Learn with me: Fall 2018 courses and workshops

 

Let’s take some time this fall to dig into trauma-informed education. I would love for you to join me in these workshops and classes – click on the titles below for more information and registrations. Please reach out with any questions!

Supporting Challenging Students: Trauma-Informed and Strengths-Based Strategies (3-credit graduate course)

This is a hybrid online/in-person class (two on-the-ground meetings in Castleton, VT). The course is organized around your own self-reflection as well as an in-depth case study of one of your challenging students. This is an in-depth opportunity to experience a mindset shift and learn alongside a supportive cohort of classmates. Texts include Lost at School and Fostering Resilient Learners.

Teacher’s Trauma Toolbox (September 29, 1-day workshop)

In this workshop, you’ll get a crash course on how trauma impacts children in school and what we can do about it. Equal parts theory and practice, our day will include discussion, reflection, and information that you can use to jumpstart your trauma-informed work in schools.

Book Study: Fostering Resilient Learners (three week online group in October)

Kristin Souers and Pete Hall’s book Fostering Resilient Learners is an accessible, engaging read that will help spark new ideas for trauma-informed implementation. Our book group takes place asynchronously for three weeks with a “live” group video call at the end so we can discuss, problem-solve, and share ideas.

Preventing and Addressing Vicarious Trauma (October 17, webinar)

Working with trauma-affected youth can take its toll on educators. Participants will learn about the differences between trauma, vicarious trauma, and burnout, and about the individual and systemic changes we can make to stay healthy and well in our work with students.

Trauma-Conscious Pedagogy & Reflective Practice (four week online mini-course, 11/26-12/21)

This four-week online mini-course provides you with the opportunity to reflect on how you might align your learning design with trauma-informed practices. This course takes place toward the end of your winter semester; this is a great opportunity to reflect and make changes as you head into the second half of the year.

Personalized professional development, consulting or coaching

Didn’t see something that would meet your needs? Get in touch to schedule customized professional development for your school or organization!

Trauma-informed as a buzzword: where do we go from here?

I was lucky enough to start my career at a school that was trauma-informed from the ground up. Mental health counseling is part of the school’s mission, so every decision was made with that in mind. Because it was my first post-college job, this became normal. I only started to realize how not-normal this orientation was when I started grad school, and soon after, began attending education conferences.

When I first got out of my therapeutic-school-bubble, it seemed like I was the only person talking about mental health and trauma in schools. I wasn’t, of course; there are plenty of organizations, schools and individuals who have been doing this work for a long time. Yet it seemed at the time that we existed in small pockets; it was hard to find each other; we didn’t have a hashtag.

Fast forward to 2018, and trauma-informed education has attained educational buzzword status. Even Oprah is talking about becoming trauma-informed. It seems like every day there is a new book, TED talk, or blog post about trauma’s impact on children in schools.

Part of me says – YES! Finally, we are talking about this. Yet, as with any complex topic that becomes a buzzword, we run the risk of losing meaning and nuance. As more people latch onto the surface-level teachings of trauma-informed work, it’s important to bring them in with intention and thought.

With that, I’d like to offer some suggestions to the growing field of trauma-informed education.

