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

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?

Mirroring

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.

Writing about Teaching Writing

I had the chance to work with the wonderful staff at Rossignol Elementary in Ile-a-la-Crosse this winter. They, like many of us, have been wondering how to support their students to be more engaged writers. They wondered:

How do we engage student writers? How do we make our students feel that they ARE writers and authors in our classrooms? There are so many blogs and ideas written on this topic, but what might work for OUR students?

There are many blogs and resources that are useful when seeking out new and innovative ideas to try. Some good ones include (but are certainly not limited to!):

Each of these articles is full of lists of creative strategies. But what works for YOUR students? This is where professional conversations and thinking about what students you have in your context can help.

We often ponder the question “Why don’t our students write more?”… something to consider is how much writing we do ourselves as adults. I have to admit that prior to creating this workshop blog, I might have gone weeks without writing outside of emails or filling in forms. To give insight into some of the barriers that our students face when writing, it is important for us to consider our own writing habits (and maybe fears!). How do we encourage ourselves as writers? My epiphany when planning for this workshop was that perhaps writing professional development needs to following the same framework that we might use for our students.

Adrienne Gear (2014) suggests the following lesson framework for each nonfiction form:

  1. An introduction to the features of the nonfiction form.
    1. This can be done by analyzing published examples of a nonfiction form.
  2. Independent write and Whole-class write can be woven together in a We DO – You DO cycle.

With this framework in mind, the teachers of Rossignol Elementary worked in collaborative groups to write the following ideas for engaging their student writers:

Shared Writing About Writing

Engaging Student Writers is about the things that we can do as teachers to encourage students to write across all curricula. There are many different strategies that fit different grade levels and different content areas. It is important that we use our professional judgement to combine our existing professional knowledge, our knowledge of our students, and the new information we learn from our colleagues and research.

Drawing and Talking to Encourage Writing in Young Children

To encourage young children to write, have them group together to talk about a common experience (sliding, wiener roast, building a snowman). As children share information, the teacher can capture the vocabulary they are using.

Teachers can

  • Record on a chart or individual cards/word strips
  • Include a picture
  • Display in the classroom

Children can

  • take those word strips/cards and draw their own picture
  • describe/talk about their picture with an adult or older student
  • label the picture (either by the child or the adult/older student)

Differentiating Writing

How might we differentiate next steps? The sequence will depend on the age and ability of young writers.

Younger writers might have an older student or adult scribe a sentence for them. They can leave enough space underneath for the child to copy the words below.Older writers might use the labels on their picture to write a sentence or sentences about their picture.

If students’ oral language skills are low, they can communicate meaning through the use of point pictures or flash cards. Key ideas related to the pictures can be created in advance by the teacher.

Extra Time for Encouraging Elementary Writers

There are many ways that we can encourage our elementary-aged writers in our classrooms.

  • When we give more time to write, we encourage writers to write more often. Allowing more time to organize their thoughts and ideas, using graphic organizers, modelling writing and brainstorming together can all contribute to student confidence.
  • Deadlines and expectations need to be communicated clearly so that students understand what needs to be produced and when it needs to be produced by.
  • Use technology like voice typing for those who can’t write as fast as they think can reduce frustration and get ideas out.
  • For those students who may be shy, strategies like passing notes, chatting 1:1 with peers about the topic, and think-pair-share can help to build confidence.

With extra time and strategies to maximize the time, students are allowed to process their thoughts and make meaning. This can help to show them that they ARE good writers.

Comic Book Writing for Engaging Writers

Comic book writing is when students write the dialogue into a blank comic template. There are various templates that you can download from sites such as this one from Scholastic.

Where to start? You might start with a “We Do” comic strip, then move to “You Do” by having students write dialogue into a given template with pictures already provided. They can then move to creating independently by choosing their template, and eventually creating their own pictures, characters and words either by using clipart or drawing their own original comic.

Mentor texts can include Manga, Amulet, Archie Comics or Marvel Comics. The use of mentor texts is key to introduce and discuss examples of dialogue and how words and pictures interact.

Comic book writing can encourage all types of writers, as it is a unique combination of visual/writing skills to tell a story.

What We Learned About Teaching Writing

I am thankful to the teachers of Rossignol Elementary for agreeing to their writing going out to an authentic audience on my Workshop Blog. By experiencing shared writing as adult learners, we discovered what some of the underlying anxieties and fears might be for our students. Worry about being wrong, worry about not being good enough, experiencing how daunting a blank piece of paper is all contribute to deepening our understanding of what to do for our students.

