Strategic Planning: A Process of Empowerment

The Intent of Strategic Planning

Why create a strategic plan for your organization? Whether you are a small business, school, or international company, a strategic plan helps you to

  • Create a shared vision for where you are heading.
  • Align actions and impacts from different levels of your organization.
  • Simplify decision-making.
  • Develop strategies and actions to create a positive future state.
  • Outline data and evidence needed to monitor progress.
  • Allocate resources to initiatives that will create desired changes.

The Unhelpful Side of Strategic Planning

There is a difference between having an ineffective strategic plan and having an ineffective action within a strategic plan. A working strategic plan will have you gather evidence so that you shift your action plans if a strategy is not having the impact you are hoping for. An ineffective strategic plan results in you having no idea if an action is having an impact, causing us to continue doing and dedicating finite resources to ineffective actions. It is possible to have useful strategies within an ineffective plan, making it hard to create systemic and sustainable change.

An ineffective strategic plan might have the following features:

  • It does not reflect current state.
    • A working strategic plan reflects current trends, research, and actions being taken within our organizations. It is a living document that shifts over time.
  • It does not have buy in.
    • A working strategic plan is co-constructed by key stakeholders and is known to all employees and managers.
  • It is not used.
    • A working strategic plan is used to determine resource allocation, professional development plans, actions of staff, and evidence gathering.
  • It is too broad.
    • A working strategic plan is simple and focuses on what is most important within your organization. Too many actions and outcomes can spread time and resources out too much and reduce impact of what is most needed.
  • It is too vague.
    • A working strategic plan has clear actions, impacts, timelines, and responsibilities. Using specific terms can help everyone in an organization know expectations and roles.
  • It includes ineffective strategies.
    • A working strategic plan is a form of action research. There is no guarantee that an action is going to produce a desired outcome. What is important is that data collection is timely and specific so that your organization can shift strategies if needed. Be aware, however, that often time is needed for implementation and understanding in order to have a desired impact.

Traditional Strategic Planning: A Deficit View

Traditional strategic planning methods go through a cycle of problem identification and solution generation and implementation. Traditional strategic planning methods can lead to a deficit view.

Rather than a deficit view of what your organization is not doing, or not doing well, a strategic planning process should identify where you want to go, what you are already doing that might help, and how you might leverage the strengths of your organization to get there. By empowering your employees with a positively intentional view of your organization’s impact, it is possible to design a future state and the steps to get there. When an organization works with others to achieve its goals, identifying the influence you have on others and the influence they have on you, along with the steps you might take to achieve the influence you are seeking should be a part of your strategic action plan.

Hopeful and Helpful Strategic Planning Processes

There are three key theories of strategic planning that work well when viewed as part of a holistic process:

  1. Appreciative Inquiry
  2. Outcome Mapping
  3. Logic Modelling

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry

There are a series of stages built into the Appreciative Inquiry process:

1. Discovery: What are we currently doing well?

  • Ideas are themed and patterns emerge related to organizational strengths. This process allows organizations to focus on positive capacity.

2. Dream: What is the world calling us to become?

  • What are the things about our organization that no matter how much we change, we want to continue into our new and different future?

3. Design: What should be our ideal state?

  • Co-constructed ideas are grounded in what we are currently doing well, opportunities that are apparent, and organizational capacity.

4. Destiny/Delivery:

  • How do we empower, learn and plan for actions to reach our ideal state?

Along with steps in the Appreciative Inquiry cycle, there are a number of foundational principles that guide conversations and planning:

Appreciative Inquiry Principles

You can learn more about Appreciative Inquiry with the following resources:

Outcome Mapping

Where does outcome mapping fit into Appreciative Inquiry? Within the Design Phase, those organizations that work collaboratively with other groups in a mutually influential role can utilize facets of outcome mapping to identify actions, outcomes, and desirable observable behaviours. Here is a helpful introduction to Outcome Mapping from Sara Earl.

Strategic action planning and program evaluation involve the following steps:

Strategic Planning Steps

In order to have an impact, people and organizations need to change behaviours. This occurs within the Outcomes stage. When we see ourselves and our organization as a part of a large web of interdependent entities in relationship with one another, we can view change as

  • Continuous
  • Complex
  • Non-linear
  • Multidirectional
  • Not controllable

People and organizations contribute to the goals of others through influence rather than control.

