Chapter 8: Implementing Trauma-Informed School Practices in the Classroom

Hands holding incandecent lightbulb
[Image: Riccardo Annandale | Unsplash]

 

 

“Yesterday I was clever, so I changed the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” —Rumi

 

 

Desired Outcomes

This chapter specifically focuses on Phase I implementation strategies for classroom teachers. The information is also helpful for all educators, regardless of role, as understanding the shift in culture and practices within the classroom allows you to envision ways to support classroom teachers as well as adjust your own work with students. At the conclusion of this chapter, classroom teachers will be able to:

  • Begin implementing Phase I practices into the classroom
  • Utilize their TISP support network to review and reflect on initial implementation efforts
  • Identify system networks and resources that are working and have yet to be developed
  • Identify key indices of student responsiveness to Phase I activities

Key Concepts

In Chapter 7, educators within all levels of the school system laid the preliminary groundwork in preparation to implement trauma-informed practices. This chapter addresses the specific goals and tasks of classroom teachers implementing Phase I practices into the classroom. Key concepts reviewed include:

  • Revisiting the rationale behind creating attachment-focused classrooms
  • A review of the nature of change as a scaffolded, developmental process over time
  • Attachment as attunement and mentoring, with primary focus on what attunement looks like the classroom
  • Further development of the classroom teacher’s Action Plan in anticipation of heading into Phase II processes

Chapter Overview

In Section I, we explored the crisis that exists in most K-12 classrooms today, with many traumatology and education professionals surmising that unmitigated stress and trauma are primary disrupters to student readiness to learn. We dug deep into the content domains that comprise trauma-informed concepts, with primary emphasis on the nature of attachment relationships and its role in neural development, a key factor that enables students to engage in the challenges of social-emotional and academic learning. Advances in trauma-informed knowledge and practice, together with the alarming data emerging from ACE studies, are forcing all social systems to re-examine overt and covert values and practices, and acknowledge that the way we have organized ourselves or functioned in the past no longer works today.

Education systems have now joined this movement. By choosing to become a trauma-informed educator, you are indicating that you have absorbed the underlying trauma-informed knowledge—the data, the social and behavioral science content domains—and are ready to transform your school or classroom into a trauma-informed space to maximize a student’s potential to learn. By choosing to become a trauma-informed educator, you are indicating that you have absorbed the underlying trauma-informed knowledge—the data, the social and behavioral science content domains—and are ready to transform your school or classroom into a trauma-informed space to maximize a student’s potential to learn. In the previous chapter you identified the preliminary tasks that each element of the school system needs to address in order to make this transition a success for both educators and students. It illustrated that it is a team effort—no one role can do this alone.

This chapter addresses moving to the actual implementation of Phase I of TISP within the classroom. It focuses primarily on the role of classroom teachers, the educators who engage in the most intense developmental work with students. However, this chapter will also be important for instructional aides and parent volunteers so they can understand the teacher’s classroom management system and teaching pedagogy, both of which are highly influenced by TISP. Likewise, school counselors and other student support services must familiarize themselves with the work of the trauma-informed classroom, as teachers will need their assistance in ways congruent with TISP.

Phase I: Connecting

Educators (certified staff, classified staff, preparation, and collaboration) system element.
Educator System Element

Implementing Phase I is easy: Focus on creating a classroom that is relationally safe and trustworthy. That’s it! Observe what you are doing and how it is being perceived by a variety of students, make adjustments, and keep at it every day and in every class. Yes, there is a bit more: Relax about the fact—or grieve the dream—that you cannot implement a fully trauma-informed classroom immediately, that your students’ responsiveness to this new culture does not manifest in better behavior overnight, and that student meltdowns are still going to occur. Breathe into the idea that you and your students—and your colleagues—are embarking on a journey, and you will see small and big changes along the way, as well as heartache and frustration. This slow pace of change is yet another reminder that TISP is not about a set of strategies, but a culture change in how we see and respond to students and hopefully each other, and trusting that if we attune and mentor accordingly, we will see healing and growth.

Summarizing what we are doing in Phase I might be easy. But doing it might feel like another matter. In the remainder of this chapter we break this process down, giving you concrete ideas and strategies for implementing TISP Tri-Phasic Model educator competencies. We begin with identifying the nature of attunement behaviors between educators and students. We then move into elements of a detailed Action Plan, along with samples and exercises for you to follow along. When you feel lost in the details, return to this section for a quick reminder that it is quite simple once we realize TISP is all about standing in relationship with our students based in an understanding of what we all need when overwhelmed by unmitigated stress and trauma.

Practicing Attunement Behaviors

Education is an amazing profession with big-hearted, strong-principled conductors of the most complex of symphonies called a classroom! If you have been working in the classroom for any length of time, you have learned to master your reactions, stay focused, stay positive, while becoming adept at heading off catastrophes, setting boundaries, and giving redirects with swift clarity. A teacher recently remarked that parents are increasingly asking her for advice on how to manage their children at home. She and her coworkers were wondering why this is now a common request. We get why parents seek you out as they likely say to themselves, “Look what these teachers can manage with a few dozen kids at a time; surely they can help me manage just my own?!”

We highlight your skills for a few reasons. Perhaps most important is our recognition that whenever something we already do well, in this case showing care to our students, is put under the microscope, it can inhibit our natural abilities to engage in that activity. We may fear not doing it “right” or doing more harm than good, especially given our deeper awareness of just how fundamental attunement is to the developing mind. In the mental health training world we call this inhibition “paralysis by analysis”; many of us are good listeners until suddenly “listening” has become a professional skill for which we are being evaluated.

We also want to emphasize that attachment, as exemplified through attunement and mentoring skills, is more than just being pleasant or kind. We think educators are most skilled at mentoring, and are naturally kind given your passion for the well-being of your students. But TISP is asking you to understand or accept that attunement is just as important as mentoring (teaching). In fact, it is the precursor to a student being receptive to your mentoring, whether you are coaching them in self-regulation skills or an academic subject.

Many of the Action Plan items we discuss here and the classroom strategy resources we offer will load you up with numerous attunement strategies, most notably activities that help students build community with each other. Here, we want to take a look at what attunement looks like one-to-one, between you and a student.

Attunement is all about you showing a welcoming stance with a student. You see them; you see all they have shared of themself thus far, and you see who they have the potential to become; you value them and are there to offer support and care. You believe in them, with all of their strengths and struggles. And with that, your eyes and ears are open to what they are bringing to you in this moment. You are tuning into their frequency as best as you are able, and you will keep attuning until they tell you through words or body language that you got it right. Attunement is all about you showing a welcoming stance with a student. You see them; you see all they have shared of themself thus far, and you see who they have the potential to become; you value them and are there to offer support and care. You believe in them, with all of their strengths and struggles. And with that, your eyes and ears are open to what they are bringing to you in this moment. You are tuning into their frequency as best as you are able, and you will keep attuning until they tell you through words or body language that you got it right. This shows in your facial features, body stance, and eye contact. It is demonstrated through your words and actions.

When you communicate with your student, the student is taking in all of this sensory data—your verbals and nonverbals—and matching it against a current need state. They are seeking to attune to you as well: Is my teacher “getting me”? What is my teacher telling me about their receptivity to me? Or am I expected to put my needs on the shelf as I respond to their need? The unspoken and spoken rule of most classrooms is that it is the student’s job to attune to the needs (expectations) of the teacher: Pay attention and learn. Teachers are expected to only attune to the student’s academic interests. Those are rules we use everywhere: We know what a setting is expecting of us, so we all play our roles and our verbal and nonverbal messages ideally should emanate from this common script, in this case, the schemas for “classroom-teacher-student”.

In a trauma-informed classroom, we are changing the scripts associated with this complex set of schemas. Now we are saying that first up is attuning to the need states of students so they can become anchored (that sense of internal emotional and physical sense of safety), and then they can “decenter their other need states” enough to access and focus on their need to learn.

This is the monkey wrench we are throwing into your typical routine. The first part of this text unpacks why we need to restructure these schemas. Here we explore what it looks like to place an emphasis on attunement practices, rituals, and routines at specific times of the day as well as embedded in our lesson plan delivery. Throughout your TISP development process, it is highly recommended that you observe TI classrooms in action and listen to classroom teacher stories, whether in person, on YouTube, or in training videos. Meanwhile, thematically, here are a few key attunement interpersonal skills or traits you may observe in those trauma-informed classrooms.

