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Teaching Trauma Informed Practices

This interview was conducted during the 2020-2021 winter break.

Q. How does trauma informed practices help the educators you're teach to understand the young people that they'll be teaching.

So it's really around the idea of challenging behaviors. What some people might see as like bad behavior. We really start with it. When a child is showing a challenging behavior, it's not because they're trying to get under your skin. It's because, um, we have—everyone, regardless of if you're young or old—have challenging behaviors when you have fear and anxiety.

So if you're feeling fear, if your body is sensing fear, it's one of our reactions to go into fight, flight, freeze. And so that is what a challenging behavior is. Adults do them too. Adults throw temper tantrums too. But kind of diving into understanding the child isn't doing something bad against you it's that they're hurting and that they're scared.

So we can't react and yell at them or send them away, but it's really embracing them and bringing them in because a lot of the students, children who have had trauma in their backgrounds are often seen as the challenging children and are often sent away. They're sent to time out, they're sent to the principal's office, they're sent someplace else.

And then they're understanding that where they're at is not safe, welcoming, and equitable. So you want to develop a safe, welcoming, and equitable environment. That means you trust me enough, child, that you are going to throw a chair across the room because you know that this is a safe place, and then I'm going to keep you safe and you're able to kind of show that emotion. I'm not going to send you away. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm going to help be resilient for you.


I don't think that there are bad children. I think that children sometimes don't have everything to make the choices that will give them a good outcome, but I think it's really on the adults in the systems.

School was developed under basically a white privilege kind of mentality. A lot of the strategies, the zero tolerance policies, the way we discipline those types of things, those are decisions made by adults that impact children. So children aren't bad.

It's the decisions that the adults have made that determine the behavior. One of the quotes that I really like is, "the behavior is defined by the person who's most annoyed by it." So cussing, right? So you were saying that person cussed you out. It didn't bother you. You weren't annoyed by it. You weren't triggered by it, but the teacher who kicked [the student] out was annoyed by it. So that behavior was deemed bad by that teacher, but wasn't deemed bad by you. And so you didn't end up disciplining the student. So the person who's most, most annoyed by the behaviors is the one who defines it.

It's children's choices if they've been given the right strategies, but it's really on the adults to make a system that doesn't perpetuate, that what they would define as challenging behaviors.


Q. How does trauma informed practices connect with emotional agility and emotional intelligence?

Trauma informed practices are associated to what's called a pyramid model. The pyramid model is like a three tiered system. It's an Illinois, and I know other states have it also, but it's basically a way to build the social, emotional development of children and adults.

And so the bottom tier is all about relationships and really building those relationships. That would become into like that emotional intelligence, how you develop that emotional intelligence and how you teach children, how to develop it, but the adults need it first. So they do connect, not like directly, but they do connect. And being able to really understand what you're feeling and why you're feeling it. That's really associated at trauma informed practices because a lot of the reactions we have are associated to trauma that we may not even remember. Because our brains are so amazing.

In the fifth month in utero, so the fifth month that you're in your mom's belly, is when you start memories. Those are memories that are kind of stored in your brain that you can never access, but if something happened in that time, it can react to you. So for example, there's a research study that shows that a baby was born with their cord wrapped around their neck. At birth, the baby would never have known that unless the story was told over and over and over again. But that human now, that adult, they have a very visceral reaction to anything close to the front of their neck. It's like irrational. And what they're associating that to that in utero memory before the age of two. That's a memory also.

So before the age of two we don't really remember things. But those are things that can still impact us. So another story is a child who was in foster care. Her mom took her to get her nails done at a nail salon. And when she walked in, she smelled the scent of the nails.

There's a sense to it. And she flipped out, like they had to take her out. They didn't know what was wrong. Well, the case worker figured it out that she was molested as a one-year-old in a nail shop. She couldn't put that together, but that smell triggered her brain to have that kind of traumatic experience reaction.

Those are all I think, associated to–you need to understand where your trauma comes from or where your emotions come from. I just read a really good book. I was trying to remember, it's my by Marc Brackett and it's all about being able to feel and— Permission to Feel that's what it's called.

It really talks about emotional intelligence. It talks some about trauma, not a whole lot, but it's really linked to that idea of the pyramid model of that bottom realm of developing those really strong emotional relationships.

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