Surviving The Storm: Fostering Resiliency In Science Learners

What is resiliency?

When you first hear the words resilient or resiliency, you may think of a definition similar to the idea of withstanding or “bouncing back” from difficult decisions. This idea is often connected to the resilience of communities, plants, or even commercial products. I urge you to consider a new type of resiliency — individual resiliency.

When we look at resiliency through the lens of individuals, we are able to see a stark difference in our other ideas of resiliency. Many may consider the resiliency of communities to be derived from their “strength in numbers.” The natural world may be considered resilient because of the millions of years of evolution. Even commercial goods that boast about their resiliency do so because they were designed that way. As an individual, it can sometimes feel as though you cannot change your level of resiliency. This is simply not the case. Through practice, we can all improve our individual resiliency to trauma.

Why is it important for educators?

As educators, we are in a unique position when considering individual resiliency. We must not only be concerned with our own resiliency, but also that of our students. This responsibility reflects the notion that we are not simply focused on our content area, but instead must aim to prepare our students for life beyond the walls of our classroom.

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter (1987)

Many students experience trauma. This is an unfortunate truth that we cannot afford to ignore. In an effort to improve the resiliency of our students so that they can better handle the stress and trauma in their lives, we must infuse resilient thinking into our daily education. Kristin Souers and Pete Hall dive into the idea of Fostering Resilient Learners in their book by the same name. Within this book, the two authors connect individual resiliency to the classroom and demonstrate the importance of relationship, belief, self-awareness, and grace.

What can I do?

Throughout their book, Souers and Hall concisely put forth various phrases or mantras to help with fostering individual resiliency within yourself and your students. Each of these phrases corresponds to a chapter of the book. Some of my favorites include:

  • Forever Changed, Not Forever Damaged. (Chapter 11)
    • Similar to the Maya Angelou quote included above, this reminds us to keep a growth-centered mindset in response to trauma.
  • When in Doubt, Shut Your Mouth and Take a Breath. (Chapter 5)
    • Sometimes the best thing to do is breathe instead of talk. There have been many times when breathing exercises have helped me to calm down.
  • It’s OK to be Not-OK. (Chapter 12)
    • This is likely one you’ve heard. There is often a stigma around asking for help from others or showing that you are not okay. Instead, we must remember that it is natural to be “Not-OK” sometimes.

If you want another way to measure your own resiliency so you can better foster resiliency in your students, check out this video by Psych2Go about 8 Things Resilient People Do:


Michael Mischler

Miami University || Class of 2023
College of Education Health and Society || Integrated Science Education Major

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Resistant Learners? or Resilient Learners? A Great Tool Every Teacher Needs in their Toolbelt.

In every classroom there’s that one student who just can’t sit still. They jump out of their seat, yell and cuss, and distract their neighbors around them. As a teacher what can you do? How do we get students to behave? Most would say throw the book at them, discipline is what kids need in order to live healthy academic lives, but what if I told you we’ve had it backwards for centuries now? Shocker, right?

Kyle's reading blog: Summer Entry III
Students today in every administrator’s office

A great novel that I have recently picked up is called Fostering Resilient Learners by therapist Kristin Souers and . In her book she describes how students may not be looking for attention, they’re just settling for it, and their outburst have a hidden meaning underlying them.

Students come prepackaged with their own little set of life experiences and it is our job as teachers to build upon those experiences to raise up their learning potential. On the one hand, what if that package comes with trauma? In Souers’ book she explains how students come with not-OK events categorized as ACE’s, or adverse childhood experiences, and how these events impair the learning experience.

It’s important to recognize that trauma is real. It’s also prevalent and toxic to the brain. Affecting development and learning in multiple ways. To children these events that induce trauma are experiences such as:

  • Substance abuse in the home.
  • Separation of parents or divorce
  • Mental illness being present in the home
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Suicidal household member
  • Death of a loved one
  • Incarceration of a parent
  • Experience of abuse (being emotional and/or physical/sexual) or neglect

We have learned that we need to create an environment where students can learn. To do that we need to set up our classrooms where students can feel safe. If students feel that they are in a hostile environment they will never be able to relax and think logically. They will be in fight or flight mode or what Souers refers to as the upstairs and downstairs brains.

The upstairs and downstairs brains

Starting with the “downstairs brain” this is where people, not just students, go when faced with conflict. This could be feelings of insecurity, confrontation with another person, or when presented with challenges that overwhelm them. They simply react and allow their emotions to overrun their thinking process. The upstairs brain is where one goes when feeling secure. This mind space allows one to think critically and logically. They are able to assess the situation that they are in and come up with solutions that logically resolve their situation.

For example, say a student has not developed the skills they need to complete an in class activity. This overwhelms the student and they react by horsing around and throw a pencil across the room. The instructor then approaches the student upset that the student is not doing what they were assigned and goes to scold the student. Both individuals are in their downstairs brains as they are simply reacting to the situation without thinking about it logically. As the adult in the situation the instructor needs to be the one to move into their upstairs brain so that they can further assist the student.