Program Evaluation as Formative Assessment

Program evaluation is built into strategic planning so that progress can be monitored. When viewed as formative assessment, program evaluation can provide real-time information to inform decisions regarding action plans, inputs, and innovations within your organization. Are the actions you are taking resulting in the outcomes you have identified?


Traditional Evaluations

Evaluation as Formative Assessment

PurposeSupports improvement, summative tests, and accountability. Renders definitive judgments of success or failure.Supports development of innovation and adaptation in dynamic environments. Provides feedback, generate learnings, support direction or affirm changes in direction.
Roles & RelationshipsPositioned as an outsider to assure independence and objectivity.Positioned as an internal team function and ongoing interpretive processes.
AccountabilityFocused on and directed to external authorities and funders.Centered on the innovators’ deep sense of fundamental values and commitments.
DesignDesign the evaluation based on linear cause-effect logic models.Design the evaluation to capture system dynamics, interdependencies, and emergent interconnections.
MeasurementMeasure performance and success against pre-determined goals and SMART outcomes.Develops measures and tracking mechanisms quickly as outcomes emerge and evolve.
Evaluation resultsAim to produce generalizable findings across time and space.


Evaluation engenders fear of failure.

Aim to produce context-specific understandings that inform ongoing innovation.


Evaluation supports hunger for learning.

Complexity and uncertaintyTo control and locate blame for failures.Learning to respond to lack of control and stay in touch with what’s unfolding and thereby respond strategically.

(Quinn Patton, 2006)

Boundary PartnersBoundary Partners

Boundary partners are a term used within Outcome Mapping to describe those groups or organizations that you work with directly and anticipate opportunities to be mutually influential. Outcome Mapping identifies behavioural changes in your boundary partners as being a key measurable towards your goals. This is due to the fact that “development is done by and for people. Although a program can influence the achievement of outcomes, it cannot control them. This is because ultimately the responsibility rests with the people affected” (Earl, 2008).

Progress Markers

Progress markers (Earl, 2008) are a set of statements describing a progression of changed behaviours in a boundary partner. These describe:

  • Actions
  • Activities
  • Relationships

Leading to the ideal outcome. These markers show the complexity of the change process and have the following characteristics:

  • Can be monitored and observed
  • Permit on-going assessment of boundary partner progress, including unintended results

The ladder of change can be applied to any progress marker:

  1. Beginning: Expect to see.
  2. Mid-Term: Like to see.
  3. Final: Love to see.

To understand more about Boundary Partners and Progress Markers, watch Sara Earl’s Explanation.

You can learn more about Outcome Mapping through the following resources:

Logic Model

A logic model (Taylor-Powell & Henert, 2008) has many different forms and is a structured way to note specific inputs and activities of an organization and how they lead to outcomes over short, medium and long-term timelines. A logic model can be used in conjunction with other strategic planning processes and is a useful organizer.

Logic Model

You can learn more about creating a logic model through the following resources:

A Simplified Process

The following Seven Steps for Strategic Planning encompass all three of these foundational processes.

  1. Area of Focus
    • What from your state or provincial priorities resonate with you as an area of need for your students and staff? What are you seeing that indicates this is something your organization should focus on?
    • What does your data say? What is your present state?
    • What are you currently doing that is particularly effective in this area? How do you know?
    • What do your students need you to focus your creativity and energy on?
    • What changes would benefit your students and staff?
  2. Who are you trying to influence?
    • For schools, students are the most obvious group you are trying to influence.
    • Who else’s behaviour are you hoping to influence through this strategic plan? What individuals, groups, or organizations?
  3. What might happen if your plan is successful?
    • In general terms, what impact are you hoping to have?
    • What are the desired behaviours, relationships, beliefs and actions of those you are hoping to influence?
    • What would you expect to see? like to see? love to see?
  4. What might you as an organization DO to contribute to these changes?
    • What are you currently doing that works towards these impacts?
    • What might you do in the future?
    • Who might lead this work? Who might participate in this work?
  5. What resources might you need?
    • What systemic structures might need to be in place?
    • What time, money, and other resources are required?
    • Where might these resources come from? be reallocated from?
  6. What are the outcomes you expect to see? There are two ways of viewing outcomes:
    • Logic Chain:
      • What are the short term, or direct behavior changes that might result from your actions? These are often LEAD indicators (behaviours that might predict a future state or success). These short term outcomes are often teacher behaviours.
      • If those happen, then what medium term then long term, or indirect behaviour changes and outcomes might be influenced by your actions? Some of these are LEAD indicators, while others are LAG indicators (behaviours in current state that are based on past actions and performance).
    • Behaviour Progression:
      • Consider the group whose behaviour you would like to influence. What might you EXPECT to see? LIKE to see? LOVE to see?
  7. How might you monitor your progress?
    • What evidence might tell you about the implementation of your actions?
    • What evidence might tell you about the efficacy of shifts in organizational practices and structures?
    • What evidence might tell you about your outcomes?
      • Changes in behaviours.
      • Lead and lag indicators.
    • Consider using Wellman and Lipton’s Collaborative Inquiry Method and Collaborative Inquiry Worksheet for investigating your data.
Logic Chain
Behaviour Progression

