OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom® Blog: Trauma in the Souls of our Classrooms – Part 3 of 3

For the last three months I have devoted my OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom blogs to the topic of childhood adversity. I have shared some great resources on this topic.

In part 1: An article called How Teachers Help Students Who’ve Survived Trauma (Lehey, 2014) from The Atlantic – That stated a startling statistic to propel my further research: One in every four students currently sitting in American classrooms have experienced a traumatic event.  In this blog post I shared more statistics of what our country is facing and a few ideas that teachers can do to support children of trauma. Many connections were made with what was suggested and what Responsive Classroom teachers already do.

In part 2, we looked more closely at a great book by Paul Tough called Helping Children Succeed. This booked looks at more research and offered idea on how to offer children of poverty opportunities for deeper-learning experiences such as project based learning. The research that this type of learning actually allow children living in stress opportunities to be in positive classroom culture with autonomy, competence, relatedness, self-directness and a growth mindset. In this blog we also looked closely at the work of Dr. Bruce Perry in a Scholastic article entitled, Principles for Working with Traumatized Children.

The final blog post in this series will offer reader a few other great resources to further their understanding of adverse childhood experience.

The first resource I would like to share is a February 2016 blog post from Edutopia. Author Alex Shevrin’s article Helping Students who have Experienced Trauma offers teachers further ideas and strategies to support children with trauma in their lives. Shevrin starts her article by saying, “When educators talk about “the whole child,” we recognize our students as humans with complex lives that include interests, joys, passions, experiences, fears, needs, and hopes. Sometimes their lives may also include traumatic experiences, either in their past or ongoing even as we interact with them day to day.” Responsive Classroom teachers believe that “knowing the children we teach is as important as the content we teach”. Having the daily Morning Meeting provides the teacher and the student a predictable time to start the day fresh and check in with each other individually socially and emotionally. Shevrin offers the following seven considerations and steps when supporting children with adversities in their life:

  • Absorb the information
  • Recognize emotional truth
  • Be clear about your role
  • Seek to understand “problem behaviors”
  • Coordinate with others
  • Learn from experts
  • Continue checking in with yourself

Read more about these items

That final bullet on “checking in with yourself” is validated by a July 2016 neaToday article by Tim Walker called, Is Stress in the Classroom Contagious? In this article Walker warns teachers to be conscious of their own stress levels. When teachers are in stress themselves, they are not in a place where they can help others in stress.  Read more about teacher stress and the effects in the classroom.

In a June 2016 Washington Post article called, To Manage the Stress of Trauma, Schools are Teaching Students How to Relax author Michael Alison Chandler assert that schools need to help children to relax, and need to be purposeful when teaching this skill or quiet and self-control.  He says, “Neurological research shows that traumatic experiences such as being abused, witnessing a violent crime or even living in a neighborhood where crime is pervasive can transform the developing brain. They alter the chemical balances, making it more difficult for children to concentrate, create memories, and build trusting relationships – all fundamental skills for performing well in school.” (Chandler, 2016) This is causing more schools to reflect upon their zero-tolerance policies for outbursts. “The brain cannot focus with it’s not calm.” Responsive Classroom teachers know the importance of explicitly teaching students how to calm their bodies and emotions. Guiding them in practices of reflection and learning around what it feels like to be calm and be in self-control. Using Responsive Classroom practices such as Rest and Return, Quiet Time and Closing Circle, to name a few, offer children structures where they can reflect and calm themselves. Responsive Classroom teachers might use the Responsive Classroom practice Interactive Modeling along with the think-aloud to guide and assist children in this skill development and give students a visual picture of what being still, relaxed and being in self-control looks like.   Read Chandler’s article more deeply.

Yet another great resource for teachers is provided by the Child Mind Institute. An article by Rachel Ehmke called Anxiety in the Classroom: What it looks like, and why it’s often Mistaken for Something Else, helps teachers see behaviors that they might be seeing in their classrooms and what might be causing it. Ehmke first defines different levels of anxiety such as:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Social anxiety
  • Selective mutism
  • Generalized anxiety
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Specific phobias

She then looks at common classroom behaviors that teachers may witness and offers other possibilities as to why they might be seeing what they see. Read more on this topic

Responsive Classroom are proactive in their discipline and believe that discipline is about learning. Setting the stage for student success during the first six weeks of school is paramount in a positive classroom community. Setting goals for the year and developing rules to assure that everyone’s hope and dream comes true is just the start. Using other Responsive Classroom practices help build teacher competencies of positive community, effective management, engaging academics and developmental responsiveness. I have always known these practices are good for all kids, creating safe, joyful and challenging for every child, every day, but upon completion of my research on childhood adversities, I now know these practices are so important and needed to support the 1 in every 4 who have struggled with trauma in their young lives. I encourage you to share all 3 blog post with your colleagues, this topic is so important for all educators to know and understand.

Read Parts 1 and 2 of this blog series here

Other Helpful Resources

  • The Washington Post “Toxic Stress in the classroom: How Public Health Could Help” by Sheila Ohlsson Walker and Melissa Steel King – June 6, 2016 Read more
  • Kids Matter: Anxiety Read more
  • YouTube: “What Causes Anxiety and Depression” View the video

Patrick Shaw @pshaw63
OCM BOCES – Staff Development Specialist
Certified Responsive Classroom® Trainer by the Center for Responsive Schools (Developers of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning

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