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ACEs: Dealing with Trauma in the Classroom

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Allison Edwards

on 3 September 2015

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Transcript of ACEs: Dealing with Trauma in the Classroom

Adverse Childhood Experiences
Today's Objectives
Learn how to recognize and respond to symptoms of trauma

Dealing with Trauma in the Classroom
Resulting Beliefs and Feelings

Source: Schools promoting ‘trauma-informed’
teaching to reach troubled students, Dec 2, 2013 |
By Jane Meredith Adams 

Panksepp's rats

Rats usually play all day

With 1 tuft of cat hair in cage,
play stopped. After hair was
removed play never returned
to normal level.
Developmental Tasks of Middle Childhood

What Traumatized kids need

A feeling of safety
Connection with a caring adult

Lying, even when caught in the act, is one of the most common and persistent behaviors of children who have experienced trauma & neglect

A student arrived late to class, put his head on the desk and refused to answer questions from the teacher.
“I can’t take one more thing,”
The night before had been a scene of domestic violence at home, with his father taken away by the police. That morning his mother wouldn’t get out of bed, so the student took his siblings to school, which made him late.

Change the Question...

“We understand unsafe behavior as an expression of how unsafe this person feels, so we work to increase physical and emotional safety.”

- Gabriella Grant, director of the California Center of Excellence for Trauma Informed Care

Trauma is about the lack of safety
Rewards and Punishments

A child who’s been neglected, abused, and
traumatized will react differently than a child
who has been loved consistently to consequences,
discipline, and rewards.

Hurting children aren’t connected to the material items around them, so removing them won’t make a big difference immediately. You can use these discipline techniques, but understand you are laying a foundation for later.

Superficially, sarcastic comments add humor to an otherwise tense situation.

Separate behavior from student
Behavior has meaning...
What is causing this behavior?
What need is this behavior communicating?
What can be done to address this need?

Looking through a different lens
Model expectations
Clear, consistent expectations,
rules and consequences
Be kind and firm
in equal measure
Offer two or three choices
Reduce consequences and focus on solutions

Have a corner in your classroom with putty, stress balls and other sensory outlets for kids who are feeling triggered (“chill zone” never used as punitive)
UMOM has several other ideas

Classroom Structure
to Avoid Triggers
Many kids who have experienced trauma react strongly to non-verbal cues such as tone of voice, body language and facial expressions
When you approach a child, take a deep breath and do a 10 second scan of your body. Give them space – 3 feet is recommended
Know your physical reactions when you get angry. Does your voice become louder? Do you clench your jaw?
Approaching a traumatized child with neutral body language will help them hear what you are saying instead of focusing on what your body language means.

The Neutral Body
Collaborative Problem Solving
You will bring out the best in students if you communicate:


What's wrong with him?"
Learning Brain vs Survival Brain
The SURVIVAL brain can hijack the LEARNING brain
An overwhelming, overstimulating, or terrifying experience, experienced directly or indirectly
Herman, 1997, Van der Kolk, 2005, APA, 2000
What is Trauma?
The world is unsafe
People cannot be trusted
It is my fault
I am bad
One cat hair for 24 hours caused lifelong changes to playing behavior.
Some of our kids come from homes full of cat hair...
Some of them live

We want to make sure that our school is not full of cat hair.
Form assumptions about self and others
Develop sense of self
Develop coping and social skills
All can be disrupted by Traumas
During trauma, we use the "survival brain"
Conditioned to think of stimuli as threats
Chronic state of fear-related activation
Learning brain used less frequently, resulting in delays in learning, motor skills, etc.
Students exposed to trauma may...
Appear zoned-out
Have "who cares?" attitude
Reactions don't correlate with age
Unable to stay on task
Distract others
Impulsive; risk-taking
Ultimately he pushed a classmate, cursed the teacher and a received a five-day suspension.
Back story for student:
Backstory for the teacher...
She had been through a school lock-down the week before and was facing the start of testing the next day.
Buffers: avoid an unwanted trigger experience by creating predictive experiences, or buffers
follow a schedule
class routines
provide a sense of community
minimize changes/transitions
facilitate peer connections
learning through play
Instead of "What’s wrong with you?”
think, “What has happened to you?"

The answer provides context for the behavior, fosters
compassion, and helps us to see strengths in face of adversity.
“This student hates me,”
“I am in danger here.”
Gain a basic understanding of trauma and how it impacts
brain development, behavior, and learning
Learn what YOU can do to support and connect
with challenging students who may have a history of trauma

"I can never do anything right"
"My teacher hates me."
"I am in danger here."
Helping triggered students re-establish feelings of safety and control
Calm, CARING voice
Speak softer than the student
slow speech
neutral body language and slow movement
Try not to shame or embarrass...
Use empathy & validation:
"what do you need to calm down?"
or make demands he can't meet..
"Stop crying!"
Remember... this is not a good time for reasoning or disciplining
with the cat.
Step 1: Empathic questions and listening; open-ended questions build rapport:
“I’ve noticed you’ve been coming to class unprepared. What’s up?”
Step 2: Check for understanding with reflective listening:
“So you’re having a hard time getting to school on time and you don’t like reading in front of the class”
Step 3: Invite student to solve problem with you:
“I wonder if there is a way for you to let me know when you’re having a hard time? What do you think would help you feel more comfortable speaking in front of the class?”
But Jon has just been embarrassed and his trust in his teacher diminishes. The position of the teacher may be diminished in the other students’ eyes as well, even if they laughed, because they no longer see the teacher as an authority who protects their emotional safety but someone who freely uses the currency of insult.

"Jon, what part of 'Put your phone away' don't you understand? " a teacher may say.

The children laugh, and the teacher thinks she has shown that she has a sense of humor.
Audience ideas
Story of Mary-Kate
Refugees: Lori Robinson
Many of the kids who lie are being raised in families where that coping mechanism is also used by parents.
More tips from UMOM here
Becoming Trauma-Sensitive

Panksepp, J. (1998)
Affective Neuroscience
. New York, NY. Oxford University Press.
For More Information...

Resilience Trumps ACEs

Children's Resilience Initiative

ACEs Too High

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

ACE in Minnesota

Parent resilience
Caregiver knowledge and application of positive parenting skills
Identifying and cultivating a sense of purpose (faith, culture, identity)

Children’s social and emotional health
Social connections
Socioeconomic advantages and concrete support for parents and families
Communities and social systems that support health and development, and nurture human capital
Close relationship with caring adults

Individual developmental competencies (problem solving skills, self–regulation, agency)
A child
with four or more “adverse childhood
experiences” was 32 times more likely to be labeled with a learning or behavior problem than a child with no adverse childhood experiences. 
Full transcript