Let our Voices be Heard!

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We can and WILL change this narrative!

And don’t let anyone tell you we don’t have the answers!

If you don’t believe me, just ask a teacher!

But, we can’t do this in a culture where classrooms are dependent upon donations to adequately supply the basic needs of our students. How can we fund school-based clinics when we can’t even fund Kleenex?

So, if you believe all student behaviors serve as a child’s form of communications; wouldn’t it behoove all of us to be more responsive as early as possible?

Growing Up in a Half-Staff World

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Our nation has experienced yet another massacre within the walls of a school. The 24/7 cable news pundits are hitting gun control hard again. 

Yes; we have played this tape before: School shooting, thoughts and prayers, candlelight vigil, and repeat!

Is the flag still at half-staff?

As a nation have we become desensitized to these events? Is this the new normal for this generation of kids?

Don't get me wrong, I'm all in for tighter gun control laws. Children having the ability to amass large stockpiles of weapons is never good.

But, I am an educator.

And like most educators, my days are spent attending to the holistic needs of my students. On most days, restroom breaks are luxuries! So, I often ignore the news flashes that come over my cell phone throughout the day until the drive home. 

So, as I drove home from school on this Valentine's Day and learned of the latest school shooting from the radio, my tendency was to switch over to Spotify and zone out. You see, it had been a long day in my role as a trauma-informed coach and I try to practice what I preach in terms of teacher wellness. Compassion fatigue is a real issue within our profession.

But, before I had a chance to bluetooth, I heard the pundits debating whether or not I should be able to carry a gun in my classroom. Really! Are these folks really that far removed from what we educators actually do day-in and day-out?

You see I had just spent Valentine's Day; you know the day dedicated to love, working with elementary children that have gone through some pretty horrific experiences. The children that I have the opportunity to work with normally do not make it through days like these. Party days are just too much for their sympathetic nervous system to handle. But, today they made it and I counted it as a huge win!

You see, an 8 year old (or at any age) should never witness their parent being brutally murdered at point blank range. I also shouldn't have to help a 6 year old girl develop calming strategies because she was raped by her mother's drunken boyfriend.

Unlike, our veterans who come home with PTSD, I know many of my students that I work with won't be experiencing the "Post" anytime soon. But, I do know that the keys to building their resiliency skills include: Creating safe learning environments, building relationships & connectedness, and supporting and teaching emotional regulation. 

It doesn't take a neuroscientist to figure out how these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) impact the developing brain. But, for those that need it, here is the video. 

For those that are serious about changing this narrative we find ourselves in, you would be wise to rewind the tapes of these shooter's lives. The entire tape. Long before the child started collecting guns, or playing violent video games, or addicted to drugs, or fill in the blank. You see according to the ACE study, what we can predict, we can also prevent.

Rarely, have I seen the media outlets cover this angle. However, they are quick to place traumatized kids in front of the national cameras and "apologetically" interview them before these kids even had a chance to process with crisis counselors. That should be labeled as child abuse! 

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If we are to correct this narrative, we need to act on the neuroscience of toxic stress and start funding trauma-informed schools that embed  social and emotional learning into the curriculum. We also need dedicated therapists that can better address these kids toxic stress and trauma. I'm not talking about calming rooms here. I'm talking about mental health professionals operating within school-based health clinics.

I'm tired of people referencing my work as "soft skills." In today's climate as we have witnessed once again, they are critical life skills!

Oh, and one last request; when I said funding, I wasn't suggesting bake sales. 

Call to Action: Please contact your local & state school boards to advocate for additional funding for mental health professionals with an emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) in our schools!

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DR. JIM WALTERS, AN EDUCATOR WITH OVER 25 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE SERVING IN BOTH SUBURBAN AND URBAN COMMUNITIES, WAS AN EARLY TRAUMA-INFORMED SCHOOL ADOPTER IN THE ST. LOUIS REGION. THROUGH HIS CONSULTING COMPANY; TRAUMAINFORMEDLEARNING.COM, HE NOW ASSISTS SCHOOLS IN THEIR QUEST TO BUILD HEALTHIER AND MORE RESILIENT COMMUNITIES THROUGH A TRAUMA-INFORMED LENS. 