  • Trauma-informed means anti-racist and against all forms of oppression. We can’t be trauma-informed without addressing the trauma of racism, sexism, transphobia, religious discrimination, and all forms of societal oppression. Trauma-informed educators must critically look at their own participation in these systems as well as whether they perpetuate inequitable school structures, and work actively to dismantle them.
  • Trauma-informed education should be one aspect of a holistic approach to mental health. Trauma is one factor in the wider picture of a student’s mental health needs. Trauma-informed teachers should implement universal mental health supports, advocate for funding and access to mental health services, and seek to connect students to resources whenever possible.
  • We need to move beyond ACEs as a shorthand for trauma. I write at length about this issue here; the short version is: ACEs “scores” can be harmful to students when administered by schools and we can do our work in more nuanced ways.
  • “Mainstream” schools have lessons to learn from those who have been working with trauma for a long time. Public schools can and should partner with educators and mental health professionals who have been working in trauma-informed settings for years. Shelter educators, alternative school teachers, those who work with youth in the juvenile justice system – they all have insight and wisdom to offer. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
  • Trauma-informed education and punitive discipline cannot coexist. Zero-tolerance policies, suspensions, shame, and unnatural consequences do not work for students who have been impacted by trauma. These procedures and policies only perpetuate harm and damage the relationships that could otherwise be powerful sources of healing. The same goes for rules that require strict adherence to authority. We need to rethink the structures and environment in our schools, not just our individual classroom practices.
  • Trauma-informed education isn’t a set of strategies. Addressing the impacts of trauma on children is ultimately an exercise in empathy, patience, and flexibility. Although strategies are a good entry point to the work, we must constantly turn our focus to developing the capacity for the mess and challenge that is sustaining relationships with kids, no matter what.

I hope that the momentum around trauma-informed education continues to grow, and that we can carry these truths forward with us. One of the biggest things I learned from my work in a trauma-informed school was to embrace the gray areas and the struggle. That’s what I hope for us all in this movement.

Rules that teach the wrong message

A trauma-informed teacher should encourage non-compliance from her students.

*record scratch*

Say what? Let’s talk a little about power dynamics, rules, and trauma.

When I say that trauma-informed education is a mindset shift, I mean it. We can’t just change the way we teach, or interact with students, or set up our physical spaces. We need to do all of that, and also critically look at and then disrupt the structures of power and control in our schools.

I was surprised recently during my reading about a school that’s been getting some media attention for its shift to trauma-informed practices. One of the articles about this school highlighted their use of consistent rules/expectations across the whole school. Great, I thought, consistency and common language is key. But on reading their rules, I was disappointed to see that one of them read (paraphrased a little): “Accept your teacher’s decisions and don’t question them.”

Hm. Okay. Let’s come back to that in a second. Just this week I picked up a book that purports itself to be “brain-based” and on the topic of support challenging students. Again, I found myself surprised when a few pages in, this book recommended that teachers use a rule that goes (again, paraphrased a bit): “Do whatever the teacher asks you to do at all times.”

Let’s think about this a bit. Child trauma, using the Rice & Groves definition, is the result of overwhelming, negative circumstances that exceed a child’s capacity to cope. Some potentially traumatic experiences are no one person’s fault – for example, a child’s family being displaced because of natural disaster. But many traumas experienced in childhood are directly caused by untrustworthy adults. The majority of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are people within the child’s social circles. Teachers, daycare providers, and other supposedly trustworthy adults are among these perpetrators.

What kind of message does it send when we tell students, “Accept your teacher’s decisions and don’t question them”? What message does it send when a child says “no” and we disrespect that “no” because we are in a position of power to tell them they need to say “yes”?

In the realm of curriculum choices, we also know that teachers sometimes don’t act with the needs of all their students in mind. Think of recent examples where teachers perpetuated dehumanization by asking students to create “runaway slave” posters. What should the student do in a classroom where one of the rules is “Do whatever the teacher asks you to do at all times”? This student now faces a choice: speak up against injustice and be punished for my noncompliance, or participate in something I know is wrong.

Being trauma-informed is about more than helping students after they have already been exposed to trauma. Being trauma-informed means working to make our society a place where fewer people are abused and harmed.

When we teach children to blindly follow the rules of adults, to accept whatever is said and done to them, we are teaching them to accept a position of powerlessness. If we say that adults are always right, children who have experienced trauma internalize the shame that they must have done something wrong. We are putting them in harm’s way when we don’t teach them to trust their own thoughts and feelings. We are ignoring and denying the very real fact that not all adults, and not all teachers, should be trusted.

So what should we do instead of demanding compliance?