A close up of a logo

Description automatically generated

As adults, we experienced the power of writing to deepen our understanding of writing to a much deeper level than just reading about writing might have done. New knowledge, combined with our professional knowledge and knowledge of our students can help us to encourage our students to BE writing, not just engage in writing.

Gear, A. (2014). Nonfiction Writing Power. Markham: Pembroke Publishers.

Johanson, T., & Broughton, D. (2014). Exploring Comprehension in Physics. Saskatoon: McDowell Foundation.

Designing PD That Teachers Deserve

I have had the pleasure of working with two different organizations recently, helping their staff to understand some basic principles of designing professional learning experiences for teachers. Designing professional learning deserves as much care and attention as the planning that we expect classroom teachers to give to their classroom instruction. We do not accept undifferentiated teacher lecture as the only pedagogy in classrooms, so it is important that we design professional learning that is

  • NOT a prescriptive module that does not change, regardless of what learners need
  • NOT solely lecture-style presentation where we tell them information and leave the meaning making and application to teachers after an event.

In my decade of designing and facilitating professional learning and teaching others to design professional learning, I have been seeking out and creating ways to approach workshop design. My goal is to ensure that I provide rich, authentic, practical and differentiated adult learning to teachers and related professionals. I firmly believe that a day of teacher workshop must be as or more important than a day that teacher would have had with their students. And a day with their students is SO important.

In my learning journey, I have discovered a few key things that are the foundation for every workshop that I create and facilitate.

Expect to Learn from Participants: Partnership Principles

One of my first learning opportunities about designing professional learning was Jim Knight’s Partnership Principles. His philosophy is very simple – that the people who come to professional learning are equal in every way to the facilitators of that learning. There is no hierarchy in learning, we are colleagues and partners.

Jim Knight’s Partnership Principles identify that if we have a mindset of equality, where our learners have choice and voice with professional learning, we will create interactions that encourage dialogue, reflection where we both can learn. An ultimately, the goal is for praxis, or application and transfer of learning into teacher contexts and classrooms.

Vision Our Impact: What Change Are We Hoping For?

It is important to see what changes we are hoping for in teacher behavior, resulting in an impact on student learning. Following Thomas Guskey’s Five Levels of Evaluating Professional Development backwards, it is possible to pose questions that can be pre-thinking before we begin designing learning. This process helps us to identify WHY we are providing this professional learning. As Simon Sinek has identified in his talk on The Golden Circle, we often think about the WHAT and the HOW, but it is the WHY that inspires us. When we, as facilitators, know why, we can share that passion and enthusiasm with our adult learners. A helpful tool is to use a Thinking Map, along with the following questions:

Ask Teachers What They Need

Ideally, we can engage teacher learners before our learning event to find out what learners need. This might be informed by:

  • Observations of student behaviours – what changes are needed?
  • Observations of student learning – what gaps or areas do students need a greater focus on?
  • Observations of teacher knowledge – what would learners like to know more about or change in their own understanding?

If it is not possible to have this conversation before learning, there are different facilitation processes that can be done that can inform our facilitation. These include:

  1. Snowball – ask participants
    • What do you know about this topic?
    • What do you wonder about this topic?
  2. Notice and Wonder – provide some type of visual or media experience and then ask
    • What do you notice about this?
    • What do you wonder about this?
  3. Touch Each Page and then Professional Question Generation
    • The Touch Each Page strategy will create a focus for professional inquiry through the day.
    • Generating Questions:
      • Group Generating and Monitoring Questions – participants work in small groups to identify questions that they would like to answer.
      • Personal Inquiry – participants identify a question that they most want to answer through the day. This is put onto a sticky note that they revisit and discuss at the end of the day with a colleague.

Have an Assessment Plan: Guskey’s 5 Levels

Thomas Guskey has identified five levels of evaluation to consider when understanding the efficacy of any professional learning experience in his article “Does it Make a Difference? Evaluating Professional Development”. Too often, we take in data around student outcomes and teacher satisfaction but neglect to identify the levels in between that allow us as facilitators to draw conclusions and connections between the professional learning that we are engaging in and the impact on students.

As Guskey has stated, “Good evaluations don’t have to be complicated. They simply require thoughtful planning, the ability to ask good questions, and a basic understanding of how to find valid answers” (Guskey, 2002). It is important as we evaluate our professional learning experiences that we are looking for evidence around its efficacy, not proof that it is making a difference. Most often, there are many different professional experiences that are impacting student learning, and to identify the exact scope and impact of any one initiative is nearly impossible. Instead, it is useful to gather evidence, both qualitative and quantitative, that identifies shifts and possible contributors to changes in student learning.