By working through an integrated process for strategic planning, you can empower your organization to look beyond a deficit view of present state and work towards a desired future. By having an action plan for the steps to getting to your future state, it is possible to measure progress as formative assessment, providing a continuous feedback loop for your organization.


Earl, S. (2008, June 20). Outcome Mapping Pt 1. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from

MacDonald, N., & Simister, N. (2015). INTRAC: Outcome Mapping. Oxford, United Kingdom. Retrieved from

Quinn Patton, M. (2006). Evaluation for the Way We Work. The Non-Profit Quarterly(Spring), 28-33. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from

Springboard Social and Behaviour Change (SBC) Community. (2015). How to Develop; a Logic Model. Retrieved from Compass:

Stavros, J., Godwin, L., & Cooperrider, D. (2016). Appreciateive Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution. In W. J. Rothwell, J. Stavros, & R. L. Sullivan, Practicing Organizaiton Development: Leading Transformation and Change (4th Ed) (pp. 96-116). Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons Inc. doi:

Taylor-Powell, E., & Henert, E. (2008, February). Developing a Logic Model: Teaching and Training Guide. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from

Wellman, B., & Lipton, L. (2017). Data-Driven Dialogue. Charlotte: MiraVia.

White, D. (n.d.). Six Reasons Your Strategic Plan Isn’t Working. Retrieved from Allen, Gibbs & Houlik CPA’s & Advisors:

Wilkinson, M. (2011, October 18). Why You Need a Plan: 5 Good Reasons. Retrieved from Free Management Library:

Family Games at a Distance for Christmas (and they have GOOD math, too!)

What were many of us MOST looking forward to for Christmas? Food, Fun and Family… Fun in our family over the years has been board games, cards and dice games. And then new health orders came to Saskatchewan and that hope seemed to be dashed… BUT… there was a huge ‘aha’ when I was asked to design and facilitate a “Let’s Play: Math Games Online workshop” this past week.  I put my research hat on and found some online platforms for play. There are SO many cool fun platforms that are FREE to everyone. There will be Cribbage for Christmas after all!!

Playing card - Wikipedia

I have always believed that my confidence and competence in math came from the games I played as a child. Cribbage with my Grandpa and Great Grandpa, Monopoly with my friend Tommy, Go Fish with my sister, 31 with my Mom and Dad… So, how might we play these games online with Jori and Michael in Martensville, Erin in Comox, and Adam in Saskatoon? And better yet, how do we play them with the kids’ cousins Paige in Halifax, Amanda and Christian in Winnipeg, and then there is Auntie Sandra in Melfort and Grandma Carol down in Mesa this Christmas? My family is FAR too large to list everyone here, but you get the idea. Here are some games and platforms that might bring some cheer to your homes and families over the holidays.

Each of the following does NOT require an account or sign in. For each, you:

  • Start a game.
  • Copy the link and send it out by text or email to your game friends.
  • Set up a phone call or video call so that you can talk to everyone in the game. (Did you know that your iPhone can create a group call up to 5 people??) Or use Zoom, Google Meet, Facebook Rooms, What’s App… SO many possibilities. If two of you are in the same house on your own devices, consider either using your phone on speaker, or each of you use headphones/ear buds so you don’t get sound feedback.
  • Each of these is designed for each player to have their own device – they seem to work on computers or tablet/iPad or smart phone.
GameNumber of Players
Cribbage2, 3 or 4
Euchre4 (in two teams)
Go Fish2-6??
Hearts4 (in two teams)
Crazy Eights2 – 6
500 Rummy4 (in two teams)
Yahtzee2 – 6
Farkel2 – 6
Wizard2 – 6
Oh HeCK (or there is another word I can’t type here)2 – 6
Spades4 (in two teams)

Hopefully some of these games bring some fun to your Christmas!

