Questions and Answers from Trauma-Informed Practices: From Awareness to Action
Education Week Webinar with Dr. Will Henson.
Thanks again to everyone who attended the Education Week webinar on Thursday, November 1st. If you missed it, you can watch the recorded version here!
We had so many good questions come in and I wanted to take some time to answer as many of them as I can. If you don’t see your exact question here I may have combined a few similar questions. I was very encouraged by the number of people that signed up. National interest in this topic is enormous right now and many districts are wanting to move from awareness to building trauma informed practices in their schools.
I’ve grouped the questions into two categories – First are questions about ACEs and the impact of trauma, and second are questions about 321insight’s products.
First however, I want to repeat something I said in the Q&A session online. We got a lot of questions asking about how trauma-informed practices integrate with PBIS, Restorative Practices, Collaborative Problem Solving, Social & Emotional Learning and many other common initiatives. I want to emphasize that trauma-informed practices have absolutely nothing in them that is antithetical to any of these. In fact, I would say that helping students feel safe and be emotionally regulated is critical to doing a lot of the more “rational” things required of someone participating in any kind of learning or problem solving.
Q: I am anticipating that I will hear names, various forms of literature and media and a course that I can follow up with to explore this subject further.
A: There is a lot of literature and media out there. Dr. Rick Robinson who is the primary author of the trauma series at 321insight and a consultant to school districts on trauma has given us a pretty extensive bibliography. We’ve included it at the bottom of this post.
Q: I am a middle school principal, can you give me some more specifics for this age range?
A: Middle school students are in transition. There is often a larger developmental gap with kids at this range than any other (except maybe very young kids) so your strategies might vary with that more so than perhaps at the High School level. Middle school kids are at risk to move into to high-risk behaviors like substance abuse, truancy (etc.). Relationships with educators and engagement with the school community (sports, clubs etc.) are very important at this age. Find ways to hook kids into appropriate and positive relationships with adults and supports.
Q: What is the approach when a student is exhibiting dangerous behavior to self or others?
A: This depends completely on the behavior. I would say that in general, as that behavior occurs in the context of emotional dysregulation, you are going to be using de-escalation strategies to get that student back down to where they are not dangerous. You should be trained in these and if you are not you should ask to be. Often you will be asked if you followed district procedures in an emergency and used what you were trained in. Always inform your administrator as soon as you can of the situation. Try never to handle dangerous situations alone, it is much safer if you have support – for you and the student.
For suicidal ideation, it is best to immediately refer the student to the building counselor or someone that can follow your district’s suicide screening process. For targeted or planned violence, many districts have a threat assessment team.
And I know people always say this, but call 911 if you have to.
Q: Is there useful information available to educators who have experienced ACE’s themselves?
A: If 45% of students entering K12 education today have ACEs, probably so do a good number of educators. I don’t have numbers, but in the informal groups I’ve led on ACEs a large number of people are self-reporting ACEs in discussions. My general advice to anyone, is:
• Be aware of how ACEs impact you: Since you now know about ACEs, knowledge is power! You can be aware that you might have thoughts and feelings that are based in your early experiences and are not accurate. It’s okay to slow down and question the quality of your thinking and take your time. Not reacting quickly and staying regulated is important.
• Help is out there: Trauma treatments are well developed. Counselors are waiting to help. They know how to help people without making it a miserable and re-traumatizing experience. You need someone to help you through it. Below are two places that can help you find a therapist in your area, but if you are an educator, your EAP should have one.
Q: Is there a way to identify ACE’s?
A: There is no test for ACEs. There are checklists, but these are not meant for kids to fill out. You may see a lot of behaviors that look like ACEs (hypervigilance, hyperarousal etc..) but that does not mean you can always assume a student has experienced trauma. Other things can cause these as well (i.e. mental illness, developmental issues). In short, you will not always know. But trauma-informed interventions work well for all kids. The idea of being predictable, using routines and consistency helps kids with ADHD and executive deficits. Forming relationships with students works pretty universally. Regular opportunities for regulation also helps all kids (and even staff!).
Q: Does Zones of Regulation work well with kids with ACE’s?
A: Absolutely! I’ve seen zones used all the time with kids with ACEs. Anything that helps students with ACEs learn more about how they feel, develop a vocabulary about their feelings and tune into themselves is great. Students can use zones to learn new skills and new ways to respond when frustrated.
Q: How do trauma and PBIS work together?
A: We have information on this coming out on our website. Watch for it in the coming weeks. Dr. Greenwood has done some research on this topic and the two are quite compatible. You heard me say on the webinar and in some other questions here that we really de-emphasize “rewards and consequences” with students with ACEs. So that often leaves people wondering how a PBIS system is going to work.
The small rewards (like earning a pride ticket, or whatever you school calls them) are perfectly acceptable. These are not rewards in the actual sense but reinforcers. Reinforcers are things you give students in the moment to tell them they are doing a desired behavior. So a student is walking down the hall in a quiet manner and you give her that ticket (combined with a positive adult interaction) so that student learns to associate their appropriate behavior with a good outcome. That is very different than giving them a prize if they can do this 10 days in a row.