Phase I Connecting
Phase I: Connecting

Connecting (attuning) is all about catching the immediate need state of a student, and as they feel held by your attunement, they are more apt to allow you to guide them accordingly, whether it is back on task or back on task through a process of practicing a self-regulation skill first. Attunement is capturing (Connecting), holding (Coaching), and guiding back to task (Commencing).

 

Connecting: Tracking Student Messages

Student Nonverbal Cues. If you have had the opportunity to be around infants and toddlers, and certainly your own students, you know the telltale signs of slight agitation that indicate a potential meltdown. Attachment theorist John Bowlby (1976) called these signals separation anxiety, meaning that the child’s sense of calm was dissipating as a need state was now on their radar. That need might be for comfort or adventure; it covers a range. The infant or toddler needs an attachment figure to read these cues and to warmly and openly communicate “I see you and hear you, let’s figure this out.” Sometimes that acknowledgement is all that is needed, often referred to by attachment theorists as a quick “refueling”; the child just needs to know you are there so they can manage the anxiety, returning to an inner sense of safety, and then confidently proceeding back to sleep or adventure-seeking. Other times they need more, such as being held or help fixing a problem. The more a preschool child receives this type of attunement, the more they can tolerate mini-deserts when the adults around them cannot attune as often. Connecting (attuning) is all about catching the immediate need state of a student, and as they feel held by your attunement, they are more apt to allow you to guide them accordingly, whether it is back on task or back on task through a process of practicing a self-regulation skill first. Attunement is capturing (Connecting), holding (Coaching), and guiding back to task (Commencing).

Historic classroom-teacher-student schemas expect school students to enter class with a growing ability to need less of this type of attuning, refueling in little moments during the school day, and then refueling in extended ways after returning home. We know that many of our students are not coming to school with the ability to manage these mini-deserts very well, and hence we need to build in more routines of attunement to help them self-regulate and focus on learning.

Obvious nonverbal cues are behaviors a student displays indicating that they cannot focus on the class activity, whether they are distracting others or withdrawing. You would see a lack of focus in their eyes, an emotional expression captured in facial muscles that communicate being bored, angry, overwhelmed, tired, annoyed, disinterested, or preoccupied. Psychomotor agitation through foot tapping or squirming is common.

The underlying need state yanking their attention can be anything from being stuck on the academic task to a limited ability to access working memory, distraction due to noise and visual overstimulation in the classroom, or a frustrating interaction they had earlier in the day. Their limbic systems and implicit memory circuits may be pulsating with underlying anxiety due to unmitigated stress or trauma currently present in their life, further eroding attention span.

Student Verbal Responses. When a child is leaving that optimum state of arousal—a little of which is needed to focus—and headed toward overload, you will hear it in their voice as well, whether in tone, volume, and pitch, or in statements revealing a perplexing attitude or perception. A student not able to return to focus when redirected says “No,” or “Make me,” or flies into a rage. A dismissive eye-roll combined with “Whatever” is a very effective message telling you that anxiety has placed the student in a fight-or-flight mode. Our goal, in that immediate moment, is to decenter however we feel when we are mocked, belittled, or disrespected (by first compassionately acknowledging how this activates us at times), and see a student presenting with a wonderful opportunity to experience attunement on the way to self-regulation. They cannot self-regulate in that moment, so their belligerent behavior is their only weapon of protection. Look past it and reach out to them as we explore below.

Connecting: Attuned Educator Response (I See You)

Verbal and nonverbal cues require a response, but not always of the same type or intensity. Let’s imagine a three-level approach: Level 1 (think “green light means all is still OK) is just watching with a caring eye to see if the student can summon their own self-regulation skills and then return to task on their own. You do this every day, and most often students are able to squirm a little and find their way back. As you begin scaffolding self-awareness and response strategies in the classroom, on this level (slight agitation or distraction) you would be looking to see if they are using any of these skills, such as putting their head down for a moment to focus on breathing and other mindfulness or thought-focusing exercises. Your attunement response might be a smile, a warm head nod, a gentle cue that says you see them and are cheering them on and all is safe and OK. This allows them to relax and breathe into using their coping resources. Meanwhile, internally, you are beaming with joy watching this young person tracking and responding to their internal need states.

A Level 2 response (a yellow light signaling “proceed with cautious attention”) is when a clear touch point will be helpful in anchoring the student so they can summon the internal reserves to return to homeostasis, that sense of calm needed to return to task. It’s the equivalent of warmly and encouragingly saying “I see you” loud enough to be seen across a crowded room. Classroom teachers do this all the time! Each time you redirect a student, you are providing an anchoring touch point. When you try to rope a student’s attention back to an activity, you are saying, “I see you floating away. I’ve got you. Come on back.” Here is where your voice tone, pitch, and level need to convey calm, confidence, and clarity within a spirit of care. Each of us has our own interpersonal style, and examples might include:

  • Honoring the student’s request to use a calming space whether it is in the classroom or another designated place in the school.
  • Honoring the student’s need to withdraw from the task, especially as they learn to decrease their activation without disturbing other students.
  • Walking close by, addressing the student by name and asking the student, “How are you doing?” Imagine you have already taught the class that when you ask that question, you are inviting them to do an internal body scan of what they are physically or emotionally feeling, or what they might be thinking or needing that is yanking their attention—and that it is a good moment for some of the self-care or self-regulation (whatever descriptor words you give these exercises) skills you practice in the classroom together. And imagine that when a student is asked that question, they are not in trouble! You are truly inquisitive; you don’t really know if the student does want help or wants a little more time using their own ideas and options.
    • Beforehand and in actual practice, you help students learn the script for this new classroom practice. A “Thanks, I’ve got it” or “I’m hanging in there” (ask the students to come up with sample statements) means “Thank you, I needed some help getting back to focus; I’ve got it from here.” Whereas, “I’m trying…not so sure,” or “I think I could use some help,” or “Can I use this _____ (resource)?” or similar statements indicate that they need help.
    • Younger students might need an easy, concrete multiple-choice script, such as “green light” for “I’ve got it,” “yellow light” for “I need just a little help,” or “red light” for “I need big-time help!” Anchoring this process with classroom visuals is also helpful.
    • Older students, once they have seen the process in action and trust that you are truly there to provide an anchor, need less of a script guiding a response, as they get what your intentions are and they understand this is part of the class culture.
  • With our own children, we might place an arm on a shoulder or give a little hug. The equivalent of that in a classroom might be joining them in their activity, pulling up a chair, and engaging the student in a conversation about their work. As they trust your intention—you are partnering with them—if they only need a little bit of an anchor, this might help them bring their attention back. If more is needed, they now have your ear for more direct coaching into identifying and responding to a need state.
    • Another substitute for the anchoring that comes through safe touch is a virtual hug through a relaxation and focusing exercise. If you see other students also off task, take it as an opportunity to invite everyone to take a quick break for this exercise. Planned ahead of time so you can pull it out when appropriate, it would likely begin by asking students to close their eyes, take a few deep belly breaths (diaphragmatic breathing), and scan their bodies, thoughts, and feelings, as all of them are working so hard and it’s a good moment to pay attention to what that feels like. What does it feel like using so much brain power? Where is it hard? Where is it fun? You are increasing their awareness of their domains of neural integration (see Figure 2.5) while also giving them a chance to calm anxiety responses creeping through the room.
  • Now is a good time to refer back to Figure 2.5. For each of the nine domains of neural integration, the original chart includes examples of movie, book, or TV characters that illustrate an aspect of the brain function being described. In the far right column we give some ideas on how you can strengthen neural integration for that element of brain functioning. As you develop your Action Plan, begin to sketch out activities you might develop to strengthen these neural networks. As you teach your students about the different ways the brain functions, ask them to come up with book or movie characters relevant to them and/or what they are reading in class.

A Level 3 response (red light—”Stop the business as usual and help me!”) is where you see the student no longer able to control their response. Ideally, trauma-informed practices prevent many Level 3 responses. As you see agitation building, your TISP strategies work, especially as the student trusts the process and lets you guide them through a rough moment. But there will still be plenty of times when your student will be overrun by a cascade of neurochemicals driving thoughts, feelings, and behavioral responses. They need a life raft, and quick. Attunement says they need safety and containment before they hurt themselves or someone else.

