Answers to Questions from our recent webinar, “Why Aren’t Our Behavior Interventions Working? Using Trauma-Informed Approaches to Enhance Interventions”

Questions and Answers from “Why Aren’t Our Behavior Interventions Working? Using Trauma-Informed Approaches to Enhance Interventions”
Education Week Webinar with Dr. Will Henson.

Thanks again to everyone who attended the Education Week webinar on Tuesday, March 5.  If you missed it, you can watch the recorded version here!

And special thanks to all who submitted questions. We had so many good questions come in, but were only able to answer a fraction of them on the webinar. If you don’t see your exact question here, it’s because we combined a few similar questions.  If you’ve since thought of something else, please send it to info@321insight.com and we will do our best to answer it as well.

Thanks again!

Dr. Will Henson

Q: What are some good resources to read on this topic?

There are lots of good resources on trauma-informed practices. We did a basic webinar primer with Education Week last November that lays the foundation for trauma-informed practices for schools. You can still register to watch that webinar, titled “Trauma-Informed Schools: From Awareness to Action” here.

Check out our blog; this is where I do a lot of posting as does Dr. Rick Robinson who wrote our trauma series, as well as Dr. Skip Greenwood, and others. We are currently doing a nice multi-part trauma-informed series of exercises for staff that is good for folks who have the basics down. You can find the intro to the series here.

Of course, I’m partial to the stuff I participated in designing for 321insight – If you didn’t sign up for a free trial of our Trauma Informed training series, please do. (Email info@321insight.com to request a trial) We designed tools for custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, school resource officers. We devised trauma-informed functional behavior assessments. Anywhere we could infuse trauma-informed interventions, we did so.

For books, I like “Parenting from the Inside Out” by Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell. This helps folks understand neurodevelopment, brain function, attachment, and parenting. It also includes some nice stuff on the impact of adversity.

For a less technical read, “The Boy who was Raised as a Dog” by Bruce Perry can be helpful in understanding the impact of abuse/neglect. Some of the stories are about extreme situations so that is important to be mindful of.

I think the Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson series, “The Whole Brain Child”, “No Drama Discipline,” and the “Yes Brain” can all be helpful. They are written in pretty caregiver friendly language and also have some pretty concrete “go do” style templates for action and exercises.

This summer I read “The Clinical Applications of Polyvagal Theory” by Stephen Porges. It’s technical but it gives you a nice summary of the theory and the treatments.

Q: What researchers do you follow/include in the information you share?

Here’s a full list of the research base we used in the development of our Trauma Informed training series: Trauma-Informed Series Research List

Q: How can you use these ideas with PBIS when working with adolescents? Particularly older teens (15 up).

Remember the most important part of PBIS is the relationship. Teens are highly relational. They want to connect. The tickets or whatever you are giving out aren’t the magic. It’s the connection with a person that cares. The PBIS pride tickets or gotchas or whatever your school calls them are just an excuse to connect with someone and build them up or start a conversation. Teens seek out positive relational experiences, so create them as often as you can!

Q: What is the source of the statistics found on the ACES Impacts slides?

The source of the statistics cited in the webinar as it relates to the impact of ACEs was the original ACE study by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda.

Q: Are some kids with trauma misdiagnosed as ADHD …… etc?

Most definitely! The hallmark symptoms of ADHD; inattention, impulsivity, hyperactivity (etc.) are quite similar to many signs of trauma. Students with a high number of ACEs exhibit difficulty concentrating, constant vigilance to the environment (instead of work), poor decision-making, hyperarousal (etc…). The good thing is that relationships, routines, and regular calming and regulation work are just as good for a kid with ADHD as they are for a kid with ACEs.

Q: I want your thoughts on building relationships. Specifically, can a relationship with a counselor, school social worker etc. be sufficient enough for repairs to begin in the brain? I have many teachers sending kids out of the classroom for help and support but would you agree that the relationships need to be built with the teacher as well for the regulation to begin to transfer into the classroom?

Yes! In fact, when we talk about relationships, we don’t mean that these relationships have to be deep or intense so that they become unprofessional or cross boundaries. Being an adult who likes them, who sees their strengths and believes in their potential and can actively convey that is enough. Being regulated and tuned into the kids helps create the positive models and experiences that help the brain begin to change.

Q: As a teacher leader, more and more research is coming out to train educators about resilience. How do we get our teachers on board? Specifically, the teachers who are stuck on “curriculum” first? Any advice is much appreciated.

