EDTalks: Mark Sander “Trauma-Informed Classrooms”
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EDTalks: Mark Sander “Trauma-Informed Classrooms”


(applause) – Alright, so this is
the first time for me to do a talk like this. So, please bear with me. It’s gonna be a little bit interesting, but hopefully a lot of
fun and informational. I’m gonna try and work a clicker and move some paper slides around. So, let’s see how we go. First of all I want to
thank ACE Interface, which is a company, non-profit, that was started by Rob
Anda and Laura Porter and I was training this
curriculum over three years ago. And so, some of the
slides you’ll see tonight are from that curriculum. Alright, this is my reminder to relax. Right? I do a lot of public speaking, not like this usually though
but a lot of public speaking, and it gets all anxiety-producing. So this is just a reminder
for me to relax and have fun. My focus today is really gonna
be on having a conversation about changing adult behavior so that we can be more
effectively understanding and supportive of our students. And also I really want to help create a culture of understanding and compassion. Now I’m gonna catch up. Alright, how many people have heard about the Adverse Childhood
Experiences Study? Get your hands up. Alright. How many of you think you could explain the key findings to a friend? Alright, so at the end of this talk I’m gonna tell you where
to get more information about the Adverse
Childhood Experiences Study both here in Minnesota and at the CDC. But kind of the headlines of the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study that was conducted back in 1997 with over 17 thousand individuals that were part of the Kaiser Permanente managed care consortium was that early adversity
has lifelong effects, both on our physical, psychological
and behavioral health. And so, one of the key
findings in the study was of the 10 adversities they looked at only 33% of this population
had an ACE score of zero. What does that mean? That means that 67% had an
ACE score of one or more. One of the key messages of my talk today is that adversity is common. It’s not like we thought about PTSD before where it is 5% of the population. Adversity is common and it has impacts on our
brains, our physiology and our social perceptions. To kind of get into this a little bit more is to talk about our human
central nervous system. Now, I’ll admit before I
started doing these talks I haven’t looked at a slide
like this since graduate school and I kind of forgot about how amazing our central nervous system is. With our brain, our spinal cord, and the millions of nerves
running through our body. It’s on 24/7, seven days
a week, 365 days a year, whether we’re asleep or awake. And it has one primary function that is to help us adapt to stay alive. It helps us adapt to stay alive. That’s a really key message
to understanding behavior. Bear with me, this is an old
slide from ACE Interface, but it really does
serve my purpose tonight about kind of helping us
understand how we adapt. So at the top there we’re
gonna simplify things down into really two main experiences, okay? The top up here is really,
it’s a roller coaster. So, think about this. You’re seven years old,
you’re on a roller coaster, and you’re blindfolded, and you never know when
you’re gonna get off. You’re going up, down, side to side, you’re going up, click
click click click click, and you’re waiting for that drop. And after going round and
round the roller coaster for a couple times your body and brain
start seeking out input so you can figure out what’s coming next. Because that’s the only way
you feel any sense of control. I’ve got to predict what’s coming next. And for individuals who’s experienced the roller coaster more
often than the playground, there’re some effects on their brains. The emotional processing
region of the brain is smaller and less efficient. There’s an abundance of
stress-related chemicals in their brain, such as cortisol, which really can eat at
the neural connections in our synaptic connections. There’s an overproduction
of dysregulating hormones, there’s less common
receptors in the brain, and there’s less white
matter in the brain, which is where all of our
neural connections are and where we do our thinking. So the impact of that is individuals who are more competitive, hypervigilant, competitive, and they also might be
withdrawn, dissociated or numb. So that’s the experience
of the roller coaster. Now let’s think about the playground. So the playground, imagine this. You’re two, two and a half, you’re going to the park
with your caregiver, and they’re like, “Hey, let’s
try out the slide today.” And so you’re like, “Okay.” You walk over, you’re
going up, you’re like, “Wow! This is getting really high.” You’re getting nervous, maybe
getting a little scared, you get to top of the
slide, you start crying. You come down that
slide and who grabs you? Your caregiver does, right? They pick you up and they
rock you back and forth, and they’re talking to you
saying, “Hey, it’s okay.” They try to distract you. “Wasn’t that fun?” Right? And they slowly start kind
of slowing down the rock. What are they doing? They’re helping your
body calm down physically and they’re helping you
feel safe emotionally. And so, once they got you calm down they put you down and they
say, “Hey, go ahead and play.” And some of you will
run back to this slide like, “That was awesome!” And some of you are
like, “Forget the slide, “I’m hitting the swings.” And so, we know for
individuals who experience the playground world more often there is also some ramifications. The emotional processing
regions of the brain are more robust and efficient. There’s an abundance of, a very technical term
