Trauma Informed Educator Series: Break Areas

Trauma Informed Educator Series: Break Areas

“Now they want us to put a tee pee up in the corner of our classroom?”
“What is education coming to?”
“It sure feels like we are giving children a reason to avoid work.”
“I sure wish I could walk away when the work got hard and get a little rest.”
“What’s to stop every student from using the break area?”
“We already take regularly scheduled movement breaks in my class.”
“There aren’t any break areas for adults, in real life!”

Learning hinges on student’s ability to self regulate.

Human brains are wired for survival. Unfortunately some of our kids are still hyper alert (as if a bear attack is imminent) in our classrooms. I wrote about this regularly occurring phenomenon in THIS POST. Sometimes student hypervigilence and dysregulation looks a lot like willful misbehavior in the classroom. But more often than we recognize, the preconditions for this behavior are occurring before, during and after the misbehavior. What we also know now, through research and years of anecdotal evidence in the classroom, is that stressed out brains cannot learn. Physiologically, they cannot reach the high levels of thinking that we are pushing for, while they are in this state of high arousal and dysregulation.

When we give students tools to regulate themselves, we are actually building independence and self-advocacy skills.

Nobody can push a button and get a dyregulated child back to baseline, though we wish we could. Adults can be with children and co-regulate in proximity (Babies swaddled by their mothers and fathers co-regulate by feeling the slower heart rate/ breathing, and then matching it). More practically in a classroom environment, educators can provide dedicated space, calming options, and relative proximity for a child to soothe and regulate themselves.
Break areas are simply another tool that we can provide our students, to help them SELF REGULATE. At the end of the day, individuals have to build healthy means of regulating themselves to thrive in our environment. Nobody

One small modification can make save time, resources, and heartache.

While making an addition to the classroom environment may feel like a big ask, it’s important to consider the resources that are currently being directed to reactively meet the in-the-moment needs of our most dysregulated students. At our site, we see teachers having to stop lessons and call for assistance. We see children, overwhelmed and dysregulated, walking out of classrooms under the control of their reptilian “dinosaur brain,” wired for survival. We are seeing adjunct staff pulled from critical functions to supervise, coax, and assess students on the run. What if a student, in this aroused state, had a brief area to recalibrate, regulate, and re-focus, in the classroom environment? What if they retreated to an area, did a few calming exercises, and returned to learning? Wouldn’t this be a win for everyone involved?

Being proactive beats being reactive.

By law, we must provide breaks for children, according to their learning needs, and accommodations listed in their IEPs. In fact, I’ve seen this explicitly listed in 100% of the Behavior Intervention Plans that have been developed in our district. What if break areas were already an option in our classrooms, for all students?
We can wait for directives via Behavior Intervention Plans (BIPs) in Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), with legal weight, to make shifts in this area. Or we can proactively create conditions and environments, including break areas, that are good for students. Now; Even in fifteen minutes.

What if every classroom on your campus had a break area for kids?
When Restorative Responses Sound Like Weakness

When Restorative Responses Sound Like Weakness

Certain misbehaviors trigger us more than others.
Lying. Stealing. Talking back.
When students act in this way, our posture stiffens, our tone sharpens, our glare , and our fears increase.
Our brains deduce that behavior, displayed in this manner, at this young age, surely leads to tragic outcomes in the future.

That’s what I wrestled with the moment I realized my newly adopted daughter took a hundred dollar bill from my drawer, on her first day of first grade.

Is this the beginning of her involvement in a crime ring?

That’s where the mind of a teacher naturally went when her student blatantly lied about his behavior on the playground.

What happens to adults who continually lie?

That’s what happened to a staff member who caught multiple children stealing at the yearly book fair.

Is this the beginning of a life of crime for these children?

Deep breaths.
Answer: No.

As leaders, educators and parents, we must continually resist the urge to play out our worst fears in response to misbehavior.
One of our primary jobs is to teach children through their behavior and misbehavior, while they are young enough to mold and shape.
Restorative responses call us to work with children to consider these important questions:
Who was wronged/ hurt?
How might I make things right?
Are there opportunities to repair the relational damage?