  • Explain the “why” behind any requests of students – both proactively, and when they ask. Make it normal to talk about the reasons behind rules and requirements, and to critically evaluate those reasons.
  • Create a clear process for students to express their concerns. Maybe this means carving out class time each week for a community circle, or inviting students to request a check-in with you and another adult and/or student to talk through concerns.
  • Teach students critical thinking skills and how they can effectively communicate critique to those in positions of power. Use real-world examples of how oppressed or marginalized people have used their voices to make change.
  • Model consent and healthy boundaries in your interactions with students and other teachers. “Can I give you a high five?” “Would it be okay if I sat next to you so we can talk about your book project?” Respect when students say “no.” Honor that “no” is a complete sentence.
  • Find ways to share power in the classroom. Create curriculum together. Say you don’t know. Be transparent when you mess up. Hold each member of the community (including you) accountable to the community, not to the rules.

There are many more ways to promote independence, critical thinking, and sense of self in the classroom and beyond. I encourage you to dig into that work. Our children need us to do better than preach compliance.

Learn with me this summer: Trauma-Conscious Teaching book groups

This summer I’m facilitating two online book groups and I would love for you to join me!

About the books

Fostering Resilient Learners

Image result for fostering resilient learnersThis fantastic read, by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall, succinctly and compellingly outlines the basic information and approaches for creating a trauma-informed classroom. Each chapter has concrete examples and great reflection questions. This book is a “quick read,” which is good because you’ll want to read it two or three more times! I highly encourage this book for anyone who’s just getting started with trauma-informed teaching, or for anyone who’s looking to better communicate some of these concepts out to your staff. There are several great activities, metaphors and examples that you’ll immediately want to share with others.

This book group is three weeks long and each week you’ll read about 50 to 70 pages.

The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

Bruce Perry is one of the leading researchers on child trauma. You may recognize his name from his recent segment with Oprah on 60 Minutes. In this book, Perry shares case examples from his career to illustrate how early trauma

Image result for the boy who was raised as a dogimpacts children, and how adults can help in the healing process. This book is for you if you’re looking for more in-depth knowledge on how trauma affects the brain and the body.

This book group is five weeks long and each week you’ll read about 50-60 pages. Please be aware that, because this book uses real and specific examples of abuse and neglect, it can be quite triggering and/or hard to read. In our discussions we’ll build in time and space to process the emotions that come up while reading this book, and I encourage folks reading it to take breaks or skip sections as needed.

Book group structure

Each book group will take place in an online forum through Antioch University. I will be posting the chapters to read for that week along with some suggested discussion questions. Throughout the week, participants are encouraged to respond to discussion questions or post any thoughts, questions or reflections of their own while reading. I’ll also be posting some additional resources

Trauma Conscious Teaching

connected to the theme of the week’s reading.

At the end of each book group, I’ll be hosting a live video chat for participants to discuss our learning, ask questions, and brainstorm next steps in our work. When completed, you’ll receive a certificate for professional development hours, and you can also use your learning for this course toward the Trauma-Conscious Teaching Microcredential.

Any questions?

Please feel free to get in touch, or simply sign up! Click the title of the books above for the link to the registration pages. I hope to learn with you this summer!

 

 

When our students identify with the shooter

“When school shootings happen, why don’t we talk about it?”

This is a question posed by a student group working with Tom Rademacher. It stopped me in my tracks when I read it, in a photo posted by Tom of whiteboard notes from a student activist planning session.

The question, to me, is the whole ballgame of education. When our students want and need to talk about what’s important to them, do we show up? Do we create space? Do we set aside our lesson and just listen? Do we sit in the discomfort, because we serve our students, or do we avoid hard conversations in our own self-interest?

In the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about how our own fears as educators (and people) can drown out our ability to hear what our students are really saying.

In the aftermath of yet another school shooting, we expect that our students are going to be scared. We, as the adults, are also scared. Will I die today in this place? It’s a horrifying question to consider, yet we see images of the victims and can’t help but feel connected. I teach English, too. I would stand in front of my students, too. Our students see themselves: I would send that text. I would speak out if I survived. I would be terrified.

