Concentration Tools: Expansion and Acceptance

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March 2015

As students arrive at Arlington’s elementary schools, they embark on a learning journey that includes many components.  Arlington’s classrooms support academic success, but in order to make effective academic progress, children need to learn how to manage their internal states.

In Arlington, as well as in the U.S. as a whole, children are arriving at school with varying levels of self-regulation abilities, based (at least in part) on their earlier experiences, temperaments, maturity levels, and whether or not a child has special education needs.

Elementary students in Arlington are fortunate to be exposed to a variety of social emotional and self-regulation curriculums, including Open Circle, Social Thinking and the Alert Program. These curricula focus on developing children’s social and emotional skills, including communication, self-control and problem solving and to support the development of safe, caring and highly engaging classroom and school communities, creating the best possible environment for learning. Self-awareness and self-regulation are essential for students’ success in the classroom, enabling them to establish solid relationships with peers and adults and accessing the curriculum.


Development of Concentration Tools

The main goal was centered on creating access for all students to simple and effective sensory-based self-regulation strategies within the classroom; through the creation of school/classroom concentration stations the project targeted at a wide a range of children within our student body–not just those with special education needs, but also students who experience anxiety or whose ability to self-regulate needs fostering.

This project was successful in creating school/classroom-based “concentration stations” by providing a classroom “Cool Tool Kits” designed to decrease or increase a student’s physical stimulation so that he or she can maintain focus on learning.

Training/Professional Development

Classroom teachers were trained so that they could identify and support students who could benefit from these practices and tools. Staff education was an essential element to this project. Because teachers come from different educational backgrounds and experience, training or in-class consulting sessions introduced teachers to a common vocabulary for talking with students about how they are feeling and assessing what they may need to assist their bodies and minds to maintain focus across the school day.

Training helped teachers to identify the students who may benefit from these tools and classroom practices. The implementation of this AEF concentration tools grant directly related to the Project SUCCESS US Department of Education Elementary Counseling Grant. This collaboration supported positive outcomes of the concentration tools initiative.

Sustaining Project Implementation

The Project SUCCESS US Department of Education Elementary Counseling Grant provided additional funding for enhancing the Concentration Tools: Expansion and Acceptance grant implantation. The Special Education department has committed to supporting building based Occupational Therapists to replace and enhance the cool tools for the 2015-2016 school year.

Building principals also expressed a desire to support ongoing teacher training to enhance collaboration between classroom teachers, specialists, and other service providers across grade levels within a building to support future access to concentration tools. Professional development and the consulting work done in classrooms is sustainable, as the teachers will grow more skilled over time in finding the best way to provide the correct tool to a student experiencing difficulties.

Implementation Outcome


  • Increased students’ ability to self-regulate by accessing and utilizing Cool Tool Boxes.
  • Students who access the Cool Tool Box have fewer instances of emotional dysregulation and spend more time in their classroom, accessing the curriculum.
  • Decreased stigma associated with utilizing self-regulation tools and strategies in the classroom, by making the Cool Tool Boxes readily available for students and incorporating self-regulation into classroom culture and daily routines.
  • Supported an extension of counseling work, providing a way to support student’s sensory needs, which dramatically affect their emotional state and ability to learn.


  • Provided models of consistent language, expectations and strategies across grade levels and buildings to enhance safe, caring, and engaging communities.
  • Established a common culture throughout the district that emphasizes self-regulation and provides consistent access to resources and tools that students are learning about through the Open Circle, Social Thinking and Alert Programs
  • Fostered a stronger capacity for teachers to support self-regulation and social-emotional growth in their students given the increased knowledge of self-regulation tools and strategies.
  • Reduced parent requests for Special Education evaluation for Occupational Therapy in 2015
  • Focused student support team referrals, given the identification of assessment questions specific to students needs as result of concentration tools initiative.
  • Overall, outcomes of initial special education referral have lead teams to adopt specific accommodations and appropriate specially designed instruction modeled after the concentration tools initiative.
  • Ongoing consultation and direct intervention in general education classrooms supports teachers’ collaborative work with specialists in a more sustained way, so they are better able to understand and support the social emotional needs of their students.


  • Implemented in all Arlington elementary schools
  • Tailored to the needs of each school and the training requirements of the particular school staff
  • Provided participating classrooms a designated cool down space and Cool Tool Box
  • Placed in a designated cool down space within classrooms, available to all students.
  • Contain self-regulation tools, sensory items, and visual aids that students have learned about through the social emotional and self-regulation curriculum. Examples of tools include, inflatable seating cushions, inflatable therapy balls (yoga/balance balls), weighted lap pads, noise cancelling headphones, and silly putty or thera-putty, fidget tools (stress balls).
  • Some schools have adopted designated sensory rooms in the buildings for all students to access under the guidance and support of Occupational Therapists, Social Workers, and teaching assistants.



Excerpt from February 2015 Superintendent’s Newsletter

“Cool Tools” Help Elementary Students Focus and Develop Self-regulation Skills

A lack of self-regulation skills–the ability to control one’s impulses, consider alternative actions, delay gratification and think ahead to possible consequences of an action–has been shown to affect a child’s ability to learn. Recognizing this, and understanding that many children need assistance to develop these skills, our district strives to provide the curriculum and resources necessary to help students focus and regulate their minds and bodies.

In 2014, the Arlington Education Foundation provided a Development and Expansion Grant that enabled us to acquire “cool tools” for all seven elementary schools. Every classroom now has access to sensory-based self-regulation resources that students can use to maintain focus. These simple but effective tools include ball seats, air-filled seat cushions, sensory/fidget manipulatives, noise cancelling headphones and weighted lap pads. They can be used during instructional time with the teacher, during group work time with peers or during individual work times.

Our Occupational Therapists and Social Workers consult with K-5 teachers to support the use of these tools along with other accommodations based on student needs. They target any student who may be seeking external sensory or motor input to help focus, attend and regulate. The consultations also provide teachers the opportunities to assess how the accommodations are working in terms of engaging student learning and to help design instruction. This is part of our overall efforts to provide the support necessary for our young people to be successful in school and later life.


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