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42. Regarding the Heart of Learning & Teaching pt 4

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Good Morning Families, today is Thursday May 20th, 2020 and it is now time for a moment of SEL.

Today we are continuing our journey into the heart of learning and teaching. There is a subtitle to the book the Heart of Learning and Teaching and that is, Compassion, Resiliency, and Academic Success. And even though it is not listed in the subtitle, a large portion of the book focuses on trauma. Trauma is a big word in education.

Behind the scenes in schools there is a lot of talk about being “trauma-informed”. What does all of that mean?

Great question. Today we are going to work to define trauma in the way that schools tend to use the term. And we’ll look at why it’s important for learning communities to understand how all members can contribute to the well-being of the community, and how that can be of particular benefit for members who have dealt with or are dealing with trauma.

But first there is a really great picture book written by Dan Santat called “After The Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again”. That book is an excellent teaching tool for understanding how trauma or a traumatic experience can impact a person’s life. Mr. Manzo reads it every year to the whole school and the student’s really like it. You can go to The Big Time Feelings Show on Youtube and watch and listen to a reading of After the Fall.

Let’s go back to the Heart of Learning and Teaching for a definition of trauma that we can use to help develop our common language. Trauma is an umbrella term used to describe the inability of an individual or community to respond in a healthy way (physically, emotionally, and/or mentally) to acute or chronic stress. In other words, trauma is the word we use to say that a stressful event(s) has overwhelmed and thereby compromised the health and

welfare of a person and his/her community.

Let’s also quickly define stress, because that word was used so much. Stress is a response to too many demands and not enough resources. Stress (physical, mental or emotional strain or tension) is likely a familiar part of life. Stress can come from many situations, and even from just thinking about situations. Too much stress or a strong response to stress can be harmful. Persistent and unrelenting stress can lead to anxiety (uneasiness and apprehension about future uncertainties) and unhealthy behaviors.

Stress may be “acute” (brief and severe) or “chronic” (over a long duration). However, when stress overwhelms the capacity of an individual or community to respond, trauma may


Let's use Dan Santat’s story of Humpty Dumpty, after his “great fall” as the context. So we know the rhyme, Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Dan Santat picks up the story as our hero Humpty is leaving the King’s hospital, where they were able to bandage him up. But he’s been changed by his fall. He used to like heights, he used to like birdwatching from tall places, but now, he can’t even sleep in the top bunk of his bed. And he’s afraid to even climb a step ladder to get a delicious, junky cereal at the grocery store.

Humpty is so worried about falling again that he has changed his behavior dramatically, so that he doesn’t risk falling again. The memory of the fall is very painful and scary. The worry of it happening again is also very scary. The fall was a really big deal, but it only happened one time, so we might say that Humpty suffered some acute stress.

Now if Humpty was a student in our school community, and he came back to school after the fall, we could see that the stress of that one event, the fall, has really impacted his quality of life. In particular he no longer does the things he used to love to do, which is going up high places and look at birds. But, it would not be our place to diagnose or label Humpty as having experienced trauma that would be for Humpty and his medical support people to do.

But, supporting Humpty in understanding what happened to him and supporting him in being able to work back to doing the things he loves, that is something that school communities can do. In fact, that is the exact mission of a compassionate school is to help all the members of the community thrive, even if some of them have experienced something that can make some parts of life very challenging.

There are many ways a school community can work to provide a healthy, healing environment for all students to thrive. All of those ways will involve some type of social emotional learning skill. The Heart of Learning and Teaching would identify several key steps for supporting students, particularly students who have experienced or are experiencing a lot of stress or trauma.

These 3 R’s come from the book and were crafted by Kenneth Fox, a high school teacher in Mt. Vernon High School. Those are relationships, mutual respect, and reasonable accommodations.

Those might be things you can start to practice in your own home. High quality and healthy relationships are key for people to be able to connect with one another. Mutual respect is a very big thing concept that we will look at down the road because respect is a pretty tricky thing to define outside of specific contexts, but essential that means everyone involved is feeling respected. And reasonable accommodations would be the ways in which a school could support a person by meeting them where they are, but not going so far as to enable unhealthy habits or inadvertently encourage anxiety.

Tomorrow, we’ll look more into some great models of support that schools can use to help build a wide variety of routines and systems. It’s called Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT.

You’ll like it.

We look forward to connecting with you, in whatever way we can tomorrow. Until tomorrow, may your thoughts and feelings be with you.

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