You can’t teach curriculum to kids who are not regulated! The best-selling point is that this makes the job of the teacher so much easier. Understanding trauma and being trauma-informed doesn’t mean you are spending hours of your time doing trauma stuff. It means you are aware of how to better support students by building rapport, managing your own affect, creating predictable environments – most of this stuff isn’t meant to take a long time or take away from curriculum time. You can still teach, but you have to be conscious of the design of your instructional time and the presence you have in the class.

Q: Do you have examples of cognitive and motor breaks?

There are so many of these. And there is not a one-size fits all break. Here are a few ideas:

  • Puzzles
  • Origami
  • Simon Says
  • Board games

Q: Do you have any resources to use to help role-play common trigger situations with elementary students?

We have a video about this on our website as part of our paraeducator training series, ParaSharp. To sum up what Dr. Greenwood says about this:
1. First – You have to sell the skill to the kid. Tell the kid what you are doing and why, predict a positive outcome from the practice.
2. Don’t just dive in. Spend some time planning beforehand, getting any materials you need, and make sure you have the right time, and space to practice
3. Start at the first step of the skill. For example, if you are going to get a student to practice taking a break when she is frustrated, you don’t start with the break. You start with how does that student know they are frustrated (What does it feel like in their body, where do they feel it, what are they likely to be thinking, saying and doing that tells them they need a break?).
4. Start where the student can be successful. If you want a student to do an assignment, start with one problem, or picking up their pen and sitting with the assignment without getting anxious. Graduate the approach to tasks in small increments that are manageable.
5. Remember that the magic of teaching the skill isn’t just the information you are giving. A lot of the magic is in the repetition, practice and the relationship between you and the child.

Q: What are keywords, phrases, or methods of having courageous conversations have you implemented in order to address staff mindset about trauma-informed work?

Kids have changed. We have to change too or we are not doing our jobs. Also, I have to address the bias in the words “trauma-informed” and call out people’s concerns and acknowledge them. For example, some people are concerned that being trauma-informed means we are giving kids an excuse for their behavior, or we are lowering our expectations. People are worried that trauma-informed practices is just education about abuse. It’s so much more than that. It’s real, practical strategies for managing challenging behavior and if we don’t understand why we have a behavior epidemic in this country we are doomed to always have one.

Q: Have you seen many of these classrooms in correctional facilities or schools out there?

We do have a few implementations of our Trauma-Informed training series in use in youth justice programs. For more details, please email info@321insight.com.

Q: What are some examples of challenges staff can practice with to build their capacity?

Check out our blog to see an 8-part series focused on practical exercises to build capacity. It’s a great thing for staff to do after they have initial training on what ACEs are.

Q: What about mindfulness a tool?

Mindfulness is a great tool, however, it’s not a one size fits all tool, and it can be really hard to do mindfulness practices with students with ACEs because it’s those quiet moments that people often experience intrusive recollections from trauma. Kids spend a lot of time trying to screen those out. Know your kid before you start. Asking a kid to do something like close their eyes in front of you can be the wrong thing to do for someone who has been victimized and you can trigger some kids pretty easily if you throw them into something that is very unfamiliar to them. Start slow.

Q: What do you know about Conscious Discipline and how does it help when working with students?

I have not used it personally but from what I know about it it’s very much in line with trauma-informed practices. Because things have different names we sometimes think of them as totally separate things, and as I said in my presentation, our behavior interventions are not necessarily wrong, but we have to look at their functional mechanisms. Conscious Discipline highlights a lot of what we covered in the webinar, and at its core is proactive, relational-focused and reinforces core expectations.

Q: How can we apply these strategies to our special education population?

I use these strategies every day with SPED populations. Rates of trauma are higher in kids with disabilities of all kinds. I work with seven programs that serve students with Emotional Disturbance, and almost all our kids have some degree of trauma. For students with autism or intellectual disabilities, you may have to focus more on overlearned routines and reinforcement of positive behaviors and repetition of positive experiences.

Q: What is the best way to go about getting administrators on board with the many demands they have as administrator?

Offer to help or do it for them. The less they have to do the better. Don’t just come with an idea, show them a proposal. Show them how it will address a problem. Be prepared for questions if they have never had any exposure to trauma-informed practices. Be patient. Be prepared for resistance from the rest of the building. If you are going to do this in your building you have to be an ambassador for it. Also, be aware of what you are asking for. Things that require extra contract time cost a lot of money and are not likely to happen.