Making Sense of Curriculum Through Mapping

We have rich Saskatchewan curricula, and an important step in planning is to make sense of what curriculum is asking students to know, do, and understand, and to connect to our local context. I just recently had a chance to work with the CTEP students in Cumberland House under the guidance of their instructor Lily McKay-Carrier. She calls this Nistota Curriculum (Understand Curriculum). Place matters, our students matter, and our own professional and personal knowledge matters when planning for instruction and assessment. Our professional judgment and expertise are what helps us design units of study that honour who are where we are teaching.

We know that outcomes are what students need to know, do and understand. They are the destination of instruction, while indicators are the ways that students might show us that they know.

So what is a process that we might use to make sense of curriculum? Mind mapping is a visual way to see connections between curricular ideas and link to our teaching context.

Steps for Mind Mapping:

  1. Determine what course(s) and outcome(s) you are going to cluster into one unit of study.
    • If you are creating a cross-curricular unit, then you might want to start with one course and then link to others.
    • Some curricula cluster outcomes into strands that make sense to teach as one unit (i.e. science and social studies), while others make sense to cluster outcomes from different strands or teach them alone (i.e. mathematics), as a strand is too large.
    • Sample Unit: Diversity of Living Things – Science 6
  2. Identify what concepts students would have interacted with BEFORE this unit that would have provided a foundation, and what concepts this unit feeds into next.
  3. Read over the outcomes to get a general sense of what the unit of study will be about. If you were to describe this unit to someone who is not a teacher, what might you say in a sentence or two?
  4. Highlight the main concepts identified in the outcomes and indicators. These are often the NOUNS.
  5. Mind map the main concepts to see how they connect. Often, there is repetition between outcomes, so this helps to streamline the unit.
    • Ask yourself what activities based on your community or your personal and professional knowledge might connect to curricular ideas. Add these to your mind map.
    • Sample Unit: Mind Map of Diversity of Living Things generated in collaboration with CTEP students fall, 2020.

Once you have generated teaching ideas, ask yourself if these honour the intent of the indicators in your curriculum. If a student did these things, would they be able to show that they know, do or understand this outcome?

Developing your Mind Map into a Unit of Study

Once you have created a mind map of key concepts and teaching activities, you can

  1. develop essential questions that pull together the unit.
  2. Develop an instructional sequence that includes:
    • Learning Activities
    • Assessment – both formative and summative
    • Materials/resources required

You can see the beginning of a draft unit of study created in collaboration with CTEP students in fall, 2020 focusing on Diversity of Life in Science 6.

Growing Resilience: Mitigating the Impact of Trauma

As teachers and parents, we have two aspects of trauma to consider and mitigate – the impact of trauma on our own lives and the impact of trauma on our children and students’ lives. As we explore ourselves and the coping strategies that we have developed over time, it is possible for us to reflect on children’s behaviours as ways that they have grown resilience and survival.

This two post series on growing resilience is a collaborative effort with myself, Nancy Barr of NMBarr Consulting, and Kyla Bouvier of Back2Nature Wellness and Events. It is designed to take us on a journey of understanding and empowering ourselves and the children in our care.

Today’s post is the second in this series, and focuses on strategies to mitigate the impact of trauma on our students by creating safe spaces where new neural pathways can be formed.

Trauma, Fear and Learning

Teachers may not deal with trauma directly, bu they are part of the healing process. They give their students order and predictability. After the chaos and confusion of their lives, nothing is more comforting than routines.

Pipher, 2002

There are many different forms of trauma that our children might experience. These include neglect, abuse, family dysfunction, and intergenerational and historical trauma. In addition to these, we are now living through a world pandemic. The self-isolation, loss of school and social gatherings, socioeconomic impacts and fear may lead to children and families being in crisis. As adults, we are in the midst of trying to figure out different ways to support children now at a distance and when we return to school, in whatever form that takes on.