Female teacher with a blank blackboard and pointing stick. 3374160 Vector  Art at Vecteezy

In order to help our students we first need to calm ourselves down. Remember to take care of your own emotional needs first. As they say you cannot fill a basket from an empty bucket. Do activities that you enjoy outside of school hours, so you do not feel drained. Then you will be able to be the best teacher you can be!

Going back to our scenario, the teacher is now in a position where they can pause and take a deep breath to assess what the student is trying to tell them. This helps to avoid a power struggle that could erupt into distrust between mentor and student. Schools are so strict with discipline that the natural method may be to scold the student for not being able to sit still or maybe the instructor might demand that the student begin sitting still, start the assignment, and be quiet. The student being confined like this might even react more negatively as they feel their autonomy is not being protected. This could result in a power struggle so horrible that it ends with the student being kicked out of the classroom or even suspended from the school.

Now obviously that is the least desirable outcome. This sense of harsh discipline results in thousands of students being suspended from school or even expelled. What can you do as a teacher to ensure you are reacting in the way that best benefits your students? Souers describes how through every interaction we need to:

  1. Listen
  2. Reassure
  3. Validate
  4. Respond
  5. Repair
  6. Resolve

Often teachers are doing steps 1, 4, and 6, but without doing 2, 3, and 5 the behaviors that students are doing will just continue. As instructors we want to keep the lessons going with as little distractions as possible, but that is not how life goes, and we cannot simply bulldoze over the emotional distress of one or two students just to keep our lesson plan on agenda.

Check out this video below as Bob Stilger discusses resilience in classrooms abroad.

The steps above that we talked about not only work on students but parents as well! Say an upset parent comes to you upset about their child’s grade on a recent test. The parent is angry saying how dare you give their angel a less than acceptable grade. They know their student was up all night studying. First we listen to reassure the parent that we know why they are upset and validate their feelings. One could say, “Oh you’re upset that your student failed. When you know that they put in a lot of effort?” Then you could respond saying, “Well maybe they were having too much test anxiety that day.” To repair the relationship with the student and their parent you could offer to speak with the student to figure out why went wrong. Then to resolve the situation you might offer to let the student retake another test in a more comfortable setting. This is how we can use all the steps above to help build the best learning environment for our students.

Say the teacher in the scenario above was just using steps 1, 4, and 6. It could look entirely different. Teacher listens to the parent, responds that the student should have studied more, and resolves the situation by saying that they are not going to let them make up the test. When we do not focus on the relationship between us and the student/parent the student’s learning ultimately suffers.

In conclusion it is our job as teachers to not give up on students. We need to help them work past their trauma so that they can learn. Don’t give up on students that act out in your classroom see if there’s something you’re missing that could be undermining their learning. Take the time to modify your lesson plans for that student as if they had an IEP or they are an ELL. They might just be looking for a place to feel safe and it is your duty to provide it.

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Our Learners are Already Resilient

Trauma is, unfortunately, something extremely prevalent within our world, and especially in the lives of many of the amazing students that fill the seats in our classrooms. In her book, “Fostering Resilient Learners”, author Kristin Souers discusses ways that teachers can support the students in their classroom that have experienced/are experiencing trauma. This blog will cover some of what Souers dives into in her book, as well as what I think!

The Framework

At the very beginning of her book, Souers records some “fundamental truths” that we must use as a framework to understand the rest of her book. They include:

  1. “Trauma is real.
  2. Trauma is prevalent. In fact, it is likely much more common than we care to admit.
  3. Trauma is toxic to the brain and can affect development and learning in a multitude of ways.
  4. In our schools, we need to be prepared to support our students who have experienced trauma, even if we don’t know exactly who they are.
  5. Children are resilient, and within positive learning environments they can grow, learn, and succeed.” (pages 10-11)

To add to this list of truths myself, I would like to elaborate on the fifth point that Souers made. She says that “children are resilient”- and, in my opinion, they are already resilient before they even step into our classrooms. I, as the teacher, am not making my students resilient or making them have more grit. They already bring those things. Imagine the resilience a student has who comes to school after seeing their dad abuse them mom. Imagine the grit that a Black student has who was just harassed by a police officer (Bettina Love, a professor at University of Georgia, has really amazing things to say about the grit that Black students have and you can read about it here).

Resilience and Grit in Our Students

Also, I’d like to add that “resilience” and “grit” won’t look the same for every student. The “grit” it takes to continue to revise an essay is not the same “grit” it takes to take care of your siblings while your mother works the night shift. Those simply are not comparable, and we have to be careful to be really specific about the type of grit and resilience we are talking about, or else we run the risk of degrading the experiences of some or making sweeping generalizations that are very inaccurate.