Q: What are some ideas around supporting an extreme ODD student to succeed in practicing self- regulation?

When working with kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder you have to build a relationship first. Kids with ODD are suspicious of adults, so start by expecting nothing and genuinely getting to know that student. Be curious and interested in them. Don’t give them a lot to fight against.

Q: What can we do with older teachers who are resistant to this (trauma-informed interventions)?

Start with their resistance. They have been teaching a long time. They maybe have the attitude that kids need to change their behavior or get out. This is new territory for them. They have to get the fact that kids are coming to school today without the same regulation skills as before. They are not just disrespectful and manipulative. How you help them define the problem is important. Teachers can have a lot of success by changing their practices. This makes their job so much easier.

Q: How do you get a classroom under control when there are four or five dysregulated students feeding off of each other?

That is a hard place to be in. At that point, you are between a rock and a hard place, so the first line of defense is always a good offense. Be proactive! Structure your classroom, your routines, seating, transitions, stations, reinforcement etc. so that it avoids situations where kids are easily dysregulated. Some kids are easily dysregulated when there is nothing to do, and others react strongly to work and do better with peers. When things really get crazy, you have to stay calm and patient. When dealing with kids with ACEs getting angry does not do a whole lot.

Q: Do you involve parents and community?

I do a lot of teaching of parents about ACEs. Often this happens during one of the regular meetings I am engaged in. For example, if we are holding an IEP meeting, or giving an eligibility evaluation, or having a disciplinary action where parents are present, there might be situations where parents are asking for help and ideas. In cases where the ACEs are known or shared, I will talk about how they can impact behavior. You do have to be sensitive in talking about these with parents so they don’t feel blamed. We are lucky in that our community providers, and city and county agencies, are also starting to speak this language.

Q: I would assume that many teachers have also experienced ACEs, but I wonder how many teachers (or adults in general) have learned to sufficiently regulate themselves when they are put under duress. How do we teach self-regulation to adults with ACEs?

Only a well-regulated adult can help a child regulate. In my professional life, I have found many staff self-reporting ACEs and they appear to be widespread among the adult population across all demographics. Adults have to understand that if they are not regulated during an interaction with a child they will not only fail but likely make the situation worse. Here’s a great poster we developed on this topic:

Q: I’m interested in more information about wellness rooms. Do all students use the room or how do the participants get identified? Do students make scheduled visits or go only when needed? How is the room staffed?

The wellness room is a place you go for a scheduled break. It is not a red-zone room. It is never a place you send a dysregulated student. Certain students get scheduled in. These can see 40+ visits a day. Our district found these so successful they hired a full-time paraeducator to staff them. I actually requested to go through the room personally to see how it worked. I was guided through it by a very calm counselor and I think this was a big part of how regulating the experience felt. First I signed in, took off my shoes, and reviewed the expectations. The lights were low, the aroma diffuser was going, there was a video playing with some nature sounds. The whole place felt relaxing. I got to choose some motor activities on one side and then some sensory type activities on the other. Then I checked out with the nice counselor and I did feel much more relaxed. A trained person is critical for this role, whether it’s your counselor or a few staff or one dedicated person.

Q: Can you name the district/schools with wellness rooms?

That’s a good question…email me willhenson@drhenson.org and I will put you in touch with folks who have experience in this from a school administrator level.

Q: I am an ESL teacher, and I teach new immigrants. All of my students have, or are undergoing trauma. In their countries, teachers employ harsh punitive methods to deal with negative behaviors. Our students don’t respect our “soft” ways of dealing with them as whole people, and often don’t respond to a compassionate approach. What do you suggest?

I would start by pre-teaching the expectations and building a frame around your expectations. You can talk about how sometimes kids have a hard time adjusting to the ways of their old school (where kids were kept in line with punishments), to the way we do things here. Talk about how you expect them to act like young men and women, to have integrity, to follow their word. When you build this kind of frame for your class, they don’t get any power by defying you, they are just being immature. They are not just disrespecting you, they are disrespecting the class. Build a community they want to be part of.

Q: Educators often don’t give practice enough time to work. What is a reasonable timeline for implementation with fidelity to show results?