Traumatized children have a set of problems in the classroom. These include difficulties with attending, processing, storing and acting their experiences in age-appropriate fashion.”

Bruce Perry, 2007

As adults, we are able to reflect on what coping strategies we have created for ourselves to manage our fears and beliefs. By reflecting on how our own coping strategies, we can better understand our students’ behaviours. Sometimes, what presents as misbehaviour is actually a stress behaviour.

To help us understand the involuntary nature of stress behaviour, Nadine Burke shares her research on the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences on children.

Dr. Jody Carrington goes further and explains what is happening in a child’s brain when they “Flip Their Lid”.

A brain that has experienced some sort of traumatic event reacts differently than a brain that has developed normally. In fact, Dr. Bruce Perry is one of the many researchers that believes the more threat a brain perceives or experiences, the less intelligent or mindful it is when reacting to stressful situations. A child who has experienced developmental trauma will spend much of of their time, energy and focus on survival rather than on cognition and learning.

So how do we help children create new pathways and patterns to shift their brain to focus on cognition and social emotional learning? This is where teaches are empowered to make a difference.

Planning with the Child in Mind

Foundational ideas around what is “good teaching” can create a framework for planning with the child in mind. These include

These key pedagogical ideas all come into play when designing learning backwards from an instructional idea. That idea might come from a child, the class, the community or be some other opportunity to engage in learning in a unique way. Along with content, meaning making and assessment, we can also plan for specific trauma-informed strategies to create new patterns in the brain.

Strategies to Mitigate Trauma

Trauma impacts children’s mind, spirit, emotion and body. therefore, we need to use strategies that create a space for children to heal their mind, spirit, emotion and body.

Classroom Environment

Sask Reads has identified that well-designed learning environments:

  • have intentionality and purpose that is carefully planned prior to instruction;
  • are functional and adaptable;
  • are organized to support the use of instructional approaches, including areas for whole class, small group, and individual learning
  • reflect the strengths, needs and interests of all students; and
  • are aesthetically inviting to students because their interests, cultures, learning, and work are present within the walls of the classroom.

A trauma-informed classroom environment also might include alternate seating, natural lighting, and places to go where kids can choose to be alone or to be with other people, depending on what they need right then.

Body Breaks

Body Breaks help to promote physical fitness, brain health, focus and cognitive development. Things to keep in mind:

  • Body breaks are designed to raise the heart rate and/or use large muscles.
  • Body breaks should take no more than 10 minutes 0- ideally they are 2-3 minutes.
  • They are often done right at student desks and require little or no equipment.

You can find examples of Body Breaks in this resource summary.

Brain Breaks

Children who have experienced trauma may have compromised brain stem and limbic systems. Brain breaks are specific strategies that can address stress responses, help to develop the brain stem and limbic systems, and activate both left and right parts of the brain. One example of a brain break is tapping therapy.

You can find examples of Brain Breaks in this resource summary.


Mindfulness can be described as the practice of paying attention in the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.

You can find examples of Mindfulness Strategies in this resource summary.

Self Regulation

Self-Regulation is a term we use in education, but do not have a shared understanding of what it means. Dr. David Tranter states that “Self-regulation refers to the ways in which people cope with and recover from ongoing stress.” Tranter found that children who have experienced chronic stress have difficulty navigating the demands of the classroom. Children may need support to:

  • Monitor their own emotional, physical and mental state,
  • Co-regulation techniques where an adult models calming strategies.

Dr. Stuart Shanker has identified five domains of regulation and strategies to help develop them:

  • Biological
  • Emotional
  • Cognitive
  • Social
  • ProSocial

Community and Citizenship

Teaching how to be a good citizen and community member is another approach to engage students in deeper learning and build relationships. Through projects and authentic tasks focusing on community building and citizenship, students are given both skills and opportunities to connect to their community in a positive way. Projects and tasks help students find connections cognitively, emotionally, physically and spiritually. These connections help to build positive neural pathways.

In Saskatchewan, the Human Rights Commission has led the development of a “made by teachers for teachers” resource, Concentus Citizenship Education, that connects to our current Social Studies Curriculum and brings citizenship connections to life.

Rhythm and Movement

Trauma treatments that include rhythm, movement and drumming are showing successful outcomes for children who have experienced trauma. Dr. Bruce Perry says we need “Patterned, repetitive, rhythmic, somatosensory activity” to help heal trauma.

