APS Column: Getting into the zone

Published 5:41 pm Friday, December 17, 2021

By Derik Gustafson

Southgate Elementary Principal

It’s hard to believe that we are already so close to our winter break at Austin Public Schools! While there have been challenges this school year transitioning back to normal, I am very proud of what Southgate Elementary and our district have accomplished so far.

As we know, a major concern for our staff and our community is the social and emotional needs of our students. After the last couple of years, we have had many obstacles that are in the way of our typical healthy routines at school. At Southgate and several other elementary schools a tool called the “Zones of Regulation” is used to help teach students how to recognize when they aren’t ready to learn and then give them tools on how to get themselves into a space where they are ready to learn again.

“Zones of Regulation” uses different colored zones to help students recognize how they are feeling and their readiness to learn. The four zones are:

• The “Green” zone, which is where students are focused and ready to learn;

• The “Yellow” zone which represents anxiety, restlessness or fright;

• The “Blue” zone which represents sadness or exhaustion; and

• The “Red” zone meaning angry or upset

Our school social worker, instructional coaches, and I visit classrooms to teach what the zones mean and then, more importantly, how to move zones when students identify they are in a mental space where they aren’t ready to learn. Some of the strategies might involve deep breathing, taking a movement break, or speaking with a trusted adult to process why a student might be in a particular zone.

The overall goal of the process is for students self-identify where they are at emotionally and then independently find ways that work for them to get themselves back into a frame of mind where they can learn.

Because all our classrooms use the zones of regulation, it has been an incredible way for us to be consistent with students from the time they enter as first graders until they leave us for intermediate school. As I have done observations throughout the school it is common for staff to be using the language of the zones with the students and modeling the skills used to stay “in the ready.”

My own children attend Austin Public schools, and I have found the zones to be useful in the home setting as well, both to communicate how they are feeling and to help them find ways to regulate themselves.

From Southgate Elementary, we all hope you have a safe and relaxing Winter Break!