Yet, what do we do when our students see themselves reflected not in the victims, but in the shooters?

In my time teaching at a therapeutic school, many of my students were more likely to be categorized as bullies, not targets. Their “challenging behavior” was often what landed them at our school- or, their original school’s response to that behavior. Many of these students lacked coping skills and healthy boundaries. They struggled to form and sustain reciprocal relationships. Faced with trauma, poverty, mental health challenges, and a whole range of adverse experiences, these students were often in survival mode. Doing the best they could.

Survival mode isn’t inspirational. My students were often unkind. They made awful choices. They lied and lashed out and broke stuff. I cared deeply about every single one of them, even though it felt impossible sometimes. That was my job. I saw the magic in every one of them. Even when they were jerks.

I cared deeply about every one of them. And that care made it possible for me to hear them say “I am going to bring a gun to school” and really listen to what they meant.

As I write this, I feel the tension and I hear objections echoing. “We have to take all threats seriously.” Yes, I agree. “We can’t make excuses for these perpetrators’ behavior.” I agree.

And. Some of our students will read the news and identify with the shooter. They feel lonely and isolated. They feel powerless. They don’t have the skills to cope with the overwhelming feelings. They wonder, “If I did the worst possible thing in the world, would anyone still love me? Does anyone really care that much about me?”

So when a student who I care about says, “I want to bring a gun to school,” how should I respond?

“You can’t say that.”

“Don’t joke about that.”

“I need to call the administrator.”

“I need to call the police.”

Or should I say, “That sounds like a really intense feeling. Tell me more?” Should I say, “I really care about you and it makes my heart hurt to know that you are that angry. Let’s talk about it?” What would it look like to set aside my own fear and let myself empathize with a student who is empathizing with what I perceive as evil?

What would it look like to recognize the complexity of trauma and how victims so often become perpetrators? What would it look like to learn into that messiness and choose empathy instead of fear?

I wish I knew how to identify when a student is reaching out for help or when they have crossed over the point of no return. I wish I knew what the line was – when a student is speaking their truth and seeking connection, and when a student is sharing a murderous plan. I wish I knew how to prevent these atrocities. And I am not making a case against sharing information, reporting, or intervening.

But I’m wondering. When we talk about school shootings, can we be brave enough to recognize that some of our students identify with the shooter? And can we hold them in our care, our empathy, and our curiosity? Can we pull them closer into our community and say, “No matter what awful thing has crossed your mind, you still belong here”?

I don’t know the answers. But I am committed to wrestling with them until we find a better path forward. I am holding all of the victims, past and future, in my heart, and all of my magical, struggling students, too.

 

 

 

“In the real world”

One of the most common lines of resistance when it comes to social-emotional learning in schools: “But what about in the real world?”

I’ve heard this objection over and over in response to social-emotional learning and support strategies in schools. “In the real world, there’s no such thing as a Peace Corner.” “In the real world, no one is going to sit in a circle and talk things out with you.” “In the real world, you don’t get unlimited chances.”

Let’s look a little closer on what it means to invoke “the real world” as a reason not to provide children with social-emotional support.

Real world versus…fake world?

The most obvious objection here is the implication that schools are somehow not “real.” When students spend most of their waking hours on school and school-related activities for at least 13 years, I don’t see how we can argue that this time isn’t “real.” Yes, children are preparing for adulthood – but all of the time they spend on the way to adulthood counts, and students deserve to develop skills and experience supports specific to their time in school.

It’s also essential here to remember that children’s brains are different from adult’s brains, and children developmentally need different support as they grow. Just as you use training wheels on a bike, you also need support as you develop skills to manage your emotions, develop healthy sense of self, and learn to connect with others.

The real world isn’t black and white

One of the common threads of “real world” objections seems to be that “in the real world, there’s no support.” Is this really true? In the “Peace Corner” video linked above, the strategy presented is essentially a way to support students to take a break when things are stressful. Don’t most adults find ways to do this during their work days? We go to the water cooler, we take a quick walk, we space out at our desk for a few moments, we linger on the way to the restroom.