 

Embedding Trauma-Informed Practices Within Existing School-Wide Practices

Do you want to know my formula for creating successful trauma-informed schools?

Make the Complex --> Simple!

Here's how in 3 Easy Steps! 

Step 1: Apply The 3 Components of Trauma-Informed Care into your Decision-Making Process:

 

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Step 2: Assess how the 3 Components of TIC can be Infused within Existing Systems/Structures.

For example: Most elementary schools operate with some type of school-wide hallway procedures as shown in the pictures below. This particular school had already adopted a PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports) framework and included hallway procedures in their matrix.  

Step 3: Apply your Knowledge of the Neuroscience/Neurobiology within your Existing Systems/Structures.

Acknowledging and respecting this school's PBIS journey can help staff become more receptive in understanding that a trauma-informed lens only strengthens existing practices. (This is so important as new initiatives in schools can come across as threats to pre-existing systems when viewed in isolation and create early adoption resistance) 

Our Task: How to embed Mindfulness into what we are already doing? 

1. Utilize existing PBIS Hallway STOP signs as opportunities for Wellness Breaks. Empower Student Line Leaders to lead One-Minute Wellness Breaks. Post or hang your newly adopted self-regulation strategies at all STOP sign locations throughout your school for student leaders or teachers to reference.  (See image below as an example)

2. S.T.O.P.  Practice

3. Mindful Walking

4. The possibilities are only limited to your imagination: Incorporate different colored floor tiles/designs in your walking patterns. "Hot lava" game. Line leader models a "Walk This Way" walking pattern for all to imitate. Asking students when they return to the classroom something they had observed differently on their walk, etc.

Call to Action: Be sure to include a few of your own ideas in the comments below. 

Now go out and be the change you want to see!

 

DR. JIM WALTERS, AN EDUCATOR WITH OVER 25 YEARS OF EXPERIENCE SERVING IN BOTH SUBURBAN AND URBAN COMMUNITIES, WAS AN EARLY TRAUMA-INFORMED SCHOOL ADOPTER IN THE ST. LOUIS REGION. THROUGH HIS CONSULTING COMPANY; TRAUMAINFORMEDLEARNING.COM, HE NOW ASSISTS SCHOOLS IN THEIR QUEST TO BUILD HEALTHIER AND MORE RESILIENT COMMUNITIES THROUGH A TRAUMA-INFORMED LENS. 

 

 

 

2018 Trends in Education

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What will be the headlines in education for 2018?

  1. Personalized Learning will continue to dominate the headlines. The educational options that parents have at their fingertips have never been greater. While many make this out to be a battle between Public v. Charter school options, more and more students and their parents are opting out from both with on-line programs that better meet their child’s personalized needs. Schools that continue to view education as the Ford Model T assembly line approach will find themselves as the next educational Blockbuster Video. STEAM, STEM, PLTW, and other health-related programs have become very popular options for school districts to offer. Look for these programs to only increase.

  2. Social and Emotional Learning or (SEL) as it is commonly referred to, will dominate the headlines in 2018! Two contributing factors why 2018 will be “The Year of SEL”:

a. The educational neuroscience and neurobiology are quickly becoming mainstream in helping educators understand how toxic stress, trauma, as well as our new generation of learners, the (i-Generation) that are now fully immersed into our schools, will require a vastly different approach to learning.

b. Organizations such as Casel and The Aspen Institute are helping to establish Core SEL competencies for states and districts to adopt along with identifying evidence-based practices that are aligned to state standards.

3. Play. In 2017, flexible seating became all of the rage in classrooms. This movement was long overdue. But, let’s not forget what has happened over the last three decades in education as high-stakes testing has created an educational environment where social development has taken a back seat. Thankfully, we are seeing more and more schools re-instate or increase “free play” (recess), physical education, and other fine arts programs. With the arrival of i-Gen students, we can no longer view these programs outside of the core curriculum! Great schools understand the need for their students to be college, career, and life skilled ready!

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4. Teacher (caregiver) Wellness. If 2017 was about asking, “how are the children?” The question for 2018 will be; “how are the teachers?” Teacher shortages are prevalent in all 50 states with no end in sight. As is the practice during airline emergencies, the oxygen mask must first be applied to the adult before we can be of any assistance to our children. School leaders that understand how climate and culture all interact with teacher wellness to create loving learning environments that all will want to call home, will truly discover the joys to learning!