Let’s unpack this scenario conceptually first. In Chapter 5 we reviewed Psychological First Aid, a way of responding to the intense needs of a student or adult in crisis due to a sudden traumatic event. The process mirrors the trauma-informed tri-phasic process of providing safety (Connecting), then accessing resources (Coaching), and then fostering long-term coping to resume life (Commencing). The brain of a student in the midst of a major dysregulation event does not know the difference between a danger aggravated by the social environment (whether a real danger or a misperception) and some type of internal trigger. It is the same neurochemistry in response to an act of violence or a natural catastrophe. The brain is highly calibrated to sensing danger and places us in fight, flight, or flee mode. Psychological First Aid is designed to help us return to a sense of calm amidst stress so we can maximize coping skills in order to survive and thrive.

The initial connecting skills of Psychological First Aid are a direct match with the way water rescue teams are trained. Have you ever watched promotional videos for the amazing men and women who rescue people caught in stormy seas? These professionals, dressed in all-weather ocean gear, descend into treacherous waters, and as they approach a victim, they greet that person with an upbeat, positive “Hello, my name is ____. How are you today?” (We can only imagine how we’d respond!). But it is quickly followed by “I’m going to help you get out of here, but you need to follow my direction. Can you do that?” Of course we want out of danger, so of course we are going to do whatever they say! In Psychological First Aid, it is the same thing: When we see someone overly dysregulated due to the fear and trauma of the precipitating event, and they are unable to receive and respond to comfort from caring others around them, we walk on over and begin by getting through loud and clear that we are here to help. It is the same three-step process: (a) approach and warmly greet; (b) mirror their current predicament, the “I see you are having a tough time and I’m here to help”; and (c) provide clear instructions on how they need to help you help them, the “I need you to work with me to help you get to a better place.” This is what Phase I Connecting means by providing safety and stabilization, and the Level 3 Code Red is the place it is most vividly practiced.

Imagine this student is aware of the classroom culture—that we all view blow-ups and meltdowns, as described by Daniel Siegel’s (Siegel & Bryson, 2012) brain image of “Flipping Our Lids,” as signs that we are having a tough time, our brains are registering a need or danger, and it’s an opportunity to grow and build confidence that we can survive these moments. Imagine that the student knows the adults in the room are not going to think less of them, and are just grateful to walk together through whatever that tough moment is about. When the scaffolding is in place, and has been repeatedly spoken about and practiced in stages over time, you have taught the student to internalize a script. And that script is tapping into a fundamental wish all of us have: to be seen and cared about, especially when we are in distress. Now, when you approach this dysregulated student, they know you are a safe, caring person throwing them a lifeline. Imagine they know that when you invite or tell them to come out of the classroom with you, or go to the calming space—whatever self-regulation processes are congruent with the current level of need—it is not because they are a nuisance, or are disliked. It is a sign that they, the student, matter; that the teacher and classmates care about them and want to see them not in distress anymore.

When the scaffolding is in place, and has been repeatedly spoken about and practiced in stages over time, you have taught the student to internalize a script. And that script is tapping into a fundamental wish all of us have: to be seen and cared about, especially when we are in distress. Now, when you approach this dysregulated student, they know you are a safe, caring person throwing them a lifeline.

Educator Nonverbal Messages: In this moment, your nonverbals include direct eye contact, and yes, a firm resolve that says, “I see you are in distress. I’m here to help.” This is hard, as angry resolve is a more common image of how to set a strong boundary and is what we hope or expect will help a student back down. But, this is both true and not true. In many Level 3 situations, we need to exude strength and intentionality, but coupled with care, not disgust or “I can win this thing” anger. We all want others to help us stop being our own worst enemy. Occasionally you will hear a child say, “I wanted you to stop me.” Boundaries do feel loving, especially from a trusted other. But a boundary embedded in angry disapproving energy, in the absence of a long history of trust, makes that act of care fall flat.

Two examples to help illustrate this combination. A few years ago, I (Anna) heard a longtime high school football coach giving a national radio interview on trauma-informed school practice as applied to sports coaching. He described how in his own youth, a coach yelling at you meant he saw you and was invested in you improving; it felt caring. That was the script, and it worked for him, given that his coaches did care about him, as did his wider community. But he realized that his students were not interpreting his yelling and loud, anger-filled commands as care, but as shaming statements about their abilities and worth. Once he finally had the perceptual and conceptual skills to make sense of his players’ responses to him, he found a way to switch up his verbal and nonverbal coaching style.

Another example is how we struggle to intervene in public abusive events without incurring the murderous wrath of those we are confronting. Occasionally my students and I (Anna) will talk about how to intervene on behalf of children when we see an overwhelmed parent become physically or verbally shaming or aggressive in public. Beyond facing their anger if we yell back in response to the personal outrage we feel on behalf of the child, we also worry that publicly shaming the parent will further make the child vulnerable when public eyes are no longer present. We employ the same concepts here: empathically connect with the parent who is in distress, and offer a lifeline. We practice seeing beyond our own anger and leading with genuine care and support for the parent: “Do you need a hand? Can I help you with that? Can I get the door for you?” as we approach with a smile, a heartwarming nod to convery that we know managing kids is hard.

When a student is in a red zone, threatening harm to self or others, throwing verbal assault bombs like their life is in jeopardy and you are their mortal enemy, you can practice approaching that student and using their name as you say in your own words, “I see you are having a hard time; how can I help you? OK, just watch me for a second; take a breath and trust we can figure this out. Do you want to use _____ (a space you may have designated as a calming, private area), or step outside with me for a few minutes, or visit _____ (a designated person or office at their disposal when needed)?” You are giving them choices, as you already do, but with a spirit of helping them use their coping resources in partnership with you at that moment.

If a student is so dysregulated that they need physical help to prevent harm to themselves or others, you and/or the staff trained in those techniques are carrying out that intervention process with the same spirit. I (Anna) had the honor to work with a child abuse detective for a few years before he died in a tragic accident. At his funeral, I learned that Randy was a trauma-informed police officer long before the term “trauma-informed” was ever coined. One of his colleagues described how Randy would arrest people. He was big and strong, and as he was restraining “the bad guys,” as they called them, he’d calmly talk to them, affirming he had no desire to hurt them, but wanted to help them avoid harm to self or others, and he believed in their ability to help make this arrest process go as smoothly as possible, and to fix whatever mess they were in. His coworkers said he was one of the only officers to regularly get thank-you notes from people in prison or on parole who cited Randy’s care as life-saving during one of the most horrific moments of their lives.

I use this image of Randy’s work with those he arrested because we all need role models for enacting boundaries and consequences while not losing sight of the humanity, vulnerability, hurt, and longing underneath and fueling some of the most dysregulated behavior of our students. They need us to set clear, firm boundaries. Once they return to a state of calm, they need us to walk them through repair and amends processes. And we need to know why and for what purpose we act in those moments. If it is because we are merely outraged on behalf of others or because our own stuff was triggered, we will lead with anger and a desire to punish the student. We will take great joy in not giving them stickers or sending them to in-school detention. If we lead with a desire to stop the pain—both the pain driving the dysregulated student and the pain that student is causing other students—we will display with a firm resolve and intentionality grounded in care and hope. And if our goal is to address the unmet need of the offending student, to give them the best chance of accessing their own hope, and empathy for self and other, our intervention energy, even when we need to clear a room, call for supports, or restrain a student from further acts of violence, will be laced with an honoring of their personhood. And if our goal is to address the unmet need of the offending student, to give them the best chance of accessing their own hope, and empathy for self and other, our intervention energy, even when we need to clear a room, call for supports, or restrain a student from further acts of violence, will be laced with an honoring of their personhood. “We’re here to help you calm down, to help you stop hurting yourself and others. I know you can work with us. We’re going to keep holding you here until you calm down and we get you some help.”

We often hear educators concerned that many of today’s discipline management systems do not include amends processes, unless you are using a reparative justice or similar school management approach. Justice-making is an odd paradox of sorts. Students who hurt others the most, whether through bullying or physical violence, are often telling us a story that someone harmed them and never made amends. Their perceptions of self and other are now distorted, and they are taking out their shame and self-loathing on others. Why should they, a student, apologize or feel remorse when a parent or trusted adult has never cared about what they did or are doing to a child? And how can we, as adults, expect a student in this circumstance to act like an adult when they have never been treated with the sustained attunement and mentoring that are the foundations of empathy and personal responsibility?

