Emotional Self-Management: 8 Tips for Educators to Self-Regulate and Co-Regulate Emotions and Behaviors


Author: Camile Earle-Dennis


• What is emotional self-management, self-regulation, and co-regulation?
• Why is it important for educators?
• Why should it be a priority during a crisis?
• 8 tips for educators to self-manage


Recently, we released a blog post about the science behind self-care and outlined 9 science-backed tips that may be incorporated into daily routines to help balance stress levels.

We are happy to report that educators all over the world are practicing many of those tips we shared. We’ve received comments that the simple acts of caring for oneself – many of which take only moments a day – are positively influencing educators’ professional and personal lives.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the science of self-management, why it should be a priority during a crisis, and 8 tips for educators to self-manage by self-regulating and co-regulating emotions and behaviors.

We’ll also share information about Learning Sciences International (LSI)’s services in support of SEL (social emotional learning) and trauma-informed science-backed courses and consultancy options.

We’ve found these aspects of professional development are sometimes neglected in the education field, and we’re passionate about preparing educators to meet the performance demands placed on them at state and national levels.


What is emotional self-management, self-regulation, and co-regulation?

Emotional self-management can be defined as the ability to exercise and model both self-regulation and co-regulation behaviors and emotions.

Self-regulation involves learned methods and techniques that help us balance our own emotions so that we may positively influence our social and professional environments. The key elements of self-regulation include practicing self-care and developing an awareness of yourself and others (emotional intelligence).

Co-regulation means supporting others in dealing with their emotions. Effective co-regulation is grounded in compassion and creates a positive influence in the community, generates synergy from people working together, and helps to create a safe environment where everyone feels a sense of belonging.

When emotional self-management is well-developed through both self-regulation (actions focused on yourself for the betterment of others) and co-regulation (actions focused on others), the results are compassion (a focus on the collective “we”) and collective agency (team efforts striving toward fulfillment of the shared vision and mission).

Acts of compassion occur when you demonstrate kindness toward both yourself and others. This, in turn, creates a safe and productive environment that is driven by a collective purpose.

Teams demonstrate collective agency when they can set goals, drive progress, reflect, and achieve those goals together – serving alongside one another for a purpose greater than any one individual.

See figure 1, which illustrates the progression from self-regulation (beginning with self-care and emotional intelligence) to co-regulation, with compassion and collective agency as the results.

When we are part of something greater than ourselves, then we are operating within a shared mission and vision. This is when we begin to naturally think and operate in terms of “we” rather than “me.” Our actions are driven by what is best for the team, rather than what is best for the individual self. LSI’s Applied Research Center developed courses specifically around the belief that me mirrors we, an understanding which has transformed many school and district teams toward more compassion and productivity.

Emotional self-management elements

Figure 1. This diagram shows the different aspects of emotional self-management. Like an iceberg, most aspects of emotional self-management develop below the surface (internally), which eventually allows the iceberg to grow above the surface of the water – that is what others see and experience (external results). In other words, if you work on developing your individual aspects of emotional self-management including self-care, emotional intelligence, and self-regulation, compassion begins to emerge above the surface, followed by co-regulation and collective agency. The spectrum on the iceberg provides a roadmap – start with self-care and work yourself up through the stages to the ultimate goal, which is collective agency.


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Why is emotional self-management especially important for educators?

Focusing on your own ability to self-manage your emotions and behavior through self-regulation and co-regulation strategies won’t just benefit you – it will also help your students develop these skills.

Child psychologists and social workers confirm that students are dependent on the adults in their lives to model and teach the regulatory behaviors that are crucial to their ability to focus, learn, and manage their own fears and emotions.

Still, there is sometimes an unrealistic expectation that children should initiate the regulation experience even though research asserts that behaviors must be initiated and modeled by adults first.

For example, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families, which was based on extensive literature reviews, described the relationship between children’s self-regulation and adults’ co-regulation:

“Self-regulation in children is conceptualized as being dependent on ‘co-regulation’ provided by parents or other caregiving adults. That is, an interactional process in which a caregiver (i.e., parent or teacher) provides support, scaffolding, and modeling that facilitates a child’s ability to understand, express, and modulate feelings, thoughts, and behavior” (Hamoudi et al., 2015, p. 10).