Call to Action: What will be your 2018 Headline?

Bullies: Unhidden Triggers

I recently came across a local Facebook post from a mother whose child had been attacked by another student on the way home from school. She described in her post that this had been an on-going bullying issue. The mother even displayed graphic pictures of her child's injuries.

This post as you can imagine generated hundreds of outcries from the community. The outcries may have taken some school administrators and board members by surprise. But, there really is a logical reason to this level of public outrage: Bullying awakens the deepest of all emotions in all of us.

What I learned from my work and research as a trauma-informed school design-thinker/coach is that we all have triggers. Many adults go through their entire life never knowing what unresolved issues or “triggers” they may carry with them. You probably know a few; the ones that seem to always have a chip on their shoulder. I’m guessing from the hundreds of heated comments from that Facebook post it may have reactivated many of those deep emotional memories or scars. 

As I read this mothers post, I could feel her pain within myself. More specifically, how could anyone witness another human being getting hurt or go through an injustice and do NOTHING? That's a larger question constantly being asked in our society.  

Schools that embrace social and emotion learning (SEL) into their curriculum can make a huge difference in this social dilemma. For instance; creating cultures where children learn to be upstanders rather than bystanders? It's a tough and real life test for building empathy. 

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What the research tells us with these traumatic events is they tend to be lodged or stuck within our memory. Which goes back to the hundreds of comments this Facebook post elicited. 

The worst reaction a school can do is responding publicly with one of those "we don't have a bullying problem at this school" or any number of similar suggestive answers that dehumanize the emotional feelings of these victims.

Those responses not only show the insensitivity for the victim (lack of empathy), but it also becomes counterintuitive with the "hurt to healing" process. Stated in another way: I wouldn't dare challenge my wife's emotional response to watching a Hallmark Card commercial. That is "her" emotional reaction and not something for me to take away or re-define for her. So, why do we feel the need to challenge a child's emotional response to an event that had caused him/her to be harmed? The simple response in all of these events is to apply empathy and love.

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Safety: Maslow describes it as one of our basic needs. As educators we owe it to our students to provide safe learning environments for ALL. Creating trauma-informed school environments can be a "sea change" for building healthy school cultures.

Instead of asking "what's wrong with you" which tends to lead toward zero-tolerance policies/practices; we can offer a much healthier alternative with "what happened to you." You will be amazed how that one question sets in motion a prescription for change! To be clear: This is a rhetorical question. I'm not suggesting to actually ask the student "what happened to them" in the case of those children that you suspect of experiencing some type of severe abuse. That question could re-trigger emotions. We save those conversations for trained therapists. You are approaching every student from a prospective that their behavior is serving as their communication tool. As a former Principal, I didn't need a complete medical history of my office discipline frequent flyers to know that these children had underlying triggers.

This latter approach not only validates the emotions of those children sending out the bullying cries, but it also sets in motion a healing process for all parties involved (restorative practices). Assigning exclusionary punishments may seem like the logical response for school administrators to help bullying victims out in these cases. However, for many victims, it doesn't provide complete closure; leaving them with fears of retribution the first time they find themselves alone again with their bully. Many go on to play the exhaustive avoidance game; fearful, and always looking over their shoulder.  

Restorative practices doesn't remove the consequences for the bully, which is one of those fallacies many have led to believe. In many cases, where the go-to consequence would have been long-term suspension for the bully; restorative practices, actually requires a lot more effort with healthier outcomes for all.


Bullying comes in many forms. be sure to Check out these helpful links below:

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Click here for Bully-Free resources for schools

Click here for Restorative Practices and Bullying Prevention

Click here for Nate Burke TedX Bystander Intervention 

 

As always; Never Give Up Hope! Your stories of adversities can provide the strength someone is needing to hear right now!

Please share in the comments below YOUR success stories.


 

Please contact your local & state school boards to advocate for additional funding for mental health professionals with an emphasis on social and emotional learning (SEL) in our schools! Language and the pre-frontal cortex (executive functioning) gets shut down when our emotional regulation (lower brain) is out of sync.