To close the loop on the teaching moment of a dysregulated event where peers were frightened, physically threatened or harmed does require the student to make amends according to the nature of the event. But we need to meet them first with empathy and support, and mentor them through what the amends process looks like and why it is good for everyone involved, including that student.

General Attunement Verbal Messages

Attunement messages are not just offered by educators when we see our students in the green, yellow, or red zones of dysregulation. Most attunement messages are displayed through a process we call active listening. When we are exploring the richness of this interpersonal skill (entire books have been written on the subject), we often break it down into two parts: communicating or mirroring that we heard the content of the person’s verbal message, and mirroring that we heard the deeper meaning of their message, expressed either nonverbally or through what meaning tends to emerge from the message as a whole. We engage in these interactions with a sense of openness, care, and curiosity as we strive to make sure we are hearing it correctly rather than distorted by our own presuppositions or struggle to track.

It is quite amazing what being heard feels like—not being agreed with, but being understood. In an exchange with a student when we are trying to use active listening skills, we will know when the student feels heard; their body language will shift, as might their verbal responses. A teacher relayed a story of a child who was highly distressed as he participated in an activity meant to be a fun reward for a week of hard work. The teachers’ presupposition was, “the students should be loving this activity,” and thus they did not immediately track the obvious meaning of the student’s cues—crying and facial expressions of fear. When the teacher moved in with a connected, attuned offer (to step outside of the activity so the teacher could understand what the student was trying to communicate), the teacher learned that the activity was too similar to a very scary and abusive recent event involving visuals similar to the class activity. Once the teacher “got it,” the student had a good moment of crying, feeling safe to no longer hold back the fullness of his hurt and pain activated in that moment. And in this case, the teacher’s deeper understanding signaled that something more was needed on behalf of this student (rather than merely listening, agreeing to disagree, etc.). The teacher was able to offer the student an alternative space to enjoy his well-earned break and rejoin the group after the current activity concluded.

 

Chapter 8: Exercise 1

Practice Active Listening

Often we think we are better at active listening than we are. When we are in a hurry or slightly activated ourselves, most of us struggle with this basic communication skill. Take a moment to practice the following active listening exercise with a colleague who is also working through this material. It is an amended communication tool commonly used in couples therapy (Luquet, 2015). This structure is not practical for most conversations; what we are aiming for is to practice mirroring content and underlying meaning while decentering our own opinions and internal emotional responses.

Designate who will be the Speaker and who will be the Listener. The Speaker is asked to pick an easy topic, something unlikely to trigger either of you, as this first round is to just practice the skills. Let’s imagine that the Speaker has checked in with the Listener to make sure this is a good time to talk about this topic. If the Listener says yes, that consent means three things: They have the time to listen; they are in a space to put aside their own opinion and emotional reactions on this topic; and they have time for you to reciprocate, in that you will then listen to them. This is what we do in a dialogue. Our schema for “conversation” says, “I will listen to you if you listen to me, and that helps me to put aside my opinion long enough to be able to track what is important to you, as I know you will then offer me the same.” Here, in this exercise, we are just deconstructing it, as the conceptual elements of this schema are important for us to put into clear words.

Instructions

In the instructions below, we also offer sample dialogue as a glimpse of what it may look like in action.

Conversation #1: An easy topic to practice the nuts and bolts:

  • Speaker: Share your topic in a small bundle of information. For example, let’s say you are going to share how much you love tulips. You might say, “This time of year is my favorite because the tulips are in bloom.”
  • Listener: Your job is simple. Merely tell the Speaker what you heard. For now, being a “parrot” is great: “I heard you say that you love this time of year because the tulips are in bloom. Did I get that right?”
  • Speaker: Let your Listener know if they got it. In a real conversation, you are already adept at picking up cues that a Listener missed the message. Here, we are reminding ourselves to pay attention to these cues by overtly asking each other if we got the messages correct. It is also important not to take it personally if the Listener got your message wrong; in fact, the more they get it wrong, the more it proves the point that active listening is hard work! They are not being careless. Our brains compete with so much internal noise that we often don’t encode what we just heard. Repeat your packet of information until they get it right and you can finally say, “Yes, you got it right.”
  • Listener: Once you get the message correct, ask your Speaker, “Is there more?” In this exercise, we are asking the Speaker to give you their full message in little packets because on stressful topics, we tend to ramble on, leaving our Listeners in the dust a few hundred words ago. This is a reminder that when we have something important to say, we have the responsibility to break it down into pieces to help our Listener track. “Is there more?” or “Would you like to tell me more?” is an acknowledgement of appreciation that the full message is being delivered in little parcels.
  • Speaker: Pay attention to what it feels like to have someone ask you if there is more to your message. It feels good! If there is more to your message, go ahead and add to it. For example, “I am so in love with tulips, I got really mad the other day when I saw that someone brought a pot of tulip bulbs into the break room and didn’t even bother to give it water and sunlight!”
  • Listener: Uh-oh, what if that was you who disregarded the care of those tulips?!? Breathe, and put it aside. No confessing, no apologies, no correcting distorted facts. Just stick with the Speaker’s message: “You love tulips so much, you got mad at discovering that someone didn’t properly take care of a pot of tulips they left in the break room with no sunlight and water. Did I get that?”
  • Speaker: “Yes! What a jerk that person was.”
  • Listener: “And that person was a jerk.”
  • Speaker: “Yep, you got it.”
  • Listener: Now, sum up the message: “I’m hearing you say that you love this time of year given your love for tulips. And it really got you mad to discover someone left a pot of tulips in the breakroom where there was no sunlight or water. And whoever did that must be a real jerk. Did I get that, or did I miss anything?”
  • Speaker: Correct until they get it right. Do not add to the message; just confirm they captured what you said. “Yes, you got it right.”
  • Listener: Now comes the icing on the cake. Taking in the whole message, their spoken and unspoken messages, what might you imagine the Speaker is feeling? How might you let them know you see the deeper meaning? Trust they will let you know if you get it right or wrong. It might sound something like this: “I think I am hearing you say just how much you enjoy tulips and it is so maddening when you don’t see others taking care of them. It must have been so sad to see these tulips wasting away in that dark and dry room. Did I get that?”
  • Speaker: Don’t be surprised if suddenly you tear up over tulips! When someone captures the essence of what is important to us, we feel it deeply. It is quite amazing. Wrap up your turn as Speaker by letting your Listener know if they got it. “Wow, you got it. I didn’t realize I felt so deeply about tulips!” Now, offer to switch. “Thank you for listening. Would you like us to switch and have me listen to what is important to you?”

Conversation #2: A stressful conversation to practice self-regulation as you listen:

In this round, pick a more stressful topic. Maybe it is something that happened in your classroom or a meeting with a parent or another coworker. If we follow up on the above example, we might imagine that the new Speaker is “the jerk who left the pot of tulips to rot and die in the breakroom.” Using this possibility as an example, let’s go for it.

(New) Speaker: Pick a fictitious or real situation that you think might be meaningful to your Listener. We are inviting the Listener to become ever-so-slightly activated as they are listening to you. In the above scenario, it might be something like this, as you check to see if the Listener has the time and emotional bandwidth to listen: “Thank you for the offer. I’d like to take you up on it, but let me make sure you are up for the topic. I’m the person who left the pot of tulips in the break room. Can I share my thoughts with you?”

Listener: If this were a real scenario, you’d be feeling your anxiety response systems go off. Perfect! You might be feeling ashamed and embarrassed for calling them a jerk, or rage that your friend was the culprit. In this case, we are asking your Speaker to go with a school scenario that might be of interest to you. If the Speaker vents about a student or parent, you might feel defensive because you like these people; you might think that your colleague brought the situation on themself; or their experience might highlight your already simmering frustration with some element of your school’s way of doing things. Most of the time, we are being asked to listen when we are activated. If your Speaker’s topic does activate you, pay attention even as you put it aside to listen. “Yes, I have time to listen.”