If teachers don’t receive support in developing co-regulation skills for themselves, then how can we expect them to help their students develop self-regulation skills?

LSI’s Applied Research Center has interviewed many teachers who say they have never received training on emotional self-management, including co-regulation. If teachers don’t receive support in developing co-regulation skills for themselves, then how can we expect them to help their students develop self-regulation skills?

Teachers who never receive training in emotional self-management may also operate from lenses of pity which is on the lower end of the empathy spectrum (more on the empathy spectrum in tip #7, below).

When educators operate from a lens of pity, their expectations for students and even themselves may be lowered and they may lose motivation to excel in their performance. Students, in turn, may mirror this lack of self-efficacy and motivation.

As we will discuss throughout this blog, emotional self-management has a direct effect on teacher and student performances. Failing to recognize its importance risks widening the achievement and performance gaps that we are focused on narrowing.


Why should emotional self-management be a priority during a crisis?

Educator and student emotional self-management during COVID-19 crisisIf you have been tuning in recently to health and well-being news, you may be alarmed at the global statistics on rising stress levels, increased suicide attempts, and increased anxiety and depression diagnoses in both children and adults, in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Psychological Association conducts a survey about stress every year, and the 2020 results were so profoundly concerning that they released a statement warning, “We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) attributed this spike in numbers to the lack of focus and investment in adults’ and children’s emotional and mental well-being (World Health Organization, 2020).

Despite extensive research from psychology, behavioral sciences, and neuroscience on the urgent issue of addressing SEL (social-emotional learning) and trauma-informed needs, many educators do not feel supported in this area.

As teachers and students begin to recover from the pandemic, developing the whole child is as crucial as ever. Where is the investment in educators’ social, emotional, and mental well-being? And where is the investment in their ability to transfer emotional self-management skills to their students?

That is why LSI’s Applied Research Center created Self-Care and Self-Management courses with science-backed tips and coping strategies that may be immediately implemented into educators’ existing daily routines to help equip them with the tools they need to self-regulate and co-regulate for their students and fellow educators.

With the added stresses and demands on teacher and student performances, our teachers know that they need trauma-informed supports to do more than survive. Our teachers need to thrive.

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8 tips for educators to self-manage by self-regulating and co-regulating emotions and behaviors

Adult SEL emotional self-managment


1. Start With Your Why

An important part of emotional self-management is self-awareness. Take the time to remember your individual purpose. Why did you make the decision to serve in the field of education? Remembering the initial why helps us refuel our passions for what we do as educators.

As we pinpoint and remember our personal reasons, a helpful exercise is to visually map your individual whys to the collective whys of your school or district.

One way you can do this is by having each person write their whys out on sticky notes and place them on a whiteboard (virtual or physical). As a team, you can group the sticky notes and align them to the schoolwide and districtwide whys. Reflect on how the personal and collective whys overlap and connect.

LSI offers guided team-based mapping as part of our SEL and trauma-informed courses. We coach individuals and teams to identify their personal and collective strengths and drive their school and district missions and visions forward to meet the needs of all children and teachers.


2. Make a Commitment

Once you establish the personal and collective whys, it’s time to focus on making commitments. You can choose to make a commitment to your personal and collective whys, your team, and the children you serve.

When we make commitments, we have a go-to that keeps us focused on our collective purpose and goals. Commitments help us remember that we must persist with a “can-do” attitude as we engage in this essential work for children – especially during crisis.

In our LSI SEL courses, we guide participants to put their commitments in writing and share those commitments with fellow teammates and students. We provide strategies for keeping your foundational whys close so you can reread, reaffirm, and recommit as many times as necessary.


3. Shift Your Mindset

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck reminds us that “when we have a ‘growth mindset,’ we believe that our intelligence, creative abilities, and character are things that we can improve in meaningful ways. We can always learn and get better at what we do” (Economy, 2018).

This is especially true in times of crisis. For many educators, 2020 has been the most trying time of their careers. Our Applied Research Center has interviewed many teachers who say virtual teaching makes them feel like first-year teachers all over again.