The bottom line: If your looking to raise student achievement and your effort doesn't begin with the lower (emotional) brain, you are wasting valuable time and money.

Building Your Resiliency Toolkit

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According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 5 American adults will experience some form of mental illness in any given year. Given these staggering numbers, mental health impacts every family. Equipping yourself with a resiliency tool kit will not only help you or your loved ones survive the experience, but could actually lead to what is referred to as Post-Traumatic Growth

My Top 3 Survival Tools (Resiliency Toolkit) were a compilation of the resiliency research I came across; simplified, and presented in a way that would make sense to anyone currently navigating through a stormy season. As one can reason, it is much easier to strengthen and repair a ship when it is not being tossed by the rough seas. Take inventory below and start building your tool kit while your ship is anchored in the harbor!

Top 3 Survival Tools (Resiliency Toolkit):  

1. Champion(s): Tool #1:

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Perspective: Your view changes knowing that you are not alone. Who is in your Support Group?

You don't have to have an entourage; but you do need a strong champion or two that will remain present; non-judgmentally, throughout your stormy season.

2. Mindfulness: Breathing, Meditation, Yoga, Exercise, Running. Tool #2.

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One research-based strategy to deal with toxic stress and trauma is called Mindfulness; of which physical exercise is one example. Focusing on breathing and remaining in the moment are all critical components. 

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3. Spiritual Presence: Tool #3: "Spirituality" as defined in a plural sense:

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The most important aspect of anyone's journey is how can it be used and cultivated to serve a greater purpose? Cultivating a thankful heart can play a major role in overcoming discouragement, grief, pain, and discontentment. 

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Allocating time each day to these 3 basic tools will not only keep you healthy but also serve as a refuge to those around you. I would love to hear how you have developed your own set of tools in the comments below. Never Give Up! The world needs to hear your story!

 

 

Charlottesville; yet another opportunity to teach our students critical thinking

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As a new school year begins, educators will eagerly enter the classroom challenging their students to become critical thinkers. The disturbing images of white supremacists on a college campus holding tiki torches with their hate chants were yet another wake up call for all educators to take action.  You see, simply posting #NotMyUSA is by definition "white privilege."  And even though I detest the despicable actions and ideology of these hate groups, I cannot turn a blind eye that such groups exist and have existed for decades in my USA. I may have been recently "woke"; but for marginalized communities this has always been their USA. 

So, what must we do?

Before we as educators can infuse relevant current topics into our classrooms such as Charlottesville, Ferguson, Colin Kaepernick, Black Lives Matter, Confederate Statues, etc., we first need to create a sense of community built upon trust and safety for ALL students! Without this component, courageous conversations which play a large role in critical thinking development will quickly give way to mistrust and a betrayal of student vulnerability not easily regained. 

In 2014, I was fortunate to be a part of a student-driven movement in St. Louis, Missouri right after Ferguson called Gateway2Change.  We created spaces for student voice to tackle issues such as race through courageous conversations. At that time, teachers and administrators felt woefully unqualified given the racial tensions in our city to even broach the subject of race. In addition, most educators were too young to have remembered the Vietnam War protests on campuses. We also didn't have the luxury of having a #charlottesvillecurriculum to help generate lesson plans. 

As I watched the images of Charlottesville, I couldn't help but think back to Ferguson and the lessons we learned. From a lens of an educator, I also became deeply disturbed by the number of young faces in the crowd at Charlottesville that represented communities all across America including my own. You see, we are ALL Ferguson and Charlottesville. Which means we ALL can be positive change agents. For educators, Charlottesville once again, served as a dire reminder of how important it is for critical thinking skills to be taught and nourished within our current pedagogy.   

Warning: When you begin to use Empathy as your compass, you also begin the process of self-examining your existing belief system. For example, take a look at how we have treated indigenous people. Would you use the word genocide in the conversation? What about the labels we as a privileged class have given them throughout our history (Indians->Native Americans->Indigenous)? So using an empathic lens; would it be OK for indigenous people to remain seated during the national anthem as Colin Kaepernick has done? You see, I told you this wasn't going to be easy. However, if you can courageously support student voice in safe learning environments for these conversations, you just might find that the greatest growth in your room will be you! 