Q: What form of discipline/consequences have the biggest impact on kids with ACE’s?
A: Students with ACEs have a tendency to see discipline as arbitrary and unfair. They don’t tend to go home and reflect on their poor decisions no matter how big the consequence. When working with students with ACEs discipline should be:
(a) Predictable – Work with students beforehand to help establish how kids can repair problems. They should know in advance what consequences are.
(b) Use consequences to stop behaviors kids are capable of stopping. Where a kid lacks the skills to make a more adaptive response, a consequence won’t help them improve.
(c) Short: Don’t impose long consequences that last days or weeks. They quickly lose their value.
Q: Once we are trained and the interventions are not working, how should we go about tracking the behaviors or needs of the student? Do you have a document or form that we could use to track student behaviors? Do you have a book or info about trauma informed discipline practices?
A: We should first talk about what we mean by “working”. That is to say that your goal when supporting students should be long term improvement, understanding there will be significant variation in the behavior of students with ACEs from day to day and week to week as they cope with life’s inevitable stressors.
We do have a data tracking sheet that’s part of our ParaSharp paraeducator support training series. I also would steer you to BEHCA – an online behavior tracking software company developed by a therapist and former special education teacher. They have the best tracking platform I’ve seen and excellent pricing.
Q: Are there different strategies specific to high school vs. elementary age students? How about for adults?
A: Overall teens and adults are a little better at emotional regulation that small kids, but way more prone to high risk behaviors. They may be able to tolerate more insight and direct instruction on trauma and its impacts. You have to leverage the strengths of teens and adults, which is their ability to help themselves and to learn about trauma.
Q: Buy-in is key. How do you suggest getting buy-in from staff who don’t see the importance of trauma informed practices?
A: If people only knew how easy this makes their job they would be buying in already. I would use the information from this presentation to help talk about the prevalence of trauma as well as the impacts. When they can start to see that list of behavioral impacts hopefully it makes them think about ways to see behavior differently. Some people worry that trauma becomes an “excuse” for behavior. Trauma-informed practices are about making kids stronger and more resilient.
Q: When you notice a student is dissociated from what is going on in class, how does the teacher approach the child appropriately?
A: The term “dissociated” is used in a lot of different ways. You can be dissociated and hyper-aroused at the same time. You can, in effect, be so angry you don’t even remember what you say and do. Or you can also be completely shut down. Approaching a student who is already aroused requires more of a de-escalating approach. A student who is checked out may be easier. Either way, a gentle, and non-confrontational approach is probably your best bet. If there are problems to be solved, wait until the student is available (mentally and emotionally) to think about them.
Q: What are the best ways to ensure all staff is trauma informed in a language immersion program? I work in a school where a large amount of our staff speak limited English. There are of course cultural barriers involved.
A: You really need someone to help translate this for your staff , not just the verbatim English to Spanish but the more cultural nuances of this as well. Not all cultures view mental health and trauma the same way and the ways people express issues or the comfort in doing so can be very different.
Q: In higher education, we are trying to address the “equity gaps” that exist amongst students, which I believe to relate greatly to ACEs. Your last comment resonated with this understanding–if 45% of children have ACEs, 45% of adults do as well. Is there any research on the role of ACEs in higher education? Would this be a reasonable understanding? I feel at this point, trauma-informed research is limited to K-12.
A: Trauma impacts are well documented throughout the lifespan with huge impacts on health, wellness, and overall functioning. I don’t have the literature on higher education but I would say anecdotally that working with kids at transition age that there are a lot of issues transitioning out of high school and into adult life. There are definitely students who go into higher education that are leaving familiar and supportive environments and entering places with new people, fewer supports, and more stress, and these can compound to present challenges even to students who were doing well as seniors in high school.
Q: What can help improve relationships between parents and educators starting from Head Start-12?
A: It’s really important to get to know parents. Parents don’t always trust educators, and when we are talking about kids with trauma, often parents have their own trauma as well. They are slower to trust. They worry about being judged. They worry about their student being labeled. You should try to start off your relationship with parents by reporting as many good things as you can. Get to know them before you have to make the first negative phone call home.
Q: When a child has had such a traumatic background and it seems they have given up, what are the next steps you take to intervene in the lives of these children?
A: Children need adults who like and believe in them. Helping a person believe in themselves isn’t accomplished by telling them to believe – you have to show it to them, in every action you take. And it will take significant repetition of positive experiences with adults for that child to change. Don’t expect to see the response right away if ever. Just do it, because in the long run that child will be able to remember those experiences.
Q: Is there any difference between trauma-informed schools and trauma-sensitive schools? If so, how?