  • Speaker: Give a piece of your message.
  • Listener: Mirror it back until you get it right, and ask if there is more.
  • Speaker: Share more, but limit your message to no more than three packets of information as most Listeners can’t hold more than that in one sitting.
  • Listener: Sum up the whole message, and check in to see if you got it right.
  • Speaker: Offer corrections until they get the whole message, being careful not to piggyback more onto the original thought.
  • Listener: Now go deep, and share what you see the Speaker might be feeling, or what deeper importance this message has to them. The Speaker will let you know if you got it right.
  • Speaker: Affirm what pieces of their ponderings caught the deeper meaning and feelings, and what parts don’t fit.
  • Listener: Just mirror their response.
  • Speaker and Listener: Thank each other for the process.

Take a few minutes to reflect on this experience. What was hard; what felt nice? Did you feel frustration when your Listener couldn’t get it right? We all do until we trust our Listeners and know that these misses are common and not intentional. As the Listener, did you feel an internal sense of activation, either in resonance with or in reaction to the Speaker? Were you bored or was your mind wandering? How did you acknowledge it to yourself and put it aside?

And finally, how might the skills of this exercise be put into action in the classroom? In one-to-one conversations with students and coworkers? If you are part of a cohort working together to implement TISP in your classroom or school, make an agreement to meet again to share your experience and observations as you practice the spirit of this exercise (not the steps verbatim) in real conversations.

Action Plan

Classrooms (students; practices, routines, and culture) system element.
Classrooms System Element

In Chapter 7, you began to design an initial Action Plan in preparation to implement TISP into the classroom. With greater TISP perceptual and conceptual clarity, you are now ready to fill in the implementation details of this plan. Grab those notes and reacquaint yourself with Phase I goals, dispositions, and tasks (see Chapter 6), as the ideas below represent the enactment of these items.

Your Classroom Motto or Mission Statement

What do you want your students to know about you and the classroom that communicates they are safe and welcome? Most often, teachers are bringing students into a big adventure, as learning unleashes thoughts and feelings that expand minds and visions of self, other, and the world. Yet, many of our students are unmotivated and not nearly as excited as we are. So, we decorate our walls with enticing images of that adventure, we give impassioned speeches, and we create engaging, entertaining introductory lessons. All of that is logical and good, but in due time, not as the first agenda item of the day or the class. This is very contrary to school systems that expect you to bombard each student with learning objectives and then expect each child to cite chapter and verse regarding what was accomplished in that past time slot.

Think of your classroom as an invitation over to your place for a picnic. Rarely do we sit our guests down and begin plating the meal as soon as they arrive. We greet each other, gently checking in and connecting before we sit down and dig in. How do you want to invite your students into that space and ease them into the adventures of that meal?

For most of our students, the expectations of the classroom are challenging, if not terrifying. Students may fear being unable to follow along and keep up with academic demands, or fear being disliked and perhaps picked on. If you lead with a narrative about the wonders of everything students are going to learn this year, we promise you that only those students who are excited to learn will experience the energizing, hopeful, adventurous benefits of a norepinephrine surge. For students who fear math, think they can never learn to spell, struggle to read, are shamed by imperfect grades, or are just overwhelmed, placing academics at the bottom of their list, that inspiring speech about what they are going to learn will push them into a flight, fight, or freeze response within the first few minutes of your picnic.

No doubt most classroom teachers feel fear that they will not be able to cover lesson plans and keep all students on task and up to speed within the allotted instructional time of a given day, week, or term. Time is of the essence. In Phase I, you get a chance to attune to your own anxiety about time pressures, as you relax into trusting that as you (and the greater school system) settle into the trauma-informed culture and cadence, learning will advance with fewer impediments; the time you spend on Connecting and Coaching is banking instructional time and efficacy.

So, more specifically now, what is the attunement-focused goal for your classroom? Describe the ambiance you want to create that will guide the choices you make about all aspects of managing your classroom and the delivery of your lesson plans. As we think over our own classroom mission statements, they express that we strive to create a community in which students:

  • Feel welcome, as evidenced in our actions and attitudes displayed in our verbal and nonverbal communication, including our voice tone, pitch, and volume; our eyes and facial expressions; our body posture; and how we speak to and about our students. We strive for our responses to communicate that we are curious to get to know each student, to understand how they think, what they are feeling, what is important to them, what they understand and what they do not.
  • See that we are concerned about them, not their performance. As one of our students said, “I want to teach students, not subjects.” We want our students to know we are invested in them doing well in life, both today and tomorrow. And while learning is a key part of their health, we trust that they will love learning once they know that they matter, that they are cared about, and that it is safe to stumble along in the process of learning.
  • Know that struggle is OK and expected. We struggle to learn subjects; we struggle with learning how to be a good friend; we have fears and insecurities. We don’t always know how to be sad or angry or scared, and sometimes we make hard situations worse. We are all in the same boat, needing to learn not to fear our struggles. And we promise not to shame or punish anyone because of a struggle. We promise to walk beside each other, even when struggle is learning how to make something right or to fix a problem that we created. Know that struggle is OK and expected. We struggle to learn subjects; we struggle with learning how to be a good friend; we have fears and insecurities. We don’t always know how to be sad or angry or scared, and sometimes we make hard situations worse. We are all in the same boat, needing to learn not to fear our struggles. And we promise not to shame or punish anyone because of a struggle. We promise to walk beside each other, even when struggle is learning how to make something right or to fix a problem that we created.
  • Know that we can’t wait to discover what each student does well. All of us have hidden talents and interests. All of us discover new things about life every day. And we look forward to hearing and watching each student soar in their own way and in their own time. Our students will be teaching us as much as we hope to teach them.
  • Know that we need them to make our classroom a warm and inviting learning community. When one student is hurting, we all hurt. When a student is happy and excited, their joy is contagious. When someone is struggling, another peer might have the perfect way of helping out. We share time together every day, and when a student is unable to join us or engage with us, we feel that loss. We promise to remind each other every day of how much we see and appreciate each other.
  • Know they are welcome to join us whether they like our class or not. This class, this time together, and having them be with us is the most important lesson we practice each day in each class.

This is the feeling we want our students to receive each time they enter our classroom: that they are more important than that lesson plan, that test score, or our teaching evaluation. These items do matter; we are not suggesting that you ignore these pressures or realities. But we know that for the vast majority of students, they will not learn, they will not want to learn, and perhaps most startling, they cannot learn, until they know you truly see and value them, and they can calm inner anxieties enough to access their executive functioning. Phase I Connecting is based on the premise that if we create a culture of care, student developmental growth processes will kick into high gear, making learning both possible and a tool to further healing and growth.

Classroom Observation and Assessment

In order to understand the relationship between the physical setting of our classroom and the potential influence it can have on our students, we created an assignment for participants in our trainings. We encourage teachers to sit in their classrooms at the end of the day and experience the space through the eyes of their students. We ask them to analyze the noises they hear, the lighting, the decorations in the room, the arrangement of desks, etc. Then, we ask them to collate their observations in the chart below. We challenge you to do the same! Experience your classroom through the eyes of your students. Use the chart below to complete this exercise. It is followed by an example a participant shared with us.

 

Chapter 8: Exercise 2

Classroom Observation and Assessment

Element Observed: Lighting

  • Observations:
  • Morning:
  • Midday:
  • End of the Day:

Element Observed: Spacing

  • Observations:
  • Morning:
  • Midday:
  • End of the Day:

Element Observed: Acoustics

  • Observations:
  • Morning:
  • Midday:
  • End of the Day:

Element Observed: Visuals

  • Observations:
  • Morning:
  • Midday:
  • End of the Day:

Element Observed: Movement/Flow

  • Observations:
  • Morning:
  • Midday:
  • End of the Day:
  1. Is the physical space conducive to creating a safe, calm, predictable, “doable” learning environment for the stressed student?
  2. How is the literature informing your assessment? In other words, what is it about the neurobiology of trauma that impacts how a physical space influences a sense of safety and focus vs. anxiety and activation?
  3. What changes would you like to make in order to facilitate the student’s growing resilience?

