous system wiring, upbringing, personal relationship with stress, life circumstances, our training, and our interpretation of the world. This determines our relationship of moving from states of chaos and rigidity to more resilience, flow, and strength building. 

When we are in our window of tolerance, we have the ability to show up for ourselves during difficult moments. This then allows us the capacity to help expand another’s window of tolerance by helping them process through their experiences. This is empowering news for parents, teachers, and all other caregiving professionals because we have a superpower to help navigate these difficult times. Expanding our own window of tolerance is our first superpower during a crisis. 

What are the implications of the Window of Tolerance for our children/students? 
Dan Siegel’s Window of Tolerance and Stephen Porges Polyvagal Theory inspired this kid-friendly undersea model.

It intends to help parents and teachers recognize observable signs that a child is out of their window of tolerance, so they can help co-regulate with them and bring them back into a space of optimal learning. We don’t want to shelter children from the experiences of sitting in the discomfort of all of those uncomfortable emotions, but when we meet them where they are at and co-regulate, then they can learn to widen their own windows and build inner strengths & traits. 

Model Description
The fight or flight state in blue, located in the sky, is representative of being in a chaotic state. In this state, the clouds show emotions of sadness and anger, and it might show up as fear, irritation, frustration, panic, anxiety, resulting in tears and outbursts.

The freeze state in dark blue, located at the bottom layer of the ocean, is representative of the rigidity state. The fish show emotions of loneliness, depression, shame, hopelessness and it shows up as being shut down, tired, and detached. 

The social engagement state in light blue, in the middle of the ocean, is where the fish are expressing joy, curiosity, happiness, and are mindful and present. When children are in this state, they feel safe to learn and explore their worlds. 

When children enter the states of distress but are soothed by a caregiver, they can develop the skill-set to re-engage with their worlds, function at their best, and learn to tolerate more discomfort in their lives. 

What do I do with all of this information? 
It’s simple but not easy. Your presence is the second superpower during a crisis. Dr. Dan Siegel defines presence as making sure that children feel safe, seen, soothed, and secure. 

Safe - You avoid actions and responses that frighten them and keep them safe from danger. 
Seen -The child feels as if their inner life is of interest to you. 
Soothed - You can help them deal with difficult emotions and situations. Soothing can only happen when we are in our own “Window of Tolerance.” 
Secure - You help them develop an internalized sense of well-being

The good news is if you react outside of your window of tolerance by yelling or being disengaged, then there is a way to fix it. It simply means that we are human and life happens. If there is a breakdown in the relationship, and we make an effort to fix it or reconnect, then it reinforces the patterns of a securely attached child. Repairing oops moments in relationships is the third superpower. 


Think about how this pandemic is impacting your window of tolerance. Are you fearful that you will get COVID-19 at school and bring it back to your family? Are you feeling insecure about teaching in ways that you were not trained? Are you feeling self-judgment for not teaching in ways that you usually do, but also helpless because of the restrictions COVID-19 has placed on you? Are you feeling grief and sadness about letting down your students and their learning because you are trying to establish new routines and procedures? Are you feeling the overwhelming pressure to catch the students up from what they missed during quarantine months? Are you feeling insecure around being evaluated for your teaching when it’s all new for you, and yet you have so much to cover? Are you feeling overwhelmed about dealing with your own child’s learning and unsure where you should place your focus? You are not alone! Self-Compassion is the fourth superpower. 


Here is a powerful strategy for reframing and building capacity within your window of tolerance by extending a little self-compassion.

Step One: Extend self-compassion to yourself as you think back to when you were triggered and operated outside of your window of tolerance. By simply putting your hand on your heart as you think back to this time, you are releasing oxytocin in your body. Oxytocin is a hormone linked to safety & belonging. 

Step Two: Take a few deep breaths through your nose, allowing the exhale to be twice a long as the inhale. 

Step Three: If you could hit a big reset button and do it all over again, what is one thing that you would want to do differently? 

Step Four: Is there someone you need to apologize to or something you need to do to repair the relationship? We can also apologize to ourselves for being self-critical and self-judgmental. 

Self-compassion doesn’t always come easy but when we frequently practice extending it to ourselves, we acknowledge our common humanity. Trusting and secure relationships are built around compassion, not perfection. And remember, showing up for ourselves is showing up for our students. 

Additional Resources

Anna Keil

Anna Keil Mindfulness Coach https://www.eqembodimenteducator.com/​​

Anna is a certified EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Intelligence Facilitator whose work focuses on the intersection of emotional intelligence, interpersonal relationships, neuroscience of change and wellbeing by using a holistic, mind-body-oriented approach. Anna holds a masters degree in psychology with over twelve years of experience in facilitating change. A former kindergarten teacher, middle school principal, and change leader, with a demonstrated history of working in the education field in North America, South America, Asia and Europe. Anna is currently consulting with Shu Ren International School in Berkeley, California as a Mindfulness Coach for teachers & students. Anna’s mission is to combine insights from psychology and neuroscience into practical strategies that support well-being.

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