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Pre-emptive and Pro-active Practice: Trauma-Informed Teaching & Learning

Despite the combined efforts of diligent teachers, school leaders, and allied education professionals to meet the complex needs of trauma-affected children, schools struggle every day to maintain ambitious expectations concerning learning and behaviour for vulnerable students. We work closely with a number of experienced and graduate teachers through our implementation and research of the Berry Street Education Model (BSEM; Brunzell et al., 2015). In this model, we have ordered the five domains of developmentally informed classroom practice: Body, Relationship, Stamina, Engagement and Character. This model is based upon a trauma-informed positive education paradigm (Brunzell, Waters, & Stokes, 2015). The young teacher, quoted above, is fresh from university and earned a teaching position in a Government school in a growing metropolitan suburb. She was assigned a classroom designated specifically for secondary students disengaged from their mainstream classrooms. Although she started her first year of teaching with the usual energy and optimism of a new teacher, she quickly realised that the strategies she was taught in her university teaching course required an overhaul; and in the process, her self-esteem and willingness began to take a tumble. We have also observed evidence of ‘‘battle weary’’ experienced teachers impacted by their exposure to trauma-affected students. The aim of the BSEM is to promote strategies to help all teachers in all learning environments. Childhood trauma affects school outcomes (Anda et al., 2005) and reduces the specific capabilities required for successful learning such as cognitive capacity, memory and concentration; along with impairing language, regulation of arousal and poor attachment abilities (Downey, 2007). Specific to the classroom, the effects of traumatic and/or chronic stress impact the two important capacities that children need to succeed in learning every day: the ability to self-regulate the body’s psycho, social and physical tasks; and the ability to form strong durable relationships which serve as regulatory buffers when encountering the potentially stressful process of new learning (Brunzell et al., 2015). Many trauma-informed models of teaching and learning rely on building self-regulation of physical and emotional responses and place a heavy focus on building strong relationships with struggling students (see for example ACF, 2010; Bloom, 1995; de Arellano et al., 2008). We find that these two strategy foci are not enough. We seek to integrate trauma-informed approaches with strengths-based paradigms and wellbeing research to promote both post-traumatic healing and post-

traumatic growth within classrooms. Through our research and work with schools across Australia, we argue that teaching trauma-affected children can be conceived within two practice areas: (1) Pre-emptive, proactive strategies to create a differentiated, strengths-based classroom; and (2) Triage strategies to ensure a strong regulatory and relational response to address resistant student behaviour. In this article, we will provide a handful of principles and strategies that have led to significant shifts in teachers as they approach their practice and nurture academic and social growth with their students. Who you are will be mirrored by your students As evidenced in the initial quote, teachers who see their vocation as meeting the needs of the most vulnerable students in their classrooms can take on a professional identity that is tenderly dependent on small daily wins with students. Guided by our understanding of co-regulatory mirroring (Crittenden, 2008) and mirror neurons (Kohler et al., 2002) we seek to strengthen teacher practice by pre-emptively helping the teacher understand that their personal identity can be a mirror of what they hope to nurture in their students. Specifically we pose questions to teachers, under three affective based-states, and help them develop personal strategies to maintain themselves as: • • •

De-escalated: Are you aware of the stressresponses and stress-arousal of both yourself and the students in your classroom? Have you learnt the strategies to pre-emptively predict the triggers of both yourself and your students? Mindful: Do you actively practice the art of grounding yourself and your students in the present moment? Do you give all students multiple opportunities during the day to connect and reconnect t he ms e l v e s to a g ro unde d and m in d f ul / pre s e n t state? Empathetic: What strategies do you have in place to insert empathy as a specific part of addressing resistant or avoidant student behaviours? Managing a classroom through empathy empowers both teachers and students to stay in a cortically strong, non-reactionary state. We, as teachers, lose our empathy for the students when blame, anger, and frustration impede our relational interactions with them. An empathetic mindset based on principles of unconditional positive regard must be pushed forward when things go wrong with a student. Empathy can help us frame difficult moments in the classroom with this mindset: This is hard for you. It’s hard on all of us to see you struggle. I understand and will

help you determine a pathway that maintains your dignit y. Placing de-escalation, mindfulness, and empathy at the forefront of teacher professional practice can often cause significant shifts in the way that teachers approach their classroom agendas. It is often a catalyst for personal learning about themselves and their motivations regarding their vocational identity. Teachers report that attention to training these skills with their most resistant students encourages significant shifts in their own resiliency within their personal lives as well. This interweaving of professional and personal response can help to support the classroom teacher as a front-line traumaworker. It also provides a potentially powerful lens for personal growth towards a teacher’s own understandings of meaning and accomplishment. What comes first: Regulation or Relationship? In the BSEM, we have specifically listed Body before Relationship to positively disrupt the thinking of our colleagues. The Body domain addresses trauma’s devastating effects on child-development and specific effects on the body’s ability to self-regulate the most basic physical functions of temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, and the stress response (Perry, 2006). We know that trauma-affected children can have a significantly altered base line for stress-arousal and stress-regulation. Strategies that help the body regulate these maladaptive functions help the child self-regulate within the classroom. When it comes to the Relationship domain, we teach the specific skills that teachers can employ to build strong, attached relationships which coregulate, attach, and attune students to the safety and belonging they need within the classroom. We know that students, who struggle in their own self-concept, will often attach to a trusting adult; and then achieve small steps academically due to their motivation for approval and respect within that student-teacher relationship. Teachers question which must come first — regulatory capacities or relational abilities within the classroom? We strive to clarify this question with teachers because we want to provide them with a clear, understandable roadmap for their successful student management in traumaaffected classrooms. Given the current context of classrooms we see across Australia, we often witness teachers building classroom relationships that can both help and hinder classroom management. We see students developing conditional relationships with teachers, and teacher expectations wavering for the sake of the relationship. For example, with a struggling, trauma-affected student, the teacher may be resistant to enforcing classroom rules around uniform, swearing, or work completion because they feel tentative that the investment in the relationship will not survive the test of the student’s own resistance and boundarytesting. This puts the teacher in a confusing and

Actual— ACT Group Edition 06  
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