Monday, 23 September 2019

Trauma Informed Teaching

I was highly fortunate to attend amazing PD around Trauma informed teaching delivered by Kathryn Berkett. Kathryn is an Educational Psychologist with a certificate in Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics - Trauma.

Unfortunately the number of children presenting at schools around NZ with significant trauma is increasing. Kathryn offers valuable information around the physiology of this trauma as well as some simple ideas that can benefit both the traumatised children as well as the teacher.

I adore working with these more challenging kids and the interesting days that we share. Kathryn's korero not only supported a lot of what I believe and taught me new things,  but also challenged two fairly fundamental areas of "basic" teaching practice.

"Some children can't". As our neural pathways develop in utero and in infancy, some children effected by trauma do not build pathways that fit the norm of society - perhaps they don't even build certain pathways. These children then - can't. In just the same way that a child born without legs cannot walk, a child with poorly or "wrongly" developed pathways cannot reason or spell or show empathy. We provide disabled children with on ramps - with ways to access learning and life - do we provide those same on ramps for our traumatised children?
The key to knowing these on ramps is relationship, love and empathy from the significant adult. Every one of our 30 children needs their own on (and off) ramp - just another thing to add to the teaching load. But it is worth knowing as the pay off in a busy classroom is huge. Unsettled and disruptive children become calmer, happier and begin to learn.

"Don't punish the behaviour." As a teacher we are firmly rooted in rewards for those who do well and consequences for those who don't. We need to switch this mindset for children who have no other option. If you have been raised in a house where lashing out is the norm, where swearing is the norm, then your neural pathways have made that your default.
How can we punish a child for simply doing what is (almost) innate?
The key is in apologising and trying to notice the behaviours and then re framing for the child. The reframing is not simple and cannot be done when a child is in their heightened agitated state. Kathryn shared an idea around manufacturing moments of minor stress for these children and scaffolding them through with the correct responses. Slowly, but surely, through these manufactured moments the child would learn correct responses and begin to build pathways that are more conducive to the society that we live in.

So in out class we are not expecting "fairness" in completion of tasks during the day. Each boy has their own challenge and their own goal - if the goal becomes unattainable due to anxiety, then the reward is not taken away, the goal is shifted. The boys don't want the goal to shift - they prefer to work to their maximum, but some days, some goals need adjustments.
We are learning about our heart rates and how to raise and lower them. We are accepting and loving and every boy is celebrated for who they are and what they bring. Everyone has an on ramp to support them to be their very best each day. Today, for one boy, the on ramp was a clean t-shirt and a sandwich. For another boy it was simply writing down his story for him because today it was too much.

Flexibility is key and flexibility for 30 kids is exhausting, but possible. It is possible because of the ultimate reason why we teach. We teach because we love and because we want to see progress in these kids - not academic progress, life progress. The small moments make the biggest difference.