called happy hormones. Nah, I’m just kidding. I don’t know why they put it on the slide. It’s about endorphins. There’s a higher density of white matter, especially around the midbrain, which is where our limbic system is, so we can do a better job
of processing our emotions. So the result of this is
individuals who are more laid back, who are more relationship-oriented, who are reflective about
process over power. Does that make sense? Alright. So, quick quiz. We’re doing educational talks, there’s always gonna be a pop quiz. So who thinks the roller
coaster world is more adaptive? Get your hands up. Who thinks the playground
world is more adaptive? See some hesitation. Who is still awake enough at 6:15 to realize it’s a trick question? Because what did I say to lead off? I said our brains, our
central nervous system helps us adapt to stay alive. We adapt to the roller coaster world if that’s our experience. We adapt to the playground
world if that’s our experience. So we adapt to our environment and what we experience gets
wired into our biology, in our physiology, in our brains. What we repeatedly
experience gets wired in. So whether it’s the playground world or the roller coaster world we adapt. So what’s the problem? The problem is only one
of these setup adaptations really fits well with school. Often times the adaptations
for the roller coaster world aren’t a really good fit for the social expectations of school. I’m gonna run through
some foundational beliefs because usually this talk
is about 90 minutes long and they asked me to do it in 20. So our central nervous system’s main job is to help us adapt to stay alive. And then constantly being
on threat assessment, constantly trying to read the environment, is it safe or not? It’s very toxic on our bodies. It can alter our physiology
and our perceptions. There’s a researcher out of
Canada named Bruce Perry, and he actually has done
some research on students kind of exposed to the playground world or exposed to the roller coaster world. What he found was the playground children, their resting heart rate was
about 70 beats per minute. What do you think the resting
heart rate was for the kids experiencing the roller
coaster world more often? 90, 100, sometimes even 120. Their resting heart rate. So when teachers say to me he
went from zero to 60 like that I want to say to them: you know what? I don’t think he was at zero. He was probably at about
45 sitting in that chair and you just didn’t notice it. Nor did he or she. This is another reason
why during this time of talking about trauma and adversity we’re also talking a lot about
mindfulness, yoga, breathing, because all of those
things and other things really can help us calm
down our nervous system, calm down our physiology. What we repeatedly
experience gets wired in, and I’m gonna keep repeating that. And this is where the hope is for schools. Because I believe we
can intentionally decide what we want the repeated
experiences of students to be in our schools and in our classroom. And as a school, if we
collectively get together and map out what are
these repeated experiences that we want all of our students to have and give them to them
day after day, all day, we can get them adaptively
wired for school. So, what if misbehavior occurs when
the survival adaptations clash with social expectations? Another way of thinking of
this is thinking about behavior or, more specifically, misbehavior may not be a choice, but rather it’s a normal
biological adaptation to toxic stress and adversity. So if this behavior isn’t a choice, then what do we need to do as adults? I’m a clinical psychologist,
I’ve learned behaviorism. If people make a choice, there’s consequences,
positive or negative. But if it’s not a choice, then what do we need to do? Can we have the kinds
of punitive consequences that we sometimes see happening when something might not be a choice? Ross Greene who is also
a child psychologist talks about all kids
do as well as they can, and when they can’t we need to look at it as they’re lagging some skills. There’s lagging skills. What if we take on this
idea of lagging skills rather than seeing this
behavior as defiance? Kind of willfully disobeying
what we wanted them to do. Another thing to really
remember is this quote from Helping Traumatized Children Learn, this idea that sometimes
the most demanding behavior comes from a place of vulnerability. A teacher says, “You know what? “I wasn’t really on my game. “I had a really hard night
the night before and man, “Tommy totally took advantage of it. “He pushed the limits, “he was acting out all over the place.” And I say, “Okay, that’s
one way to think of it. “Another way to think of it is “Tommy is really good at reading the room. “He’s really good at reading you. “And you know what? “When you’re off your game,
that creates anxiety for him.” That’s something different
than a normal routine. That makes him scared. And then his central nervous
system gets all fired up, ready to fight or flee, and then you see some of
these survival adaptations from the roller coaster world coming out. And then lastly, I think we really need to think about switching
from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” as a way of really digging
in on what’s going on. I’m gonna go through this quickly because I’m a little behind time here. So what do we do then? What can we do? Here’s just a simple
outline of how do we kind of start developing more
trauma-informed schools. First it starts with awareness building. Getting out the information
about the neuroscience and ACEs and the impact, and then we even start having
conversations in schools about developing trauma-informed
beliefs collectively, what are the assumptions and attitudes to make more trauma-informed practice. We need to have ongoing
professional development both in groups and individuals to be reflecting and discussing
what we’re trying to do because changing adult behavior is hard, even when we want to. We need to have alignment of