Our less informed and historic responses push us to think first about consequences that inflict the most appropriate pain, to act as a deterrent in future situations. And there is a role for consequences that are natural and costly for children who misbehave. But are we stopping short? Are we providing opportunity to right wrongs and repair relationships? These, I would argue, are some of the brave underpinnings required for complex, democratic, diverse communities like ours, to thrive.

Simple, yet excruciating, moves, such as asking for forgiveness, are some of the most valuable lessons students can learn.
Admitting a mistake and moving through it with grace, is a fundamental skill sorely needed in our world.
Connecting our actions to the impact they have on others is a critical concept our students need to succeed in the future.

On the heels of an offense, this process can seem slow and weak. Adults who expect quick judgement and consequences might get nervous.  They might wonder if students are “getting off easy” or getting away with it.  Leaders who flex protocols to include restorative responses may sense push back or critique.  Nevertheless, leaders like us need courage to press towards what is right, what is empirically effective, and what is aligned with student learning.

If we want to create restorative environments in our schools, then we must be brave enough to interrupt the habitual/ natural responses we make in the wake of student misbehavior.
We have to be centered enough to slow down and consider the long range development of our youth.
We have to resist the temptation to slap a quick, painful consequence on an shame-sensitive young child.
We have to be strong enough to sit in the lack of clarity, while all parties consider real impact.
And we have to be creative enough to come up with responses that come from a human need to be reconnected and made right with one another.

This is the restorative way.
And it might sound like weakness to some.

To me, it sounds like hope.

Image by Chapendra via Flickr.
But First the Welcome

But First the Welcome

I awoke this morning with a pit in my stomach.

I have knowledge and (now) photographic evidence of what is happening to children and families on our nation’s southern border.

I know too much.

I’m parenting kids who have themselves been separated from their own biological parents in moments of duress and loss. I see the toll it takes over time. I hear the questions that linger. I work toward the healing. I hold them in the loss. I can’t put it all back together for them.

Right now, about 45 children per day (over 2000 total) are facing this kind of childhood trauma due to the revised implementation of our immigration policies at the border. Children are being separated from their families. Kids are being detained and held in chain link kennels. As a dad, I am chilled by the recent, immoral implementation of immigration practices.

I’ve seen too much.

In 2015, I wrote about the phenomenon of “unaccompanied minors” showing up at our schools. Currently, I am leading a school that saw multiple new arrivals trickle in, in the second half of our school year, after being detained at the southern border. Each student who arrived looked completely shell-shocked. When given the space to share about their recent experiences to a safe Spanish speaking adult on campus, they did so with courage. “Hacia frio. Hacia frio.” They slept on concrete floors. The lights stayed on 24 hours of the day. The blanket issued was like a big sheet of tin foil. Food was minimal and vacuum sealed. Disbelief lingered. Loss mounted. Cries went out.

When I first heard, I couldn’t believe it.

But then the reports surfaced this last week in the national news. The pictures showed a reality that our students had been describing. The stories checked out. What’s worse? At a clip of 45 kids a day, it is still continuing.

But these are our kids.

No matter how the courts decide to handle the asylum applications of our families, these will be our students. They will be in class with our own children. They will live next door. They will graduate from our universities and attend our staff meetings.

Those kids are our kids.

As citizens of this great country, let’s demand that trauma inducing practices stop. Let’s take the long view. Let’s provide translation rather than vacuum sealed meals. Let’s give “brazos” rather than judgement.

In our schools, let’s ensure emotional safety before sending them into the science lab. Let’s let them record their memories before we force them to memorize the amendments of the Constitution. Let’s be a school, a district, a learning community that provides structure, welcome and love. The learning will come.

But first the welcome.

Image by Adam McLane via Flickr
*Hours after writing this, our president issued an executive order halting the separation of families at the border. It is still unclear if/ when currently separated children and parents will be re-united.