Through these challenges, it’s important to direct our energies into leveraging our collective strengths in an effort to expand our talents.

Dr. David Eagleman, neuroscientist, and author of Livewired, explained the importance of taking on challenges through the concept of brain plasticity. Eagleman asserts, “if you challenge yourself, if you are constantly facing new tasks and challenges that you’re no good at, you are building new roadways and bridges [in your brain]” (Brown, 2020).

In LSI’s SEL courses, we guide participants through the power of tapping into their existing resiliency and the resiliency of their teams and students to build the roadways and bridges that Dr. Eagleman speaks of, so educators can successfully shift their mindsets.

A participant in one of LSI’s courses shared: “It is important for us to discuss how to take care of ourselves and our colleagues. This will help guide us in the right direction to make school a better place for our students.”


4. Breathe

Trauma-informed practices teach us that focusing on our breathing can help clear the mind of distractions and renew our energy so we can reconnect with ourselves and the world around us.

The art of breathing has immense self-regulation and co-regulation benefits. Educators can model breathing exercises for students, incorporating them into their daily classroom routines. Students need to see the adults in their lives model regulatory behaviors so that they may adopt and follow them too.

Similarly, when district leaders and school administration are engaged in regulatory behaviors such as breathing exercises, they too serve as a model for classroom teachers. This creates and fuels the positive synergy that is required for healthy and equitable adult and student learning communities that drive collective missions and visions forward.

In LSI’s Self-Care and Self-Management courses, participants learn the art of breathing exercises and composure techniques and walk through the process of utilizing breathing techniques to regulate emotions. Our breathing and composure techniques create a sense of calm and promote clarity and focus. SEL and trauma-informed expert Rebeccah Potavin leads this process and brings her yoga and mindfulness training into the interactive and reflective space.


5. Model the Change You Wish to See

Indiana University Health is taking part in addressing the global wellness initiative and is a great example of modeling the change you wish to see. They posted signs in their waiting rooms and entryways to remind patients to regulate their behavior. One sign reads:

Take responsibility for your energy

From a photo posted by Maarten van Beek (2020) via LinkedIn.

This sign references the synergy or collective energy of co-regulation. Sometimes, simply being reminded that your own energy affects other people can be enough to boost your own self-regulation – and in turn, your co-regulation with others.

Educators might consider posting similar signs in their classrooms or offices to remind students or colleagues to be mindful of their energy. Educators can model the behaviors they wish to see in others and can even talk through their processes for self-managing their emotions to make it explicit for students.

In LSI’s SEL courses, our facilitators are mindful of modeling the change we wish to see as well. In one of our recent Self-Management courses with trauma-informed expert Victoria Goodyear, one participant shared, “The facilitator was perfect for the content that she was discussing. She possess[es] empathy, compassion, great leadership skills, and everything that a good role model obtains. I enjoyed listening to her and learning from her.”


6. Keep Calm

We are probably all familiar with the hashtag mantra #KeepCalm. Yet, are we familiar with the methods that we may utilize to do so?

An important facet of self-regulation is recognizing one’s emotions. Many self-help and trauma-informed organizations teach the practice of “H.A.L.T.-ing” to help gauge the source of one’s emotions.

HALT: Hungry, Angry or Anxious, Lonely, and Tired

H.A.L.T. stands for Hungry, Angry or Anxious, Lonely, and Tired. It encourages us to ask ourselves which emotion(s) we may be feeling to better understand how we may self-regulate.

How do you use the H.A.L.T. tool?

For example, you may recognize that you are feeling lonely and attribute that feeling to social isolation. You can make the choice to engage in an activity that provides a sense of belonging. It can be as simple as giving an authentic compliment in a group team chat in your virtual work environment or to a family member or friend you have not seen through a text message. This simple act can help regulate and balance your emotions all while promoting co-regulation within the same setting.

Take a moment to practice this H.A.L.T.-ing exercise. What are you currently feeling? Can you pinpoint the source of your feeling? If so, what are some things you could do to help alleviate that feeling and self-manage your emotions?


7. Lead with Compassion

Sometimes we have to focus our energy on communicating with compassion rather than authority in order to get through to others and help them feel understood.