You can find examples of Rhythm and Movement Strategies in this resource summary.


Storytelling is a powerful way teaching and learning that helps to build relationships and make connections between ideas. Storytelling is an Indigenous Way of Knowing and predates school and schooling in North America.

You can find examples and information about Storytelling on this resource summary.

Project Based Learning

Project based learning allows students to have control and input into their learning, allows for a focus on relationship-building within the classroom and community, and builds connections between otherwise discreet curricular ideas. Projects are:

  • relevant and engaging to students,
  • connect and integrate numerous curricular outcomes across multiple courses,
  • include formative assessment practices such as self-assessment, goal-setting, monitoring progress and self-determination of changes required.

Chris Clarke, a teacher from Saskatoon, has created a website, Engaged Students, that explores different aspects of a project-based, integrated curriculum course that he teaches in.

Place-Based Learning

Place-Based Learning immerses students in a place’s heritage, culture, landscape. Place lays the foundation for study of language, art, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects.

Place-Based Learning and Land-Based Learning are often confused. The National Centre for Collaboration in Indigenous Education held a digital forum that helped to define land-based learning.

Healing Through the Arts

Art helps kids deal with difficult situations. Painting, beading, drumming, dancing and drama can all access the emotional part of the brain. By observing and talking about the art that they made, they are able to access the left hemisphere of the brain that controls verbal messaging. You can hear more about Art Therapy After Trauma on the Kinds in the House Parenting Website.

By changing our experiences, we can change our brain biology, which impacts our subconscious mind, conscious mind, energy and bodies. It is empowering to know that we can do this for ourselves as well as create a space for children to mitigate the impact trauma has had on their lives.

If you would like more information about how you might have our Growing Resilience Team work with your staff, please contact us.

Terry Johanson
Nancy Barr
Kyla Bouvier

Growing Resilience: Stepping Into Your Power

As teachers and parents, we have two aspects of trauma to consider and mitigate – the impact of trauma on our own lives and the impact of trauma on our children and students’ lives. As we explore ourselves and the coping strategies that we have developed over time, it is possible for us to reflect on children’s behaviours as ways that they have grown resilience and survival.

This post is the first of two. It focuses on empowering ourselves to mitigate our own trauma, while the next post focuses on strategies to support our students.

This two post series on growing resilience is a collaborative effort with myself, Nancy Barr of NMBarr Consulting, and Kyla Bouvier of Back2Nature Wellness and Events. It is designed to take us on a journey of understanding and empowering ourselves and the children in our care.

Brain Biology

To begin to understand ourselves and the children we care for, it is important to know the foundations of brain function and how our experiences impact brain biology.

You can read more about the different parts of the brain and how they control our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.

Three things are required for learning to take place: 

  • Access to specific brain functions, 
  • Ability to integrate these brain functions, and 
  • Ability to maintain integration of these functions under varying degrees of stress.

Dr. Daniel Siegel explains how the parts of the brain work together to create neural integration:

Dr. Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Model of the brain states that the brain is undeveloped at birth, and organizes itself from the bottom up.

The brain organizes itself sequentially, which is a key idea when considering the impact of trauma on the brain and the types of strategies that might mitigate that impact.

It is important to recognize that the Amygdala is very strong BIOLOGICALLY. It controls our fight, flight or freeze impulses. This means that if someone is in a fear response, the biology of their brain will not allow them to function in their prefrontal cortex. Similarly, if someone is in the emotional part of their brain, they are not able to work in their prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex controls thinking, logic and learning and is the weakest part of the brain BIOLOGICALLY. The prefrontal cortex is not able to overpower a person’s emotion or fear.


Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to reorganize itself, both in structure and function. Think of your brain like a garden.

Based on our experiences, our brain will re-organize neural systems.

Impact of Trauma

Neuroplasticity tells us that our brains are constantly changing. When negative experiences cause us to get trapped in the gateway part of our brain, our brain biology – both structure and function – are changed. One type of negative experience is trauma. There are many different types of trauma.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES).

Intergenerational and Historical Trauma

The Georgetown University Tecnical Assistance Centre for Children’s Mental Health

Brain scans show clearly that there are portions of the brain that do not develop and/or are not active when people are exposed to neglect and abuse.