In objecting to restorative practices or alternatives to suspension, the “real world” argument goes that “people aren’t that understanding in the real world.” While this one varies largely depending on context, let’s look at it from the lens of interpersonal conflict (which describes a huge portion of what ends up being “disciplined” in schools). Yes, it’s true that some behaviors may get you fired on the spot. But most of the time, when we mess up in the “real world” we actually do “talk it out.” We meet with our supervisors. We talk things through with our spouses. We get messy with conflict rather than receiving a harsh sentence from above. We need to be able to tolerate frustration, find ways to solve our own problems, and manage relationships.

Another one I’ve heard is, “in the real world, you don’t get do-overs.” Tell that to the many folks who have retaken drivers tests, reapplied for jobs or college admissions, or revised work assignments. Part of the real world often involves the process of evaluating our mistakes and incorporating that reflection into a new course of action.

Whose real world?

There are also cultural assumptions built into the “real world” objections. There seems to be an individualistic stance, an idea that in the “real world” we are all on our own. While this may be the dominant view of white Christian America, the reality is different in other cultures that emphasize connectedness, community, and mutual care. When we perpetuate the myth of meritocracy, kids suffer.

In many people’s “real worlds,” connections are how we survive and thrive. We need to support students to learn how to create and sustain healthy relationships – the “social” aspect of social-emotional learning.

Real world, or a better world?

Most importantly, we should stop talking about the “real world” because it keeps us from talking about a better world. If the premise of a “real world” argument is that the real world is harsh, why would we want to replicate such a world in our schools? From a developmental standpoint, exposing children to harsh conditions causes lasting neurological damage, whereas surrounding children with loving, supportive relationships buffers them from future trauma.

We need to surround them with more caring, not less. And when these children, raised with the confidence that they matter, enter adulthood, they’ll be more equipped to make change. They won’t merely be prepared for the “real world” – they’ll create a better one.

 

Photo credit: Emma Craig, flickr

Learn with me: Trauma-Conscious Teaching Micro-credential

Whenever I run a training, share a blog post, or have a conversation with educators about how trauma affects student learning, I hear the same things: “I want more resources,” “I wish I had learned about this sooner,” “How can I learn more?” Teachers are hungry for information about how to better support our students whose lives and learning are impacted by trauma. Whenever I hear these comments, I’m further inspired to get training and reflection opportunities to more teachers so we can all get on the same page about how our schools can foster change and resilience.

I’m really excited to share that we are launching a micro-credential program for Trauma-Conscious Teaching through Antioch University. This collaboration is taught by myself and mindfulness specialist Robert Black, and open to all as a non-credit-bearing opportunity (you don’t have to be an Antioch student to enroll).

For those new to the concept, micro-credentials are intended to offer personalized, competency-based experiences for teachers, recognizing formal and informal learning. Many places define and structure micro-credentials differently. For our experience through Antioch, the micro-credential involves participation in a series of online and face-to-face workshops, webinars, mini-courses, book studies, and reflection. There are six to seven options; completing five of these plus a capstone reflective project comprises the micro-credential, all centering around increasing our support of trauma-affected students.

The micro-credential is for you if:

  • Small, “bite sized” course opportunities fit your schedule (the longest experience is a 5-week book study)
  • You want to dig into the content, skills, and reflective practice necessary to better support trauma-affected students
  • You are in the vicinity of, or can travel to, Keene, New Hampshire (for now, the in-person opportunities take place there. We hope to eventually offer everything online)

I’ll update this post once we get a full information page up on the Antioch website, but in the meantime you can register for several of the experiences coming up this spring:

 

These dates are just for the first round of the micro-credential – I’ll be updating soon with dates for Fall 2018 and more information about putting the pieces together with a capstone project. You are also more than welcome to take any of the piece “a la carte” without taking the entire micro-credential. Stay tuned and please let me know if you have any question! I hope I’ll see you in one of these experiences to learn together.