A: Some people describe the term trauma-sensitive to talk about the whole school climate and culture while the term trauma-informed refers more to the behavioral health aspects, what I would say are interventions done by counselors, mental health practitioners and arguably special education staff. Working in schools I think it’s not an “either/or” proposition – our trauma-informed initiative where I do most of my work is a General Education initiative, and subsumes the entire school, but our intervention and SPED staff are very much steeped in how to use trauma-informed practices in our specialized programs, and mental health interventions.
Q: Do you think that Trauma Informed Practices can translate to online learning environments?
A: I’m not sure what you are asking but I know that many students who attend virtual learning environments do so because they have not been successful in traditional environments. Many virtual learning environments include a face-to-face component (or online interactions) for which trauma-informed practices are going to be very helpful.
Q: Bullying is a behavior I see in my high school students. What is a good strategy to use to change this behavior and improve the situation?
A: Bullying is definitely a problem. The word bullying is used almost synonymously with just about any behavior people don’t like from someone else. Let’s be clear that bullying is ongoing systematic harassment where there is a power differential between two people.
While bullies may be impacted by trauma, and this may need to be dealt with at well, it is a systematic and purposeful behavior that has a direct impact on other students and the climate and culture of the school. It should always be treated as a serious issue and dealt with every single time it happens. It undermines kids’ sense of safety and once that goes away in your school learning stops.
Q: I work in indigenous students in northern Quebec and I am curious if you have information that is relevant to that population and culture?
A: Regarding indigenous populations in northern Quebec, I have not worked directly with that population but I have worked with rural native Alaskan populations, predominantly Yupik villages in western Alaska. Trauma impacts are universal, but cultural norms around this may be very different. So, in terms of translating what you heard in our webinar to the people you support consider things like how empathy, respect, and active listening are demonstrated in that culture. Consider what language people use to describe trauma or emotions. Indigenous practices for healing trauma may have more value than we can understand. Students from indigenous cultures usually need a lot of support transitioning out of their rural villages to higher education due to what is fairly extreme culture shock. These are just a few of my observations.
Q: How do you have an impact when you are working through trauma and recovering from natural disaster?
A: Acute trauma is very different than ongoing developmental trauma or the chronic stress of ACEs. Usually kids who have experienced something traumatic like a natural disaster may have more post-traumatic symptoms such as intense reactions to something that reminds them of their experience in the disaster (some examples: sirens, heavy rain). They may have intrusive recollections of traumatic events or be generally anxious or depressed or irritable.
Students are going to be expected to have reactions to being exposed to a natural disaster, and it’s important to involve mental health professionals in your community in this to provide treatment for those affected.
As an educator, building relationships, being willing to listen, and establishing a classroom environment that is warm, predicable and helps kids feel safe will be very useful.
321insight Product Questions
Q: We are implementing training in my school district.Are there tools we can download?
A: Dr. Greenwood, Dr. Robinson and I have developed our dream set of tools at 321insight, and you can get a free trial by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org . We have job-specific guides for everyone from the custodian to the bus driver, Functional Assessments, companion discussion guides to the videos and tons more tools.
Q: What is offered for teacher trauma and stress?
A: Staff wellness is huge, and the calls for it have grown exponentially. 321insight has a Staff Self Care and Wellness guide designed specifically for educators as part of its Trauma Informed training series for schools. I have also blogged about this and we will do a Self-care series (with exercises) on the blog in the near future.
Q: What is the easiest way to pass this info along to admin in my company? We work with birth-5yrs, but really need to educate our staff on ACEs and trauma to help our kiddos.
A: I would start with a free trial and see if what we have is right for you. Start training your staff and see how they respond, and if it’s something valuable to you, you’re in a good position to advocate.
Q: Can you please repeat the blog info and address?
A: If you are reading this, you found our blog! – I really hope a lot of you will take a look at this, and it’s free. You can even do some short quick training by sharing this with your staff.
Q: What kind of cost are we talking and how is it licensed?
We license in a variety of models to support flexible use. Our most common licensing model is a district or school wide license. We also support training organization and district PD efforts with a PD package. We can provide custom pricing to anyone who is interested, and we will follow up with the way to request it. We have priced this very affordably in order to get it out there widely. We believe this is really important and want to ensure that all districts and schools can create trauma-informed environments so that all students can thrive. Please contact us for specific pricing.
Q: Sometimes, the trainings delivered via video/webinar do not receive the interaction that is needed with staff to drive the information home. Are the resources such that a facilitator could lead the training and use the video as a supplement?
A: Meta-analytic research conducted by the U.S. Department of Education says that online training/education is as good as in person but the best overall outcomes are when you combine the two. We really tried hard in our design to have this not be a sit and get experience. We have facilitator guides with questions, exercises on our summary sheets to try and also discussion questions for PLC/group learning. People need to hear the information but they also need to DO it and try it out. This concept is definitely supported at 321insight.
Again, thanks for taking the time to join our webinar and read through our questions and answers!
Dr. Will Henson and Alia Jackson