Guskey’s Five Levels of Evaluating Professional Development allow us to consider the types of questions that we might ask participants during or after professional learning. Facilitators who can connect with teachers after professional learning can gather data regarding impact on student outcomes and participant use of knowledge and skills.

If you are only in contact with educators during a session, it is possible to assess levels one through three, and measure teacher intent to implement using an Agenda Assessment. An agenda assessment is an innovation that combines an agenda with an assessment of learning and can be completed throughout a professional learning experience. This information can give insight into the effectiveness of a workshop or other learning experience.

Plan for Flexibility: Have a Plan that Allows for Change

A useful planning structure is a Facilitation Guide. Like a lesson plan that a teacher might use in a classroom, a facilitation guide identifies content, process, assessment, timing and materials. This simple structure helps facilitators see how content is chunked during the day, and the sequence of instructional strategies.

Content: This is the sequence of main ideas that flows through the day. By chunking content, it is relatively easy for a facilitator to skip or skim over particular ideas. This might occur if

  1. Teachers have already identified that they know a specific piece of information; or
  2. Time does not allow for all of the concepts in the day to be covered.

Process: This column identifies the instructional strategies and key questions that facilitators might pose to encourage thinking.

Assessment: This column allows facilitators to predict what they think participants might do or say during a specific part of the workshop. It is helpful to identify

  1. what people might say if they have a misconception; or
  2. what we are looking for in participant responses that indicates that they understand.  

Timing: Just as it states, this column allows facilitators to predict the length of time that a specific process will take. This helps to know whether the workshop is at, ahead or behind timelines outlined.

Materials: This column has us list materials or resources that are used in that chunk of a workshop.

Incorporate Meaning Making Strategies: Differentiate Learning

It is important that we choose processes for learning that fit the content and amount of time provided. Considering Dylan Wiliam’s Formative Assessment Strategies, instructional strategies in professional learning are particularly powerful when they:

So, where do we find these strategies? There are many useful resources. Some of them include:

It may seem like there are many layers and lots of time needed to plan effective professional learning, but our teachers and ultimately student learning deserve our investment.

Building Coherent Teams

Michael Fullan (2016) states that coherence is “a shared depth of understanding about the purpose and nature of the work in the minds and actions individually and especially collectively” and is not about specific strategies, frameworks or alignment. So, how might we build coherent teams? How do we determine the ‘right’ actions and de-emphasize actions that are distractions? How might we focus on actions that enhance our collective as well as our autonomy? There are some processes and skills that are helpful.

Positive Communication

To build coherent teams, we need to know and practice communication skills, including paraphrasing and posing questions. A general conversation flow includes:

The Art of Paraphrase

“The purposeful use of paraphrase signals our full attention. It communicates that we understand the teacher’s thoughts, concerns, questions and ideas; or that we are trying to … well-crafted paraphrases align the speaker and responder, establishing understanding and communicating regard. Questions, no matter how well-intentioned, distance by degrees, the asker from the asked.”

(Adapted from Wellman and Lipton)

Things to keep in mind when paraphrasing:

  • Attend fully.
  • Listen with the intention to understand.
  • Capture the essence of the message but in a shorter format.
  • Reflect the essence of voice, tone and gesture.
  • Paraphrase before asking a question.
  • Use the pronoun “you” instead of “I.”

Intentions of Paraphrasing

Well-crafted paraphrases with appropriate pauses trigger more thoughtful responses than questions can alone. Three types of paraphrase, shown in the chart below, widen the range of possible responses. Each type supports relationship and thinking but the paraphrase that shifts the level of abstraction is more likely to create new levels of understanding. Conversations that utilize paraphrasing often move through a pattern of acknowledging to summarizing to abstracting, but there is no right pathway for the conversations.

Types of Questions

Horn and Metler-Armijo (Toolkit for Mentor Practice, 2010) identify three types of questions that are useful for professional conversations:

  • Clarifying questions – are asked to further understanding of the questioner. These types of questions convey that the questioner is actively interested.
  • Probing questions – are asked to have the speaker think more deeply about the concerns, challenges, or actions being taken. These types of questions dig into ideas to move from generalizations to specific ideas.
  • Mediational questions – are “intentionally designed to engage and transform the other person’s thinking and perspective” (Costa and Garmston, 2002). These types of questions are designed to open up and broaden thinking.