Do you have a classroom environment where  every voice  would be valued and  every student  felt safe to have this discussion?

Do you have a classroom environment where every voice would be valued and every student felt safe to have this discussion?

The good news is that as teachers you have an opportunity to create a new generation of positive change agents. Knowing that your students will be anxious to discuss and debate the current events such as Confederate monuments in cities; makes creating safe and trusting environments our #1 priority in the backward lesson design. Without safety, there will be no courageous conversations. Without courageous conversations, developing critical thinking gets lost to ignorance. 

So, if we as educators truly want to instill critical thinking skills within our students, we must first begin with looking in the mirror.  This process will undoubtably require you to experience discomfort-that is a given. Will you be ready and willing to do that for your students?

Step One: Learn how to facilitate courageous conversations in trusting and safe learning environments. This is the most important step and one that is not often included in those scripted curriculum guides!

Click here to watch one class tackle today's issues.

Step Two: Locate your curriculum or articles; with attention given to any pre-existing bias you may bring to the table.

Step Three: Listen and learn empathically. My greatest lesson learned as an educator with respect to; #BlackLivesMatter, came from one of my high school juniors who described it as such: "BlackLivesMatter" because it is "my" house right now that is on fire! That was MY lightbulb moment!  

How are YOU creating safe learning environments in which ALL voices are primed to have courageous conversations? Please share in the comments so we can all learn together and thrive.

Empathetic Leadership & Design Thinking in Education

Empathetic Leadership & Design Thinking in Education (Re-framing educational problems to customercentric opportunity spaces that drives value back into the community)

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Empathetic Leadership is a leadership trait gaining traction amongst organizations and an attribute highly sought after in leadership search teams. It’s not enough for leaders to know about their environmental conditions and the people they serve; leaders today need to have the capacity to "become" a part of their environment. To do this, leaders cannot just be sympathetic to the needs of their communities, they need to "live it” as well.

One process that helps teams move toward this empathetic model is called, Design Thinking. I’ve used Design Thinking in my work with helping schools; re-brand, improve school climates & cultures, and in creating innovative classrooms such as Design Thinking, Makerspaces/Labs, and Coding.

Recently, I wanted to apply my knowledge of Design Thinking in the areas of Classroom Management with considerations to; trauma-informed, restorative practices, and PBIS. After a google search of trauma-informed school discipline using design thinking produced zero results; our team did the next best thing, we created one!

That empowerment tool is called; the Trauma-informed Discovery Design (TIDD). With assistance from Drew Schwartz and using his One, Two, Three Wellness tool as a foundation for our work, we developed a simplified empowerment process for school leadership teams to implement without investing in expensive long-term professional development. This becomes an important factor when working with schools experiencing high staff and leadership turn-over.

The basis for our plan is an understanding that emotional literacy provides the foundation for all learning. For traumatized children who are often frozen in the past, it is critical for educators to help these children put those nonverbal images and feelings associated with their traumatic events into words that they and their teachers can understand. Adults, as well as children who have been traumatized need to gain a sense of personal control (Bloom, 1995).

Empowerment, becomes the catalyst in starting their journey from hurt to healing. This process is a dramatic shift from the traditional exclusionary measures that often were the only method in which to handle maladaptive student behaviors.

This is where the work gets really exciting! To see students become knowledgeable of the neuroscience in how their traumatic childhood experiences has impacted and even altered their neurological development, puts in motion a new empowering narrative for them. Students, with the help of trauma-informed school personnel can now begin to realize they are not broken needing to be fixed by our educational system, rather critical allied change agents in awakening a broken educational system! 

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Click here for a Design Thinking for Educator's class

Click here if you would like to try out Design Thinking 

 

For more background on Design Thinking and Stanford University, which created a school for just this purpose, referred to as; d.school: Check out this introductory video: 

For those wanting to go through a 1 hour crash course in Design Thinking and how it could impact your school, check out this link:

IDEO's Tom Kelley defines Innovation as something that is: "Fresh, can be implemented, & adds value to the community." Design Thinking when applied correctly within the educational disruptive narrative can be the catalyst for building healthier communities.