One thing I appreciate about my district is our Teacher Leadership Book Study. This phenomenal professional development opportunity is spearheaded by Amy Illingworth, our Director of Professional Growth. For the past 2 years, we’ve had four book studies spread throughout the year–at each book study, we meet teachers from across the district, discuss the book, and reflect on our teaching practices. This year’s version allowed us to select from a list of books around a unifying topic.
The fourth book study focused on social-emotional learner, and I opted to read Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall. This book was originally recommended to me by my dear friend Rosy Burke last year, and is such a great read. While the overall concept of the book was familiar to me, I learned a lot about trauma and how it affects our students’ lives.
One of my biggest takeaways from this book is “the power of seven seconds,” which Pete Hall describes as, “every morning, ever student who enters the school has a story…we don’t know these stories, and we can’t control what has already happened. But we can control our ability to say, ‘Good morning!’ right off the bat. The first seven seconds of our interaction with every student in our school should be brimming with enthusiasm, joy, compliments, or some sort of friendly banter” (Souers & Hall, 110). These relationships mean everything to our students!
A student walks into first period 10 minutes late. Instead of putting them on the defensive by grilling them for why they’re late, cheerfully say, “I’m so glad you’re here today! I was worried we wouldn’t see you. You’re just in time for our lab!” The students’ entire demeanor changes when they realize they’re being celebrated, not scolded.
Another big takeaway from the book is the concept of the downstairs brain (fight or flight reflexes) and the upstairs brain (empathetic response). It made me sit back and realize that when a student is in their downstairs brain and acting out or refusing to work, I need to stay in my upstairs brain and not get sucked into the frustrating back-and-forth with the student. I know when I’m frustrated with a student’s actions, I’m not the empathetic and caring listener that they need at that moment.
Here are some strategies I already use in my classroom:
Restorative practices: Restorative practices is a mindset where students are held accountable for their behavior in conjunction with a high level of empathy. The goal is to have students empathetically understand how their actions impact those around them, and take steps to repair any harm caused. This can be a whole-class strategy for discussing an incident, running a mediation between two students, or having a conversation with an individual student. In any case, we use the same three guiding questions: What happened? Who was impacted? What needs to be done to repair the harm?
Fidget box: I know my students come to class burdened with all kinds of trauma and stress. Some is the everyday middle school drama, while others are deeply rooted life experiences. I provide a fidget box that students can choose an item to help focus or calm down in class. In order to use the fidget box, students must first meet with me to discuss expectations. These expectations include trying out a few different fidgets to see what works, not sharing a fidget with another student (it quickly becomes a toy that way), and to select and return their fidget without distracting their peers. It has worked out great for my students!
Behavior log: When we do have minor incidents in class, I track these with a behavior log. It’s a simple Google Form a student fills out as the second chance in class (after a warning). The purpose is to reflect on what happened in class, and how they can make a change. After class or during work time, I’ll quickly conference with the student to debrief the incident. One new thing I will implement next year is behavior log cards; these will allow me to nonverbally ask students to complete behavior logs.
Each student and each class presents their own unique set of challenges and successes. I am grateful to support my students, no matter their circumstances outside our classroom.