Achievement Despite Trauma

I often hear from educators that the number of students in their schools affected by traumatic life experiences is climbing. How do we bring out the best in these students, and help them find success and achievement, despite trauma?

It begins with an understanding of how trauma affects the brain. When a child is suffering from the aftereffects of trauma, his or her brain is in often in fight or flight mode. When the trauma continues over time, this pattern can become chronic. It becomes difficult to learn when our brains are in this state. Learning, memory, emotion and language skills are all affected.

If we can begin to calm the brains of trauma-affected students, we may have a chance to help lower this barrier to learning. One strategy includes teaching mindfulness to our students. When we are truly mindful and present in the moment, we can begin to leave the fight or flight response behind, if only for a few moments. That may be long enough to refresh the brain.

All of our students can benefit from daily breathing, stretching or yoga breaks to relax their bodies and minds. Some students have a low threshold for triggering fear, or shutting down and tuning out. Creating safe spaces in our schools and classrooms can provide a respite from the stress, overload and confusion that these students experience.

Consider creating a corner of the room where students can go to calm themselves. If you can block off an area with shelves and add soft furniture, pillows, fabrics, tactile objects and dim lighting, students can give themselves a break when needed. You can work out a system where either you or the student provide a cue that it’s time for a sensory break. A great benefit is that this helps the student learn to self-monitor and head off a more intense response by acting preventively.

For some additional resources on supporting kids who’ve suffered trauma, check out NEA’s Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma handbook. One great tip is to greet each student authentically. If you haven’t already seen it, this video of a teacher in North Carolina is a great example of doing just that, and it will make your day.

Thinking about training your school staff in safety practices and behaviors to watch for?

For a limited time, you can get a free preview to see if the online Everyday School Safety course is right for your school. Contact me before March 5th for a free preview voucher.

Bullies in the Workplace

Schools are workplaces as well as institutions of learning. Bullying in the workplace occurs in all professions and across education levels.

Does your school safety plan include a protocol for addressing workplace harassment, bullying and violence?

I recently spoke with the principal of a school in a district where I’m training and developing violence threat assessment teams. This principal has concerns about the negative relationships she’s seeing between some staff members. Workplace bullying is its own problem, but at times, it can lead to violence.

Here’s how to avert that progression.

The first step is to put a workplace bullying or harassment policy in place. This will give you something to reference and enforce when you are faced with a bullying situation. It will also provide an opportunity for you to learn about the legal issues involved in workplace harassment. For example, it is illegal for someone to harass or discriminate based on gender, race, religious affiliation, disability and other protected categories.

If you are witnessing active bullying or harassment between employees or staff members, it’s important to intervene immediately and let the bully know that his or her behavior is unacceptable and violates workplace policy. This behavior should never be ignored. Boundaries should be put in place and monitored. Whether the person chooses, or is able, to respect those boundaries will tell you a lot about his or her mindset.

During your conversation with this person, you will want to observe him or her for unusual mood, behavior and language – something that is out of character for this individual. I recommend chatting a bit about successes and challenges the person is facing to gain some insight into anything particularly stressful or difficult in the person’s life. If you have an employee assistance program, now’s the time to offer it. While you are setting a boundary, you also want to convey that you are there to help and work with the person so solve the issues. Teaming up will help both of you, and will go a long way toward diffusing any anger that may exacerbate a grievance.

It’s vital to document all reports, conversations and interventions, and continue to check in and monitor the situation with all parties involved. If things escalate, you will need to take additional steps which may include mediation, suspension from duties or contacting law enforcement.