Everything is incremental. If you are practicing a skill with a kid, repetition is important, and so is the quality of the practice. Practice never has to be or should be long. It should be positive and frequent enough to keep the skill in the student’s mind. Progress will never be linear. Kids will have good and bad days.

Q: I found many times that adolescents don’t trust teachers easily. How can we make them feel that we are here to help them?

Consistency over time is important. Taking the time to engage the student in brief non-academic interactions can help. Good relationships are built through consistency and there are no short cuts. Remember that when you are building a relationship, you are helping rewire kids’ brains, and healing trauma through positive interaction. It takes repeated positive experiences!

Q: How do we use these strategies with one student without making the other students feel as if you are playing favorites?

Hopefully, you are working with all your kids. Some kids are going to demand a little extra. Usually teachers are accused of playing favorites when they are paying attention to the more successful or verbal students. Kids are smart enough to know which kids need your help.

Q: What can coaching performance indicators look like for year-long coaching plan for a school? For example, is there a way to quantify co-regulation events?

This is not my area of expertise but I would focus on outcomes. Trying to track co-regulation events is hard, in part because co-regulation really should be happening all the time and a lot of it is non-verbal. Maybe you are trying to achieve more instructional time or fewer suspensions. Have people co-regulate with this kind of larger outcome as the goal.

Q: Do you have a child-friendly screener for trauma?

I am not an advocate of giving kids ACE screeners, especially using self-report measures. The screening should be part of evaluations, parent meetings etc…not necessarily a universal screening. Doing that requires a lot of training and can be done insensitively if not done correctly. Being trained on ACEs, and knowing the ACEs categories can help you make a guess if you know about a student’s background. I recently posted on whether or not you need to know if a student has ACEs. You can read that here.

Q: How do you address staff who feel like this enables students to maintain dysregulation?

I guess it depends on how they are enabling it. It also depends on how open they are to feedback. Dysregulation is an automatic process that happens beneath the level of awareness – before the thinking brain kicks in. Enabling is a process that allows a person to continue a maladaptive behavior because there are no consequences. So, in some ways, I have a hard time seeing how this is happening. A direct approach is best if you have a relationship or culture that supports it. If not, you can help the person see how another way is more successful.

Q: I am the teacher in the categorical emotional impairment classroom. The school that I am in is pushing to keep “trauma” student in the categorical room until the earn the right to be out. I find it important to have students also learn to regulate and function in the General Education environment. What are your thoughts about the best place for these students and do you support these students being in the general educational environment?

I have been supporting classrooms like yours as a consultant for 15 years. The idea that you keep kids in a room until they are “fixed” bothers me. It also bothers me that they have to “earn” their mainstream education. I understand some students are not ready to access this yet. Putting a large number of kids together who have trauma is a recipe for disaster, especially as a blanket policy. Kids with emotional and behavioral issues do MUCH BETTER in inclusion environments than lumped together. They are not intrinsically motivated to “earn” their way out and face many more hurdles because they are around dysregulated peers. Push kids out as much as you can. Support them in their Gen Ed environments, and pull them back when necessary. Hand pick their teachers and support those teachers in every way possible.

Q: How would you go about involving these students’ parents, since they are also most likely dysregulated? ….or would you not?

Many parents have ACEs. They take a while to trust you. They need to hear positives about their kid and often don’t. But they will work with you if you take the time to build a relationship with them.

Q: How can I help the 16-year old who has experienced trauma in recent years (i.e. not as a young child)?

One of the main moderators of the impact of trauma is the relational supports present for a young person. Knowing there are caring people around that they can go to is very important for the long-term impact. You can also help this person connect with other supports (community, faith, sports, etc…) where they will find other supportive people. Help this person connect to therapeutic resources if they need them. Treatments for trauma are well-developed and work!

Thanks for reading through all of the questions! If you have others, or want more information about 321insight’s Trauma Informed training series for all school staff (designed in part by Dr. Will Henson), please email info@321insight.com. 

Comments (2)

This was very helpful. I’ve made the decision to use the term “trauma-sensitive” because it helps me recognize that action is required on my part. Trauma-informed, to me, means I have information and may or may not take action. All students are different today, and they all need support from caring, self-regulated adults. Thank you for generously sharing your expertise.

Arita, I appreciate your response. We use both terms, but tend more often towards “trauma-informed and resilience-oriented”, in order to address the need for action. Regardless of the terms used, I’m just glad that so many people are interested in how we can better support today’s students. Thanks for posting!

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