Element

Changes to Make

Lighting

Spacing

Acoustics

Visuals

Movement/Flow

Classroom Observation and Assessment Example

Element Observed: Lighting

  • Observations:
    It feels OK. I have a variety of lamps that help out with different lighting, and I use them at different times for different activities.
  • Morning:
    It is a little dark in the morning when I turn off the lights and use the lamps, but it is calming.
  • Midday:
    This feels pretty good. It is still pretty dark at times, but when the sun is out it feels pretty good.
  • End of the Day:
    This feels pretty good. It is still pretty dark at times, but when the sun is out it feels pretty good.

Element Observed: Spacing

  • Observations:
    My room feels tight at times.
  • Morning:
    It is pretty good in the morning, but it is my smallest class.
  • Midday:
    It is OK in my core 2, but it is not a huge class.
  • End of the Day:
    It feels really tight at this part of the day because it is my biggest class and it is a needy, demanding class.

Element Observed: Acoustics

  • Observations:
    The acoustics are not bad. I bought some speakers to help with the acou tics in the room.
  • Morning:
    Not bad.
  • Midday:
    It works OK I have a chatty class, but we are able to get things done.
  • End of the Day:
    This is my biggest and loudest class. It makes it kind of hard at times.

Element Observed: Visuals

  • Observations:
    I read that it is good not to have too many visuals, so what I have up is pretty basic.
  • Morning:
    Same
  • Midday:
    Same
  • End of the Day:
    Same but bigger class.

Element Observed: Movement/Flow

  • Observations:
    My room feels very tight at times, since it is a portable.
  • Morning:
    It is pretty good in the morning, but it is my smallest class.
  • Midday:
    It is OK in my core 2, but it is not a huge class.
  • End of the Day:
    It feels really tight at this part of the day because it is my biggest class and it is hard to move everyone around.
  1. Is the physical space conducive to creating a safe, calm, predictable, “doable” learning environment for the stressed student?
    I try my best to create a calm, predictable environment, but it is somewhat hard in the portable. I currently have an empty portable next to mine, and that has been nice because it gives me some more room to operate and do science. I still feel like I do not have enough space to do what I would like to do. This is even more important for when students are stressed.
  2. How is the literature informing your assessment? In other words, what is it about the neurobiology of trauma that impacts how a physical space influences a sense of safety and focus vs. anxiety and activation?
    It is making me think about how my class size and space are pretty limiting. Last year I had a smaller class and we did not rotate, so I had some more flexibility and room to work and more things around to do that. I think in a more traditional elementary environment there are more options for movement and changing things like desk arrangements and lighting and environment than in the rotating middle-school-type schedule that we currently have. A lot of what I have been reading is useful, but harder to do in a rotating schedule.
  3. What changes would you like to make in order to facilitate the student’s growing resilience?
    I would like to work on having a calming corner and some other places for kids to take a break. I wish I had some more room to have some wiggle room for kids and ability to move around a bit more than I do.

Element

Changes to Make

Lighting

I would like to have more different lighting for kids. I would like
some different settings and colors, as well as some low-light and
bright-light areas for kids so that they could take a break or
rejuvenate themselves depending on what they need.

Spacing

I am really hoping to have smaller classes or more room in the
future. I really don’t have the space that I would like. I really want
to have more designated break areas for kids and more room for
the students to spread out. It is hard because I am in a portable and
just don’t have that much room for big classes of near 30.

Acoustics

I bought a personal amplification device this summer. This has
helped me some with the acoustics of the portable. I taught in a
brand new smart building in one of my previous schools and was
kind of spoiled by that. I had built-in speakers and audio, which
made a big difference in my ability to teach. I think that would be
something I would work toward being able to do. I also think
letting the kids work on their own personal audio devices would
be really good.

Visuals

I think I do OK on visuals, I know there are some mixed ideas on
whether or not it is beneficial for rooms to be very busy visually, so
I have backed off from my room being so visually stimulating.

Movement/Flow

I am really hoping to have smaller classes or more room in the
future. I really don’t have the space that I would like. I really want
to have more designated break areas for kids and more room for
the students to spread out. It is hard because I am in a portable and
just don’t have that much room for big classes of near 30.

  • How is the literature informing the changes you want to make? In other words, what is it about the neurobiology of trauma that impacts how a physical space influences a sense of safety and focus vs. anxiety and activation?
    I think the big one that I am seeing is having a variety of different scenarios depending on the student needs and making a focus on teaching them how to use the different parts of the room, if you are building in a calming corner or different areas where kids can work on different things. I think having different areas is really good so that kids know that they can take breaks and feel comfortable in the class and feel supported.
    If their needs are getting met in class, they are less likely to need to leave the class for discipline/counseling/regulation.

—Glenn, Middle School Teacher

 

A Classroom Teacher’s TISP Learning Process

I very vividly remember attending the first trauma class and desperately just wanting a strategy that I could rush out and implement. The most important thing I learned and at the forefront of everything in trauma-informed practice is this: it’s not just a strategy. The critical component for reaching a child with the effects of trauma is making meaningful connection. No strategy alone will work with a child for whom entering a classroom feels equivalent to entering a perilous danger-laden space due to the life he or she has been dealing with. Connection with an attentive and caring adult can be an entry into a safe space for the child. —Doreen, Classroom Teacher

Assessment

Once you make changes in your classroom, you will want to assess the impact of those changes on student academic and behavior outcomes. In Chapter 12, we address the importance of gathering data to track the efficacy of your efforts as displayed in student engagement and learning. We also need to track how school personnel are engaging and responding to TISP. Take a few moments to glance through the data gathering section of Chapter 12 as you reflect on what data you may wish to track in your preparation and implementation processes. Just as you would in your lesson plan, determine the most appropriate assessments. What do you want to track? What do you want to observe? What data will you collect? Once you identify these items, add them to your Action Plan.

 

Chapter 8: Exercise 3

Action Plan

Create an intentional, concrete, and doable TISP implementation plan commensurate with your role/position. Design your Action Plan with an academic year implementation in mind. Follow the outline below. Be as concise or detailed as you want when completing the outline. It is designed to serve you; it is a roadmap that we expect will change often as you begin the implementation process. After you have completed the outline, distill a summary of key goals or desired tasks into the chart.

I. Your Role (Position; School; Grade Levels; Subject)

II. Mindset

  • How are you changing or expanding your mindset as a trauma-informed educator?
  • Take what you created above and word it as a mission statement: something succinct and encouraging that you can post where you can see it to remind you and ground you.
  • What do you want to put in place to support you? Who else is implementing a trauma-informed Action Plan and might partner with you for mutual support?

III. Physical Setting

  • To increase self-awareness (ie., brain functioning, emotions, etc.)
  • To inspire mutual care
  • To explain classroom/school community values
  • What is already in place
  • Items to create/add
  • Resources to tap

IV. Rituals and Routines

  • To embody care, slow it down (relaxation, self-regulation), bring coherence to the day’s events
  • To ease transitions—beginning of a class; end of a class; beginning and end of day, week, term, year
  • To create a sense of stability and predictability
  • In your classroom—rituals to create
  • In broader school—rituals you’d like to see be created
  • What is already in place
  • Resources to tap

V. Classroom Management

  • Desired mindset/internal framework
  • Method for teaching students your mindset, practices, approach
  • Techniques, tools, resources to teach and provide the student
  • How to debrief with colleagues and invite common protocol with others in contact with the student
  • What is already in place
  • Resources to tap

VI. Broader School System

You may have little to no influence on certain areas of school functioning, but list what you wish would be in place to reinforce the messages you are trying to embed in your students’ experience in your classroom.

VII. Parents

  • How might you want to connect with them? While the literature speaks of including parents, not much trauma-informed school programing exists for them. Ask your School or District Strategic Planning Teams about the goals for offering TISP orientations to parents.
  • Until your District or School begins offering parent resources, decide how you will:
    • Explain the shifts in your school or classroom practices
    • Explain how children learn best by first learning to self-regulate
    • Explain the importance of their role as parent supports in the classroom: how you and parents work as partners
  • What are you already doing that communicates partnership with parents/guardians?
  • If you could write up a one-page handout to give to parents about your conflict resolution or challenging-behavior response methods, how might you explain it?
  • This sample handout might be a collaborative project for your team during the academic year as you conspire together to design a consistent conceptual schema and specific techniques (mirrors Section VI above).
    • The content of the handout would be the same information you would be sharing, teaching, and modeling with the students.