Four stages build up to compassion (Gibbons, 2019):

      1. Pity (“I’m sorry for you”)
      2. Sympathy (“I feel for you”)
      3. Empathy (“I feel with you”)
      4. Compassion (“I am moved by you”)

Effective emotional self-regulation requires operating from compassionate lenses, rather than lenses of pity and sympathy. Those of us who have been victims of the pity lens know too well the debilitating effects of low expectations and biases.

But engaging with others from compassionate lenses is not something that can be done overnight. Rather, it is a progression – a process that requires increased efforts alongside understanding and engagement.

When we lead, teach, and engage with one another through lenses of compassion, then we may ignite the equitable learning communities that are necessary for us to thrive rather than merely survive within crisis. When you help your students and colleagues feel safe through compassion, they can more freely innovate and tap into their hidden talents and creative outlets.

Here are a few tips for developing compassion lenses:

      • ENCOURAGE: teamwork, collective missions and goals, innovation, communication, creativity, challenge as opportunity, and growth
      • MINIMIZE: competition, judgment, bias, envy, gossip

When your students see this example of compassion modeled in the adults around them, they mirror the behaviors and engage in similar practices with their peers.

In LSI’s Journey Through Empathy course, we guide participants through a transformative progression toward empathy and compassion. We help participants to embrace change and the discomfort that comes with it as we grow for ourselves, our teams, our children, and the communities we serve.


8. Invest in Your People

The Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) recently shared that, “During these times, we may struggle to self-regulate, or in other words, manage our internal feelings and emotions in order to meet the demands placed on us within the social context.” CPI also shares that students’ “delays in self-regulation skills are all too often mistaken by others as a ‘behavior problem’” (Kuypers, 2020, p. 2).

While students struggle to self-regulate – and teachers struggle to help them through co-regulation – classroom learning environments may become increasingly stressful.

According to a recent survey of 2,000 working adults, the average age for experiencing career burnout is 32 (Safety and Health Magazine, 2020). Considering that many teachers begin their careers at approximately age 25, burnout is a potentially dire issue for districts.

While many districts and schools recognize that developing teachers’ instructional capacities must be a priority, not all of them invest in developing teachers’ social-emotional and trauma-informed needs. It’s important to consider both instructional and SEL capacities a priority as districts strive to lessen teacher burnout.

In fact, teacher’s well-being is likely closely tied to students’ academic performance. One study found that classes taught by teachers reporting higher levels of emotional exhaustion had lower average levels of student academic achievement. Students’ perceptions of teacher support and school satisfaction were also negatively affected (Arens & Morin, 2016).

Investing in teachers’ emotional self-regulation skills means you are also investing in your students’ learning.

A research brief from the Pennsylvania State University found that for every $1 spent on social-emotional learning initiatives, there is an $11 return on investment (Dusenbury & Weissberg, 2017). While states and districts are focusing their spending dollars on much needed instructional supports to narrow achievement gaps, are some of those critical dollars also being allotted for social-emotional learning and trauma-informed supports to receive the 11:1 investment return?

Social-emotional learning return on investment 11:1

LSI’s Applied Research Center is listening to teachers and has developed courses to meet their needs around SEL and trauma-informed teaching with our self-care and self-management courses and free resources.

In the words of one of our expert facilitators, Gary Hess, we want educators who are on the frontlines to know that “we see you” and that we stand alongside you in support of what you do and what you need to be successful in your classrooms and schools.

We encourage you to stay connected to us as we strive to meet the SEL and trauma-informed needs of the field. Join our Facebook Page and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.  We encourage you to check back regularly to learn more about our SEL offerings and field supports and look forward to seeing you soon in our SEL and trauma-informed courses.


