Kristin Souers with Peter Hall Fostering Resilient Learners—Strategies for Creating a Trauma Sensitive Classroom
Being a school leader is an incredibly time demanding profession. There are some days when there is truly not enough hours in the day to accomplish all the tasks that are simply mandatory. To start this joyful madness, there is one task I prioritize and hope to never lose sight of. The first person students see each day when they walk through the front door is me, followed by their grade level teacher as they walk into their classroom.
Our school improvement efforts are focusing not on what we can’t control, but what happens when student immediately enter our schools and classrooms. Our goal is to build positive interactive relationships where students feel appreciated and valued for what they “bring to the table.” Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers with Pete Hall reminds us, “How we ‘set the table’ often determines how successful our students will be” (p. 35).
Each of our students has a story to tell, and their often “complicated, stressful lives can create conditions that present massive obstacles to learning” (p. 14). We don’t know their whole story, but we often experience the effect trauma has on their lives every day. The authors refer to the trauma a child can experience as adverse childhood experiences. These events may include poverty, substance abuse in the home, parental divorce, witnessing domestic violence, family incarceration, and physical or emotional abuse which has “a powerful negative effect on students’ readiness to learn” (p. 20).
During this traumatic experience student’s brain switches gear. It kicks into a stress response releasing chemicals into the body to allow the brain to survive these states of stress. Normal operational development then leaves the brain as elevated stress hormones take over affecting learning, disposition, retention, and other executive functions (p. 22). As teachers and leaders what we do know is each of our students handles stresses differently ranging from constant disruptions to ceremonial withdrawals. Souers and Hall help us as understand as educators we can support student’s responsiveness by teaching specific self-care strategies on how to cope.
The author’s references the work of Dr. Dan Siegel, from the UCLA School of Medicine. When students are in the fight, flight, or freeze response their thinking brain is “downstairs” and not in a state of learning----yet. Our goal as educators is to support student’s recognition when they are in this state. We can provide them with the skills and strategies needed to regulating their behaviors and move their thoughts back upstairs so they can think, reason, and learn (p. 31).
What I appreciate most about the author’s perspective on this growing challenge we are facing in schools is the solutions in the form of certain self-acknowledging strategies we can implement in our schools and classrooms. In their words, Souers and Hall recommend to “Stay out of Oz,” and “Remain grounded amid chaos.” Beware and avoid getting sucked into student tornados by admiring the problem and getting whisked off to Oz, to teaching them how to self-regulate and staying grounded in Kansas. Although to be successful in the classroom we need to be more of the Good Witch and not allow our triggers to guide us. There is no place like home in our upstairs learning brains (p.59).
None of this happens without the persistent connections we make every day with our students.
As we greet our students with the traditional Hellos and Good Morning, we also need to genuinely listen to their responses, make eye contact, and let them know they matter. Here you are safe, respected, and yes even loved for the talent and abilities you have and are acquiring as you are becoming a resilient learner both academically, socially and emotionally.