Mediational Questions

A special comment on “Why”…

Why questions are part of our everyday language. Why are you late? Why do you not have a pencil? Why are you doing that?

When we are having a conversation that may be emotional or highly charged, a question that begins with “Why” may create a sense of defensiveness. Consider a situation where someone has made a certain decision. Compare the reaction to “Why have you done this action?” vs “What is the impact your decision has had on…?”. A question that begins “What” or “How” is often more thought provoking and has less potential to create a defensive response.

Rectangle: Rounded Corners: Communication skills are key to building coherent teams, as they allow deep conversations to occur amongst team members, provoking thought through active listening.

Liberating Structures

Liberating structures, when used regularly, allow all team members the opportunity to work together to produce solutions, ideas and feel that everyone is contributing to an organization’s next steps. It is possible for every person to generate ideas and lead change.

Integrated~Autonomy

When considering how to best meet the needs of a system and the schools within a system, it is important that we view centralization/standardization and autonomy as both achievable and desirable rather than viewing them as opposite and competing interests. The Integrated~Autonomy liberating structure can help us to:

  • Develop innovative strategies to move forward.
  • Avoid wild swings in policies, programs or structures.
  • Evaluate decisions by asking “are we boosting both Coherence and Autonomy?”.
  • Increase quality of communication between school-based and Increase quality of communication between school-based and central office leaders.

Imagine actions that work towards BOTH increased standardization/centralization and increased Autonomy.

Some Examples

  • Attendance policies and consequences for non-attendance – what policies should be set centrally and which decisions should be made locally?
  • Planning documents required for hand-in/approval – format, timing and requirements for year, unit and lesson plans?
  • Parent conferences and reporting communication – what determined (format, process, content) centrally and what locally?

Structuring the Invitation:

  • Explore the question: Will our purpose be best served by increased local autonomy, including customization and site-based decision-making OR will our purpose be best served by increased coherence, including integration, standardization and centralized decision-making?
  • How might we be more coherent AND more autonomous at the same time?

Troika

This collaborative problem-solving strategy allows for colleagues to share possible solutions in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

In groups of three, learners sit in a triangle facing one another with no table between them. One person is the ‘client’, and the other two are the ‘consultants’.

  1. The client describes their dilemma, barrier or issue for about 2 minutes. The consultants might ask clarifying questions at this time.
  2. The client turns their chair so that their back is to the two consultants. The consultants discuss possible solutions to the client’s issue without any input, affirmation or cues from the client. The client might write down those suggestions that are most helpful. This might last for 2 – 4 minutes.
  3. The client turns around and summarizes what suggestions are most helpful that they might try.

Discipline with Dignity: Trauma-Informed Classroom Management

Classroom management is the part of teaching that is invisible when it is working well, and highly visible when we and our students are struggling. Sometimes it may feel like herding cats:

Classroom Management’s purpose is to “provide structure while helping students develop autonomy, awareness and self-regulation skills” (Emerich France, 2018).

Traditional classroom management theories rely on teachers viewing student behaviour as a matter of choices or intentional defiance. As a result, traditional solutions have been a list of consequences and rewards. While consequences may be a part of a classroom management plan, if the goal of classroom management is to have students understand themselves and self-regulate, teachers and students need to first identify the causes of behaviours, attempt to prevent triggers and increase self-awareness.

General principles of Discipline with Dignity (Curwin, Mendler, & Mendler, 2018) are:

General Principles

This perspective of classroom management allows us to link the effects of trauma and brain development to understanding some of the underlying causes of student behaviours. Classroom management is founded on knowing our students and building relationships with them.

Basic Needs that Drive Behaviour

Curwin, Mendler, and Mendler (2018) and Dr. Martin Brokenleg (Circle of courage, 1990) have identified what our and our students’ basic human needs are in order to be healthy and whole.