VIII. School Strategic Planning Team

In your Action Plan, you are a Strategic Planning Team of one when it comes to making changes in your sphere of direct influence. But, you will need support from peers who work closely with you and/or work with your same students. The School Strategic Planning Team is designed to be that place where you can share your experiences and share where you need greater system support. This team is also the place to turn for updates on the timetable for additional changes slated in the support structures around you as more of the school transitions to TISP.

In your Action Plan, identify the team members you need to check in with to keep them informed of your insights and experiences. Also, request information regarding your school’s larger plan and how updates are shared among staff. Your School Strategic Planning Team is also the place to share your own continuing education and resourcing needs.

IX. Assessment

  • What do you want to assess? (Read through the first portion of chapter 12 for ideas.)
    • For example: student attitudes displayed in classroom atmosphere, behavioral challenges, student response to your interventions when having behavioral challenges; your sense of efficacy when dealing with challenging encounters; student engagement in rituals and other learning moments; student feedback on how they felt heard or tended to during a difficult encounter.
    • Identify three items you’d like to assess, and identify a data gathering method.

Action Plan Examples

The following examples are taken from Action Plans created by teachers. We share these to encourage you as you work through your own Action Plan.

Action Plan Example

Heather, Elementary Teacher

I. My Role: I am a first-grade teacher.

II. Mindset:

A. Becoming more trauma-informed feels like exactly the right direction for me personally and for our district. I have such a better understanding now when I look around my classroom of what might be going on in their brains and its connection to their behaviors.

B. My rough wording at this point would be something like “To cooperatively build a classroom of learners who are mindful of their behaviors and have the skills they need to face both academic and social challenges.”

C. I think that the teachers who are also taking this course at my school will be a great support for each other. Not only are we good friends, but I believe that we share a strong dedication to helping become a trauma-informed school. I do think that continuing the strong communication with admin will be really important. Knowing that we have the support of the district to keep trying new things is so important.

D. I would love for my students to adopt an understanding of their own brain and what it means to have a regulated brain. I also hope that they can use that knowledge to help our classroom really feel like a safe and loving community.

E. In our classroom, we have had classroom meetings with a focus on building relationships and having a strong sense of classroom community. We have frank conversations about our brain and how we all work differently and might react differently. I have worked very hard on being a teacher who uses positives rather than negatives for discipline. I have also worked very hard to always be building relationships with my students. Special lunches, notes, and time together are really important to me.

F. I know that I will need to work on my consistency in speech and actions regarding behavior. I have often had multiple systems going on at once because I am trying to think of what would be best for each student. Really working on a common system will be important for me moving forward.

III. Physical Setting:

A. I think I will be doing more reading in our classroom texts as well as looking online at how other teachers have set up calming stations in their classrooms. I know there are other teachers in our district who would be a good resource.

B. I already have my classroom set up with an area at the back that is a little calmer. It just doesn’t have many supplies that students could really use. For creating the kangaroo pocket, I have plenty of pocket charts—I just need to think about what it really is going to look like.

C. I really would like a space that feels very calming and separated from the rest of the room. I think that I will need to move some furniture so that I can see the space from any spot in the room.

IV. Physical Setting:

A. I think that my classroom space is already relatively calming as far as colors and natural light. I try to keep the amount of stuff on my walls to a minimum, but that can be tricky. I will have to think about what should be up on the walls around a calm space. I was thinking of what might be available as far as a good image of the brain that could be up as a reminder. I know that in some classrooms teachers have a chart with different emotions. That might be something I should find too.

B. I think that reminders up around the room that this is a shared space give the impression of mutual care. Having up things that the kids have made or including their work on the walls helps them feel like this is really their classroom.

C. I will have up our school PBIS rules and the Kelso poster that all rooms in our building have up.

D. See A.

E-F. See A.

V. Rituals and Routines:

A. I think starting the day with a classroom meeting where we take time to talk and connect is important. Always beginning by reviewing the schedule and any changes in the day can help too. Greeting the students individually and taking the time to hear about their evening was good.

B. I usually have used a countdown to help my students transition because I think that gives them a sense of how much time is actually passing. I will have to do some thinking about if this would be stressful or helpful. I know that some teachers use songs, and that is something that might be more calming. I will research this more. I am pretty good at making sure we discuss any changes to the week and I also put notes on our big calendar of any upcoming events.

C. I get to make my own schedule for the most part each year, and I do try my hardest to make sure that the days are as similar as possible. I also try to make sure that I am at school as many days as possible and I have the same sub whenever possible.

D. I firmly believe in beginning and ending the day in the same way as much as possible. This year with classroom meetings, I tried to start each day with a game or activity that was enjoyable. I end each day with our “moment of awesome” where we watch something funny or tell jokes. I plan to keep these up, as well as adding in other breaks and mindful moments during the day.

E. I really wish there was a way to start the day off for all of our students somewhere other than the gym. I really value that we have team time and the kids get to move and sing and dance, but for some students it really is an overwhelming amount of noise and activity first thing. At the end of the day for bus line it is even less structured, and that is really hard for some of our students. We have started having some students be in a separate room that is calmer, but there isn’t much room and it can still be pretty loud and unstructured. I really think it would be nice if we could calm the end of the day down. I really liked an idea from our interview with the school in MA about breakfast buddies. I think if there was a check-in for some of our students and a chance to visit with an adult before they got into the classroom, that would be really helpful.

F. We do have some students start and end their day in our sensory room. Our principal does do check-ins with some students or there are students who start their day in the office, but as a school we don’t have much in place for the broader student population.

G. I would really like to keep talking to other teachers as well as looking into other methods for transitioning and creating classroom routines.

VI. Classroom Management:

A. I want to start the year with the mindset that this classroom can be a safe and strong community with the feeling of a family. It is always my goal to never yell, stay calm, and set a loving tone for the room. I think that starting the year with time spent on mindfulness and really building community will help both the students and me.

B. I think that spending time really talking during classroom meetings is so important. It is a good time to learn together about the brain, being regulated, staying safe and calm together, and other practices we want in our classroom. I plan to use the mindfulness cards and other activities to help with this.

C. I think that the kangaroo pouch idea is a good one, but I also know that as a class we might need more strategies. I will keep researching more ideas.

D. I really liked the system mentioned by the principal we interviewed in MA. They have something they call a “red letter” that goes out to all staff who will be working with a student during the day so they are all aware of what is going on. I think that is a good plan but also taking the time to talk and debrief is going to be really important. I am hoping that there can be some of our team who set up a regular meeting.

E. I know we have some professional development time in this upcoming year dedicated to this.

F. Other schools in our district and outside of it and the texts from this class. I would really be happy to be a resource for my building on this.

VII. Broader School System:

A. I really think that building in time for our staff to share what we are struggling with and trying on our own would be so good. PLC time for math and writing has been useful, and time in this area would be really useful too.

B. Next year it is one of my goals to start doing some home visits. I know that I do a great job reaching out to parents who reach out to me, but I am not always as successful making sure that I am doing more than a monthly newsletter to reach out to everyone. This is an area where I really know I need to work on improving. I think explaining the idea of mindfulness in our community might be tricky in some ways. I know that in our building we have been cautioned against using the word “yoga” to describe stretching in our classrooms because of parent concerns. I think that being really clear that part of my goal, as an educator, is to help their child grow and learn about their own thoughts and brain is going to be how I would approach communicating about this.

VIII. School Strategic Planning Team:

A. I think any team should have people from all parts of our district. We need to hear from admin, teachers, classified, bus drivers…everyone needs a voice. I think this committee should be a way for people from all parts of our district to share ideas and concerns, and then to plan together how to move forward as a district. I think there should be time to talk and share, but then they should be working on a district action plan. I think, by the fall, if we had two representatives from each area, that would be a huge accomplishment and a great start. I think that there might be red flags around confidentiality and recognizing the importance of different teaching styles. I really think open conversations, and continued education for our staff on how important being trauma-informed is, are where to start. I think most people who work with children do really care about them, and all workers are going to be interested in something that would make their job go more smoothly.

B. I would be happy to be on a committee like this. Of all the different learning I have done about education, I truly feel the most passionate about this as what will make the biggest difference in the lives of our students. I feel dedicated to this community and our kids. I also believe that this would really be helping our teachers as far as less burnout and better relationships with their students. This would be a great thing to be a part of!

