Monthly Archives: February 2016

Overcoming Trauma

We live in a world today where so many have faced traumatic events.  It could be the death of a loved one, some form of abuse, significant illness, ongoing demands of poverty, or continual events where one’s safety and well-being are put under threat.  Even more tragic is the number of children who are suffering the effects of ongoing stress disorder created by trauma.  The effects of stress and trauma on the brain in the classroom can make instruction in the classroom challenging, not just for the traumatized child, but for all other in the classroom as well. Informed, intentional strategies must be in place for schools to overcome the negative effects of the stress created by trauma.

I have experienced trauma.  My trauma was mostly at the hands of peers that bullied me relentlessly all through school. I spent a great deal of my life feeling ashamed, trying to hide my trauma behind attempts at perfection, carefully controlling my circumstances for protection, and often running if I felt anyone was getting to close to discovering the “broken me” created by my trauma.  It took many failed attempts of dysfunctional coping Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 6.27.10 AMmechanisms for me to finally realize that I could embrace these traumatic circumstances, not as the definition of who I am, but as the events that helped me evolve into the person I was meant to be.  I had to realize that I could not save myself, only God’s grace could do that.  But I also had to learn to forgive myself for all the mistakes I had made and recognize that there were some things that were just not my fault. These lessons did not come easily. I repeated the same mistakes many times before finally learning the skills I needed to overcome these circumstances.  Luckily, it seems God is always patient in giving us plenty of practice and putting the people in our lives we need to learn to overcome.  God seems to be the true origin of the concepts of “grit” and “growth mindset”.

The good news is that today, I can look at my past and embrace it, not because of pride in who I was, but a celebration that God’s forgiveness is great.  His blessings are abundant. I recognize that there are circumstances in my life that could have only happened as a result of God’s intervention, including meeting my husband when were born hundred of milesTrauma-Infographic-1-978x400 apart,  a recent move during the most difficult time for home sales that worked in our favor for both the purchase of a new home and the sale of the old, and my being hired in a larger district as a first-year principal.  God is so good.

I can see standing on this side how that the events of my past can be used to help others. It seems that when you have experienced trauma, it gives you a sixth sense to recognize trauma in others.  It erases all judgment of those who are broken by trauma and fills you with compassion and a desire to hold their hand as they, too, move toward healing. I think this type of compassion is needed for any educator these days.

This type of compassion is needed for any educator these days.  Even if teachers haven’t experienced trauma themselves, they have to be prepared to recognize it within others. Educators today have to realize that those who have been often traumatized behave badly, and it isn’t meant to be a personal attack on others.

What can educators do:

  • Practice not taking negative behavior personally.  This is so hard when we invest so much emotionally in students.  However, it is critical to realize that bad behavior is about the other person, not ourselves.  Sometimes a traumatized person just cannot carry any more load, and they fling the ugliness at others.  It is a cry for help, not a statement of their value of the person they direct their negativity.
  • Be supportive.  Misbehavior is tied to a missing skill.  Identify the missing skill: self-confidence, coping strategies, language- and find opportunities to teach a replacement behavior.
  • Provide positive reinforcement.  Traumatized people need lots of positive reinforcement for the things they do correctly.  They need to be immersed in a world of good.  Find the things that are right in their world and celebrate them.  They need to hear the good things 10-15 more times than they hear the corrections.
  • Learn about trauma. There are starting to be some great resources out there to help educators become informed.  Read about it.  Find out what works.  If nothing else, you will see you are not alone.
  • Love unconditionally.  Unconditional love can be a challenge, but this is what a person who has ongoing trauma needs more than anything.  Unconditional love doesn’t mean a lack of expectation.  This isn’t about excuses.  It’s about loving someone despite their lack of achieving our expectations, resetting, and starting again.


Those with ongoing stress from unbearable circumstances only begin to heal when they feel the safety of unconditional love and support. When that happens, the brain can learn.


It Takes One to Grow One

Being the principal of a Title I school with fifty-two percent of our students coming from impoverished backgrounds has been a challenge, to say the least.  Three years ago, we began our journey making sure all teachers clearly understood the learning standards.  We expanded the second year to include some quality training in small group instruction, higher level thinking strategies, and writing.  This third year we have really worked on when teachers growunderstanding our students, especially those who come from backgrounds that may be very different from our own. It has become clear that relationships are key, and to develop relationships and give feedback in ways that are meaningful, you must truly understand the one that you are giving the feedback.

As we have entered the second semester of our third year, I have been amazed at the progress I have seen in such a short time.  Teachers and staff are teaching our students skills at deep levels.  Not only are they able to apply it in the context of the classroom, but the students are also starting to be able to transfer their learning into abstract testing situations. It was looking at our last round of data that got me pondering.

Yes, all the things we have intentionally worked on as a school are important.  But I have to admit that there was something present that allowed these initiatives to be successful.  At their core, the staff members in my building exemplify the characteristics of strong learners.

  1. Curiosity and Desire to Learn- Teachers who are learners continually assess their current situation and the factors that impact it.  They ask questions like “why?” and “what if?” to help them make sense of their world.  They are not satisfied with someone else’s definitions for understanding, but must experience them for themselves. Their classrooms are an experiment of trial and error to find what works.
  2. Grit in the Face of a Challenge- Teachers  who are learners recognize that failure is a part of learning.  Even when you have a path of steady growth, there is eventually a Grow-Brainplateau or even a dip in progress.  Teachers who are masters of learners accept this as a part of the growth process.  When faced with a challenge to their progress, these teachers persist, taking risks to find new ways to overcome the challenge rather than accept defeat.
  3. Growth Mindset to Continue to Improve- Often, once we as educators learn a strategy that works, we cling to it, even when it is no longer effective.  Teachers who are learners recognize that the goal is to perfect the craft of creating learners, not a strategy.  Teacher Learners are continually reflecting on their practice and learning so that they keep up with the needs of their students.  They know that the need to learn is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength in that they recognize the power of continually evolving.

I think no matter the circumstances: whether students come from affluent, middle-class, or poverty backgrounds, to grow children into learners, you have to possess those characteristics. When you have these traits of a learner yourself, and you understand your students you can instill these same qualities in them. How can you help another person achieve this level of learning if you haven’t experienced it yourself?  It really does “take one to grow one”!