Curwin, Mendler, and Mendler Dr. Martin Brokenleg
Identity – “how we view ourselves and how we feel about ourselves”
Attention – “the need to be acknowledged by others in a way that makes us feel that we matter” Generosity – to give our knowledge, skills, insight, experience, and resources to others; receiving a sense of purpose from strengthening the community
Connection – “our need to feel that we belong to something that matters to us” Belonging – to feel valued, affirmed and significant within the group; believing in the importance of a shared purpose; to identify with shared goals
Competence – “feeling that we know how to do something” Mastery – to develop abilities, skills, and knowledge in order to take risks, to try new things and learn from others; to embrace challenges and learning
Control – “the desire to make decisions that count, to have real choices, to control our environment” Independence – to feel in control of our learning; to have a sense of competent autonomy and to contribute to responsibility

Saskatchewan teachers and educational assistants used a Circle of Courage graphic organizer to brainstorm what they need to keep in mind to create a learning environment that fosters a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity in their students:

Circle of Courage

A school environment that provides opportunities for students to have their needs met is part of a “prevention mindset” (Curwin, Mendler, & Mendler, p. 61). Looking at prevention from the student perspective, appropriate behaviour is generally achieved when students:

  • Feel connected to the teacher, one another, and the curriculum.
  • Believe that success is attainable with reasonable effort.
  • Feel respected by being heard; feel teachers strongly care about them in personal ways.
  • Are given responsibility, especially in helping other children. This involves giving appropriate choices throughout the day.
  • Look forward to sanctioned moments of joy and laughter every day.
  • Believe that what is being taught is relevant.

Activating Peers as Learning Resources

Dylan Wiliam has identified five strategies for Formative Assessment, which increase student engagement and achievement. Formative Assessment Strategies

Wiliam’s work guides our instruction in many ways, including how to activate learners as instructional resources. Collaborative learning that encourages group goals and individual accountability is more powerful than simply having students work on tasks in a group. This group work increases student sense of belonging and provides a space for generosity within a community of learners.

Cooperative Learning

Wiliam (2011) identifies why students benefit from helping their peers:

  • they are working towards a common goal and they benefit from the efforts of all, resulting in increased motivation.
  • they care about their group members, resulting in social cohesion.
  • they understand and can address the difficulties their peers are having, resulting in personalization.
  • thinking together brings clarity, resulting in cognitive elaboration.

Assessment Strategies

Wiliam writes about a number of strategies that can enhance peer support of learning within a classroom.

Peer Support Strategies

In his book Embedding Formative Assessment, Wiliam suggests many strategies, including:

  • Peer Evaluation of Homework – The class or teacher create criteria (rubric) for the work. Who is assessing the work changes and is not announced until the homework is complete. Evaluators may be: Self, Other – individual or group or Teacher
  • Two Stars and a Wish – student feedback on other students’ work – 2 positive qualities and a suggestion for improvement; Teacher needs to instruct students on what quality feedback looks like. Sentence starters can be useful to give to students in advance.
  • Preflight Checklist – When there are specific requirements or features of a piece of student work, this list is checked by a peer prior to the work being handed in. If there are pieces missing that were on the checklist, the peer is the one held accountable.
  • Group-Based Test Prep – Within a group, each student is assigned a different part of a unit to review. They prepare and present their review to their group. Peers assess the review using coloured cups (red – not as good as I would have done; yellow – about the same as I would have done; green – better than I would have done).

Teaching and using group work goes beyond learning styles, and can enhance student motivation, engagement and resilience.

Stress Behaviours

(Adapted from The Mehrit Centre’s Infographic on Understanding Stress Behaviour for Teachers)

Brain research has shown that there are differences between stress behaviours and misbehaviour. If we treat them in the same way, it can be hard on our students and hard on ourselves.

Stress Behaviour

The 5 Primary Domains of Stress

There are many different reasons why a student might show signs of stress behaviour. These are linked to Shanker’s five domains of self-regulation.

5 Domains of Self-Reg

Signs of Stress Behaviour

Stress behaviours (Shanker, 2018) are biological in nature and neither intentional nor conscious choices on the part of students. These might include:

  1. Heightened impulsivity
  2. Difficulty ignoring distractions
  3. Problems in mood (sees everything negatively)
  4. Erratic mood swings
  5. Trouble listening
  6. What she is saying doesn’t make sense

Dealing with Stress Behaviour in Students

When a child exhibits stress behaviour, what do we do as educators? Shanker (2018) suggests that we:

Dealing with Stress

Along with specific calming strategies that can help students, include mindfulness strategies and ways to integrate social-emotional learning throughout the day.

Effects of Early Trauma

“Trauma has a powerful capacity to shape a child’s physical, emotional, and intellectual development, especially when the trauma is experienced in early life” (JBS International and Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Centre).

Three Types of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

ACEs

There are significant impacts of ACEs on individual health outcomes. Brain science has determined that ACEs disrupt neurodevelopment, which leads to social, emotional and cognitive impairment, adoption of health-risk behaviours, disease, disability, and social problems and eventually can lead to early death.