Self-Care and Self Management Courses

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American Psychological Association (2020). Stress in America™ 2020: A National Mental Health Crisis. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report-october

Arens, A. K., & Morin, A. J. S. (2016). Relations between teachers’ emotional exhaustion and students’ educational outcomes. The Journal of Educational Psychology, 108(6), 800-813. https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Relations-between-Teachers%27-Emotional-Exhaustion-Arens-Morin/04fba7beeb78487f12c486a1c97ff28fe4e2fc3c

Brown, B. (Host). (2020, December 2). Brené with David Eagleman on the inside story of the ever-changing brain [Audio podcast transcript]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Brené Brown Educaction and Research Group. https://brenebrown.com/transcript/brene-with-david-eagleman-on-the-inside-story-of-the-ever-changing-brain/

Dusenbury, L., & Weissberg, R. P. (2017). Social emotional learning in elementary school: Preparation for success. Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center, Pennsylvania State University. https://www.rwjf.org/en/library/research/2017/04/social-emotional-learning-in-elementary-school.html

Economy, P. (2018, September 6). 17 growth mindset quotes that will inspire your success and happiness. Inc. https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/17-growth-mindset-quotes-that-will-inspire-your-success-happiness.html

Gibbons, S. (2019). Sympathy vs. empathy in ux. Nielsen Norman Group. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/sympathy-vs-empathy-ux/

Hamoudi, A., Murray, D. W., Sorensen, L., & Fontaine, A. (2015). Self-regulation and toxic stress report 2: A review of ecological, biological, and developmental studies of self-Regulation and stress. OPRE Report # 2015-30, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.researchconnections.org/childcare/resources/30358/pdf

Kuypers, L. (2020). How to support self-regulation across disciplines. Crisis Prevention Institute. https://www.crisisprevention.com/CPI/media/Media/download/PDF_SRAD.pdf?_gl=1*ufccci*_gcl_aw*R0NMLjE2MDgwNDQ4NDIuQ2owS0NRaUEydUgtQlJDQ0FSSXNBRWVlZjNuWVhwU1MweHItWU5SMkpJbXlxNVFFMUs0NTNwQXNSYUd0SlJZSlVqV0kzREZJenpvRWhaQWFBbTA4RUFMd193Y0I

Safety and Health Magazine (2020). UK survey explores worker burnout during COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/20475-uk-survey-explores-worker-burnout-during-covid-19-pandemic

van Beek, M. (2020, July 28). I truly love this sign, and the message it gives. It could (should) be at every organization. At every store [Image attached] [Post]. LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/posts/maartenvanbeek_i-truly-love-this-sign-and-the-message-it-activity-6692922575544193024-p3RQ/

World Health Organization (2020, October 7). Global challenge for movement on mental health kicks off as lack of investment in mental health leaves millions without access to services [Press release]. https://www.who.int/news/item/07-10-2020-global-challenge-for-movement-on-mental-health-kicks-off-as-lack-of-investment-in-mental-health-leaves-millions-without-access-to-services


Joys and Affirmations

A special appreciation to our CEO and visionary leader, Mr. Michael Toth, whose relentless belief in the capacity of all children fuels this essential work.

A warm appreciation to Taylor Barahona, Editorial Assistant to the CEO, whose enormous investment in our guided research and unwavering commitment to helping us share our findings with the field have been both encouraging and inspiring.

A heartfelt appreciation for our SEL team who I have the honor and privilege of serving alongside. Thank you for serving the field behind the scenes and on the frontlines to support and guide districts and schools with their SEL needs. You bring joy to this work.

    • Melissa Bloom, Executive Director, Evaluation and Strategic Partnerships
    • Gail Charles-Walters, Staff Developer
    • Claire Erwin, District Partnership Representative
    • Victoria Goodyear, Staff Developer
    • Gary Hess, Staff Developer
    • Jan Matthews, Staff Developer
    • Shawn Merriweather, Staff Developer
    • Rebeccah Potavin, Staff Developer
    • Susan Schilsky, Staff Developer
    • Lorie Spadafora, Staff Developer
    • Maria Thomas, Operations Manager, Evaluation and SEL

We would also like to extend our appreciation to our Scheduling, Research, Marketing, and Sales Teams who are extensions of our SEL team. We appreciate your support and shared commitment to our SEL vision. We cannot drive this essential work without you! Together, we are One LSI. We are One Team. We are LSI Family Strong!


About LSI

Our vision for education is to close the achievement gap. Equip all students with the social, emotional, and cognitive skills they need to thrive in the 21st century. Expand equity by giving every child access to rigorous core instruction that empowers learners to free themselves from generational poverty.

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