Sunshine, Skills, and Solutions

by Dr. Rick Robinson

Sunshine, skills, and solutions

For most of you, the school year has ended, and perhaps enough time has passed that your fatigue is being replaced with a bit of energy and focus on recreation, gardening and other such things. I wanted to share a couple of thoughts you might find helpful as we move into summer.

About 10 years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a training program that was conducted by Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading expert in the field of child maltreatment and trauma. He introduced us to a concept, “State Dependent Functioning,” that has not only informed my practice in working with children and adolescents, but also hinted at ways an enjoyable summer in the sun can help me develop my own skills and tackle unsolved problems that will crop up again in the fall.

So here’s the science…Dr. Perry notes that the brain is designed to monitor internal input from our bodies and external input from our environment, and then direct actions that help us survive, maintain homeostasis as well as a balanced state. Now, depending on the nature of the incoming stimulus, different parts of the brain regulate our functioning. Here is the interesting part-when our brain receives information that we are not hungry, thirsty, or cold, that we are in a well-balanced state and that we are in a safe and stable environment, we can be calm. When we are in this calm state our thinking can be creative, complex and future oriented. We have the ability to reflect on what we have learned, and put this information together in new and unique ways. Dr. Perry notes that this calm reflective state is associated with the majority of human creativity and innovation.

This information resonated with my own experience-that I often struggled to solve difficult problems during the “heat” of the school year. Indeed, Dr. Perry notes that as the world becomes more complex, novel and we have tasks on which we need to focus, we enter what he calls an “active alert” state where our thinking becomes more concrete and present focused.

Here’s what I started doing. A week or so after the school year ends, and I feel myself beginning to spend a bit more time in a calm state, I write down two or three problems to be solved. Then I leave my short list on my work-space at home, in a spot that I will see this reminder every few days. My goal is to periodically prompt my mind to continue, “percolating” on solutions when I am in calm and well-balanced states. I have found that ideas and solutions will just seem to pop-up when I am sitting around a camp-fire, rowing a drift boat or manning the grill for a meal with friends.

I encourage you to give this process a whirl this summer and see what happens for you. In July and August I will share some additional ideas derived from Dr. Perry’s concept of “State Dependent Functioning.” Later this month we will revisit day-to-day regulation strategies that you can utilize to manage your own stress response system. I will have couple of posts in August that you can consider as you prepare to build a classroom architecture that emphasizes predictability and relational safety to support calm states for you and your students.

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