Adverse-Childhood-Experiences-1-logo.png

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 non-threatening triggers;
  • Dissociation from the traumatic event in which the child shuts down emotionally; and
  • Disruptions in emotional attachment, which can be detrimental to learning.

(JBS International and Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Centre).

Intergenerational and Historical Trauma

The Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Centre for Children’s Mental Health has identified two types of trauma that may have an impact on children in schools:

  • Intergenerational trauma results when disturbing experiences have not been addressed and their emotional and behavioural legacy is passed down from parents to their children. Parents who experienced persistent trauma in childhood may struggle with their own ability to express empathy, compassion, and self-regulation. Unresolved trauma may make it difficult for parents to build trusting relationships and healthy attachments. This trauma is then transmitted to future generations.
  • Historical trauma goes beyond a single family to a community caused by historical, systematic abuse and injustice. In additional to family-specific intergenerational trauma, historical trauma may also result in shame and loss of culture and identity. The legacy of historical trauma can result in “repression, dissociation, denial, alcoholism, depression, doubt, helplessness, and devaluation of self and culture”.

Brain Malleability

While trauma affects brain development, causing structural and hormonal changes, the malleability of the human brain brings us hope. Because the brain can heal, and new neuropathways can be developed, teachers and schools can impact the long-term social, emotional and physical impacts of trauma. Trauma-informed schools are those where the school climate, instructional designs, positive behavioural supports, and policies are created so that traumatized students have what they need to achieve academic and social competence (Craig, 2016).

PBIS – Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports SEL – Social Emotional Learning
The goal of PBIS is to create a positive school climate, in which students learn and grow. A process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Dr. Bruce Perry has done significant research in the area of mitigating the impact of trauma on children.

Dr. Perry contributes to the Child Trauma Academy, which makes a number of free resources available.

Solutions in classrooms directed at brain stem activity can help create new pathways in the brain’s cortical areas. These include

  • patterned rhythmic activities
  • walking
  • dancing
  • singing
  • meditative breathing
  • create a calmer cognitive state so higher order thinking can occur
  • scaffold new information on prior knowledge
  • use classroom discourse purposefully
  • peer collaboration
  • provide direct instruction

Instruction and school environments that provide calming opportunities can help children learn to be more self-aware and foster their own emotion regulation, which then impacts the behaviour-consequence cycle.

As teachers, when we understand the underlying causes of student behaviour, we can not only respond, we can avoid triggers. Classroom Management is more than just the strategies we use, it is the relationship and understanding of the children we teach in order to help children build new neural pathways, understand their own behaviour and learn to self-regulate.

When and Where to Refer Students?

Sometimes, we might recognize that one of our students requires additional supports. Central Office personnel or support teachers may be able to help you assess where your students are at. For parents, Amy Morin writes about some of the indicators that a child might require targetted services in her blog post “When Should Parents Seek Help for a Child’s Behavior Problems?”. Supports from outside of your school system may be available through your regional health authority, which is listed on the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s Website. In the Prairie North Health Region, for instance, there are a number of youth-focussed supports in North Battleford.

Works Cited

Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M., & Van Bockern, S. (1990). Circle of courage. Retrieved February 14, 2014, from Reclaiming youth international: http://www.reclaiming.com/content/aboutcircleofcourage

Craig, S. E. (2016). Trauma-Sensitive Schools: Learning Communities Transforming Student Lives K-5. New York: Teachers College Press.

Curwin, R. L., Mendler, A. N., & Mendler, B. D. (2018). Discipline with Dignity: How to Build Responsibility, Relationships, and Respect in Your Classroom. Alexandria: ASCD.

Emerich France, P. (2018, September). A Healthy Ecosystem for Classroom Management. Educational Leadership, 76(1). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept18/vol76/num01/A-Healthy-Ecosystem-for-Classroom-Management.aspx

JBS International and Georgetown University National Technical Assistance Centre. (n.d.). Issue Brief 1: Understanding the Impact of Trauma. Retrieved from https://gucchdtacenter.georgetown.edu/TraumaInformedCare/issueBrief1_UnderstandingImpactTrauma.pdf

Shanker, S. (2018). (The MEHRIT Centre) Retrieved August 18, 2018, from Shanker Self-Reg: https://self-reg.ca/

Sousa, D. A. (2009). How the Brain Influences Behaviour: Management Strategies for Every Classroom. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington, Indiana, United States of America: Solution Tree Press.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