IX. Assessment:

A-B. I want to track student attitudes, behavior challenges, as well as their ability to focus on academics. I know that it is going to be tricky to track things like this, but I think that our data can be the best way to reach out to teachers who might be hesitant about how worthwhile this is. I think that journaling is usually the best way for me to gather data.

Chapter 8: Exercise 4

Action Plan Chart

This chart provides you with space to intentionally consider changes in your physical space, visuals, rituals, and discipline. Use this chart to plan out your implementation strategy from your Action Plan. Below, you will find examples that we hope will guide and inspire.

Item:

  • Purpose:
  • Resources:
  • Materials:
  • Start Date:
  • Outcomes:

Action Plan Chart Example

Heather, Sixth-Grade Teacher

Item: Classroom space for calming down and becoming regulated

  • Purpose:
    To give students the resources they need to calm down and get their minds ready for learning
  • Resources:
    • Pinterest?
    • Other district teachers who have already done this
  • Materials:
    • Headphones and iPod with relaxing music and/or mindfulness apps
    • Calming activities like glitter bottles or coloring sheets
  • Start Date:
    I hope to have this set up this summer so I can introduce my students to it on the first day
  • Outcomes:
    • Less classroom meltdowns
    • Ability to focus
    • Participation
    • Happier and better regulated students

Item: Kangaroo Safe pocket

  • Purpose:
    • To help students feel safe and loved
    • To help students understand what it means/looks like to be regulated in the classroom
  • Resources:
    Lessons on what a regulated and deregulated brain look like
  • Materials:
    • Pocket chart with spots for each student
    • Kangaroo for each student
  • Start Date:
    First day of school
  • Outcomes:
    • Acceptance of each other
    • A sense of community
    • Trust and support

Item: Classroom meeting with a focus on mindfulness

  • Purpose:
    To give students the strategies to be mindful of their actions
  • Resources:
    Mindfulness cards and book
  • Materials:
    Mindfulness cards and books, plus varied materials for the lessons
  • Start Date:
    First week of school
  • Outcomes:
    • Creating a classroom with mindful students
    • Giving students skills to use when they are on their own

Action Plan Chart Example

Caryn, Sixth-Grade Teacher

Item: Color Scheme in Classroom

  • Purpose:
    Physical setting: I plan on repainting my room so that it has more calming colors, and I plan on using a more calming color palette throughout my décor
  • Resources:
    Trauma 500
  • Materials:
    Paint (I already have this), new cloth in new color scheme for bulletin boards, new borders, etc.
  • Start Date:
    First day of school
  • Outcome Measures:
    Observation data.

Item: Lighting

  • Purpose:
    Physical setting: I plan on purchasing light covers to make the light in my room less abrasive
  • Resources:
    • My colleagues that have used these before
    • Online educator discussion groups where I first heard about them
    • Trauma 500 book
  • Materials:
    Light covers (already in my Amazon cart waiting to be purchased)
  • Start Date:
    One month into the school year (after outdoor school)
  • Outcome Measures:
    I may not put them up until after the first month of school. This way I can see how the change in lighting affects the class

Item: Layout

  • Purpose:
    Physical setting: I plan on recreating the layout of my room so that there are more spaces that I can devote to trauma-sensitive programming. In addition, I want to add more plants to the six that I currently have in my classroom. The kids LOVE them!
  • Resources:
    My own knowledge and trial and error
  • Materials:
    Plants, carpet squares for floor seating that is moveable
  • Start Date:
    First day of school
  • Outcome Measures:
    Observation data

Item: Animals

  • Purpose:
    Physical setting: I am going to have some cute mice as pets
  • Resources:
    Help for Billy
  • Materials:
    Calico mice and all the equipment
  • Start Date:
    First day of school
  • Outcome Measures:
    Observational data

Item: Photographs of Kids

  • Purpose:
    Visuals: I plan on creating a large collage art piece right next to my classroom door that will stay up the entire year. On it will be pictures of each of my students as well as a square of space where they can represent themselves in some abstract way
  • Resources:
    Fostering Resilient Learners
  • Materials:
    Old magazines for collage making, cardstock squares, photos of my kids (next year)
  • Start Date:
    First day of school, but it will probably take a month to finish it
  • Outcome Measures:
    Observational data

Item: Calming Space

  • Purpose:
    Rituals: This year I created what I called “the calming zone” at the back of my classroom. This had all kinds of sensory items, etc., at it and I had kids use it to regulate
  • Resources:
    Fostering Resilient Learners
  • Materials:
    I need more 100% quiet fidgets (a few broke). I need a new comfy chair (might use my rocker)
  • Start Date:
    First day of school
  • Outcome Measures:
    I have a check-in sheet that I have used all year for this. It is helpful when trying to track who are my frequent flyers as well as if I have noticed a shift in their overall manageability. (Incidentally, I did notice a huge difference!)

Item: Pacing Space

  • Purpose:
    Rituals: I plan on creating a space that is a designated pacing space. I let kids go for a walk if needed, and I have a special pass for this, but this will be one more officially designated space
  • Resources:
    Help for Billy
  • Materials:
    Laminated footprints. I think I am going to use animal prints, specifically panther prints, as we are the East Elementary Panthers!
  • Start Date:
    First day of school
  • Outcome Measures:
    Observational data

Item: Regulation Rituals

  • Purpose:
    Rituals: Deep breathing at the beginning and end of each lesson, or at the very least twice a day
  • Resources:
    Fostering Resilient Learners
  • Materials:
    I need to create a set ritual for deep breathing (like, step one, do this, step two, do this, etc.)
  • Start Date:
    First day of school
  • Outcome Measures:
    Observational data

Item: Restorative Justice Combined with Love and Logic

  • Purpose:
    Discipline: I have used a Restorative Justice/Love and Logic combo this year and I want to continue with it, but I also want to see what I can combine from the Discovery model (which I am being trained in this summer) into my classroom discipline
  • Resources:
    • Love and Logic training manual
    • Restorative Justice readings
    • My own experience with Reggio Amelia/natural consequences
    • Discovery Model
  • Materials:
    Posters that have key rules and “sayings,” like “use your words”
  • Start Date:
    First day of school
  • Outcome Measures:
    Observational data

Chapter 8: Exercise 5

Conceptual Application—Questions to Ponder

  1. What are you observing in your classroom?
  2. What connections are you making between student behaviors, social-emotional learning, and executive functioning?
  3. Can you identify one way to implement social-emotional learning in your classroom tomorrow?
  4. Can you identify one executive functioning skill you want to teach or practice tomorrow?
  5. What mindfulness skills might be needed to scaffold this process?

A Look Forward

In this chapter, you created an action plan for TISP implementation. We acknowledge that the exercise was more than likely challenging and perhaps a bit daunting. Remember, you can implement in small pieces just as Caryn did in her example above. Now that we considered how to implement TISP in your classroom, we move to present application of TISP to behavioral disruptions in your classroom. In Chapter 9, we consider the philosophies undergirding your current beliefs on the goal and role of discipline, and how Connecting and Coaching are foundational to supporting student social-emotional development.

Resources for Further Reading

  • Executive Function in the Classroom: Practical Strategies for Improving Performance and Enhancing Skills for All Students, by Christopher Kaufman.
  • Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention, by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.
  • Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom, by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall.
  • The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching, by Patricia Jennings.
  • Trauma-Sensitive Schools: Learning Communities Transforming Children’s Lives, K-5, by Susan Craig.
  • Trauma-Sensitive Schools for the Adolescent Years: Promoting Resiliency and Healing, Grades 6-12, by Susan Craig.
  • Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma, by Barbara Sorrels.
  • Attachment & Trauma Network, Inc. This group is devoted to creating school-wide trauma-sensitive reform.
  • Healing the Hurt: Trauma-Informed Approaches to the Health of Boys and Young Men of Color. This group focuses specifically on young men of color and ways to support them.
  • Trauma-Informed Schools Learning Network for Girls of Color This is a resource for schools and groups working specifically with girls of color.
  • TSA: Treatment and Services Adaptation Center (Resiliency, Hope, and Wellness in Schools) Their mission is to promote trauma-informed school systems that provide prevention and early intervention strategies to create supportive and nurturing school environments.

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Trauma-Informed School Practices by Anna A. Berardi and Brenda M. Morton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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