Continued exposure to trauma creates an environment filled with relentless fear, resulting in the development of a self-defence mechanism in a child’s brain that requires a fight, flight or freeze response. Stress responses are maintained due to:

  • A persistent fear response that ‘wears out’ neural pathways;
  • Hyperarousal that causes children to overreact to nonthreatening triggers;
  • Dissociation from the traumatic event in which the child shuts down emotionally; and
  • Disruptions in emotional attachment, which can be detrimental to learning.

Trauma impacts brain development by keeping a child trapped in the limbic system and governed by flight, fight and freeze. A child will spend most of their time in survival mode, which leaves fewer resources for social/emotional regulation and cognition.

Neuroplasticity: Implications and Hope

Many years ago, it was thought that if a brain was damaged it would stay damaged for a lifetime. The research around neuroplasticity, however, gives us great hope.

Your brain is always learning and changing, but the brain is neutral. It does not know the difference between a good pathway or bad pathway. We have all developed coping strategies that we repeat to help us to survive and be safe. Some of those actions, thoughts and habits might be anxious, obsessive or over-reactive patterns. The hopeful research is that there are strategies that can help our brains let go of those negative patterns and develop positive pathways and mitigate the trauma that we have experienced.

The Mind-Body Connection

Our mind and body are connected. Our thoughts affect our bodily systems and we store limiting belief systems and memories in our body that were first created in our mind. The mind is made up of both our conscious (5%) and subconscious mind (95%). Our conscious mind is aware of beliefs and our surrounding environment. Our subconscious mind is the storage room of all beliefs and memories, but we are not aware of them. These subconscious programs and patterns run how we perceive and behave in the world.

Our memories are stored in our subconscious mind. There are two types of memories:

  • Passive memories are uncomplicated and have no emotional charge.
  • Active memories are stored with an associated emotional charge.

Each time we remember an active memory, we re-experience the emotion over and over again. Dr. Joe Dispenze describes the impact on our brains and bodies.

The subconscious mind influences our conscious mind which influences our energy systems and finally, our physical body and environment. In order to transform ourselves, we need to become aware of our subconscious ways of being. So how do we increase our awareness?


Our external environment is a reflection of our internal environment. The goal of mirroring is to move us from wondering “How is this happening TO me?” to wondering “How is this happening FOR me?” By viewing frustrating experiences as opportunities to learn, we can move from victim to gratitude.

The Present Moment

To be in the present moment is to be completely conscious and aware of your thoughts and emotions. When our lives are dictated by the constant mind chatter, the “voice in our head”, we become attached to past events and potential future outcomes. This can prevent us from being fully in the moment and lead to depression, anxiety and fear.

Catching Our Stories

Sometimes, we tell ourselves stories about other people’s motivations and actions. These stories recreate active memories that carry negative emotions over and over again.

Being More Present

There are several strategies to help us be in the present moment.

Filling Your Cup

It is important that we take time to let our minds and bodies rest, digest and repair. What ‘fills our cup’ is unique to each person.

Other Healing Practices

There are other simple ideas that we can infuse into our daily routines to help to heal our minds, emotions, bodies and spirit.

Learn More about the Mind-Body Connection

The following researchers are important contributors to our understanding of the mind-body connection.

  • Dr. Joe Dispenza studies the fields of neuroscience, epigenetics, and quantum physics. He uses that knowledge to help people heal themselves of illnesses, chronic conditions, and terminal diseases so they can enjoy a more fulfilled and happy life, as well as evolve their consciousness.  
  • Eckhart Tolle teaches about the transformation of consciousness and transcending our ego-based state of consciousness. 

The Body Talk System is a healing modality which looks at the big picture. Kyla of Back2Nature Wellness is a practitioner who looks at the whole-person, emotional, physical and environmental influences, the true underlying causes of dis-ease. BodyTalk can address limiting belief systems and emotional memories held in the subconscious mind and the body.

Where to From Here…

By focusing on our own beliefs, actions and patterns, it is possible for us to forge new pathways and patterns in our brains. These new patterns lead to transforming the beliefs that limit us and shift what we store in our subconscious minds. This is the key to altering our energy, which can impact our bodies and environment.

The next post of this two post series will focus on trauma in children and how we might, as teachers and caregivers, create learning experiences that help to mitigate trauma and create new neural patterns to grow resilience.

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