current policies and practices and programs to support
trauma-sensitive environments both at the school level
and at the district level and at the state level. We need to have safe
environments for school staff to practice trauma-informed practices and get the support and
coaching that they need without fear of it affecting
their performance reviews. And we also need to have the availability and the encouragement of self-care, which Rebecca is gonna talk about later. So six elements to developing
trauma-sensitive schools. Adults must adaptively change behaviors, assumptions and beliefs. I also believe that we have
much of what we need to develop trauma-sensitive schools already. We’ve got a wonderful, large repertoire of evidence-based learning curriculum, practices and interventions
that we just need to use and know why we’re using them and using them with intentionality. All school staff need to be involved in the professional
development and reflection. (inaudible question from the audience) I can make these available
to folks when it’s over. School leaders must create environments where it’s safe for adults
to share and reflect. Maybe you’ve noticed in
here I am trying to have that repeated messages
theme come out, right? Yes, I am repeating myself. We need to focus on student engagement with our positive school
wide engagement plans and linking them with our
positive school wide engagement activities in the classroom. We also need to have high
quality, relevant instruction to engage students, which
is essential for learning. A lot of people ask: how
do we build resilience? It’s through our relationships
with our students. Relationships can really
trump the impact of ACEs. So classrooms, school, educators can help promote and strengthen resiliency by ensuring that schools are
nurturing, stable and engaging. Hopefully the educators in
the room have heard this in their school climate
in other conversations. Alright. I’ve got the two minute warning, so I’m gonna pick up my
pace a little bit here. We’re gonna talk about
CASEL, the Collaborative for Academic, Social
and Emotional Learning. I really think this could be a framework for how we think about
students lagging skills. These right here are the
five core competencies. We’ve got self-awareness,
responsible decision-making, relationship skills, social awareness and self-management. If you’ve got struggles in your classroom, you’ve got behavioral
concerns in your classroom, what if we look to this and say, “Is there a group of
students that are missing, “have lagging skills in self-awareness?” Or maybe you’ve got an individual
student who is struggling and has lagging skills with
responsible decision-making. Then we dig down within these core areas and develop interventions and
systems to support students learning these lagging skills. This slide is from the
Compassionate Schools’ monograph The Heart of Teaching and Learning. It really talked about
there’re six core principles. This idea of always empower,
never disempower students. Provide them with
unconditional positive regard. For many of the students that experience the roller coaster world, they don’t hear “I don’t like the choice you
made but I still like you.” They don’t hear “I don’t like that behavior
but we’re still good.” They don’t hear that. They don’t have that enduring, positive, unconditional regard. We need to maintain high
expectations for students. Please do not hear me saying that we need to lower
expectations for students that have faced adversity. Absolutely not. But it’s our job, as
professionals and adults, to support them even more. We need to check our assumptions, observe and ask curious questions. We need to be a relationship coach because a number of these students have not had enduring relationships. They don’t know that we can have a fight, we can have a struggle and we can be okay tomorrow. Or maybe it’ll take a couple
days but we’ll be okay. That ambiguity creates stress for them, and so, when they want to take action and just be done with it. And then lastly, and I think
this one’s really great, provide guided opportunities
for helpful participation. I believe that almost all of our students wake up in the morning wanting to learn and be successful. Unfortunately, for some of them their repeated experience
is failure at school. And so, after about two
seconds after they wake up they remember I fail at school and then they don’t want to go, they’re unmotivated, they make up excuses about why school doesn’t work for them. So what can we do? Hopefully, I’ve motivated you to look into Adverse Childhood Experiences and all the new brain science
that we’ve been learning about and the effect of adversity on our physiology, perceptions and brains. You can get more information
about the ACE Study. You can google ACES CDC. You can google ACES MDH, sorry, my dyslexia came out there. You can google Minnesota
Student Survey ACES. They included ACE-like questions in the 2013 Minnesota Student Survey. You can also go to an ACEs presentation. Like I said, this is typically
90 minutes to two hours long, goes in a lot more depth. You can get more information at Minnesota Communities
Caring for Children. And if you want to see what
Minnesota and other states have been doing, again, you can go to Minnesota Communities
Caring for Children and get more information there. You can go to Wisconsin
Department of Public Instruction and see a whole list of
resources about developing trauma-sensitive schools there. And you can also go to ACE Interface. So I’m gonna close by just asking you, challenging you to shift your thinking from “What’s wrong with you?”
to “What happened to you?” As I think it will open up space for understanding and compassion as we interact with each
other and our students. Thank you very much! (applause)

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