Additionally, here are more things to keep in mind about trauma:

  1. Not all students experience trauma or its effects in the same way. Just because two students experience poverty does not mean that they will react to it in the same way, which means their needs in our classroom will not look the same. Generalizations are generally harmful.
  2. If any of this is to get better, we must step back and look at the root of the trauma, such as oppressive systems, in some cases. This is called healing-centered engagement, and it is different than trauma centered care. Trauma centered care isn’t wrong, but it does not always look at the whole of the person as it should. Check out the video below for a bit on this.
  3. Trauma takes many, many different forms, and there is no timeline for healing. Here is an article that explains the different types of trauma.

What Can We Do?

Five Steps: In her book, Souers provides a six step list for communicating with our students, especially those who have experienced/are experiencing trauma. If we cannot communicate, then we cannot address the needs of the student, whatever those look like. The steps are as follows:

  1. “Listen
  2. Reassure
  3. Validate
  4. Respond
  5. Repair
  6. Resolve” (page 79)

Now, that may seem like a lot of steps, but each step is essential in caring for students. If we do not listen, we will not be able to reassure the student that what they are saying and feeling matters, and we will not be able to validate them that their feelings are real. And if we don’t respond to the student and show them that we were listening, we will not be able to repair because there is a lack of trust. And, finally, a resolution cannot occur if all of those previous things did not happen.

Take a Breath: One major theme in Souers book is taking a step back and breathing before working with a student outburst or any other type of incident. This may seem simple, but it is so easy to skip over. I am sure you all see this in your own lives, because I certainly do. When something happens, I become so caught up in the moment that I do not let myself step back, breathe, and regain perspective. If we do step back and take this breath, it may help to control the situation, and will make us less likely to respond with an outburst back. Also, this may help model healthy emotional control methods to our students if they notice us using it (Hello social emotional learning!).

Build Relationships: Relationships are the basis of everything we do as teachers. Everything! And it seems like a big task to form relationships with all of our students, but that’s just the reality of teaching- but every relationship does not need to look the same, and it can’t. You don’t teach unless you love young people and we need to remember why we are doing this in the first place when it feels exhausting. Relationships do not always have to be complex, but can be deep nonetheless.

Cement shoes: The book talks about “cement shoes” (page 45) and teachers needing to stay true to who they are so that when they are going through things in life or helping others with their trauma, they can still stay grounded and stay true to themselves and their identities. And while I agree that this is generally good and important, shouldn’t we are teachers be changed by our interactions with young people? They can help to shape who we are and our identity, for the better. I don’t think that the book made this clear enough- I do not think that we are stagnant people who are always going to be the same. When we learn, we may change. While cement shoes are generally good, sometimes they might stop us from reflecting on where our philosophies may be wrong or harmful.

And In Conclusion…

We won’t do this perfectly. Ever. We will never fully know the lives of all of our students, or, even if we do, we won’t be able to care for them perfectly. But what we can do is model grace in our classrooms, making each day a new day and caring for our students in a way that reminds them that they are a human being made with value and dignity.

Our students, as well as us as teachers, are more than the trauma we have experienced. As Souers puts it, those who experience trauma are “forever changed, not forever damaged” (page 137). We must remember this when helping to handle trauma and its effects. People are not their trauma, but, in one way or another, it has shaped who they are and is a block in the theoretical Lego tower of their life.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to “fix” life for all of our students, as much as that hurts. But what we can do is show up with open hearts and minds and teach in such a way that our students know that we care for them, so deeply. Trauma is not fair and it never will be. I want to put a big bow on the end of this, but I don’t think it is possible, so I will just leave you with that to ponder.

– Miss Karlock (@MissKarlockChem)

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Fostering Resilience for Science Learners!

Before We Begin…

It is inevitable that you will encounter students who are dealing with trauma. Unfortunately, it is just the reality of life.  Trauma comes in many sizes, shapes, and forms, and it is likely that “Forty-five percent of students had at least one ACE”, where an ACE is an adverse childhood experience that affects mental and physical health as adults (Souers pages 17 and 20).

This is as of 2016 when Kristen Souers wrote “Fostering Resilient Learners”, and this number may be even higher as families and children experience trauma related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While so many have trauma, these students are incredibly gifted and brilliant in their own individual ways. It is up to us if we uncover the learner in them, or if they fall into the cracks.

While nearly half of your students are likely to have some form of trauma, it is also important to know that you cannot know every detail about your students’ lives. Somebody, whether that is the student themselves, a parent, relative, friend, or even another teacher, would have to come and tell you those details. 

Even if every student were to come to you with details of their trauma, you as a single person cannot take all of that on! Teaching is a demanding profession and it is important to know your limits and ensure you are taking time for yourself to ensure you can care for your students when they do need you. You cannot pour from an empty cup.

Now that we have a basic idea about trauma in the classroom, how do we foster resilience in our students as science learners?

Regular Practices for Fostering Resiliency in the Classroom!

I would argue that the most essential piece in fostering resiliency in the classroom is practicing effective communication! Too often, teachers, and people in general, will listen, then they will respond and resolve. What more is there to it than that? It doesn’t seem too far off from what you do, right?

There are three more vital steps to effective communication that we tend to skip over. Here they are:

  • Listen
  • Reassure
  • Validate
  • Respond
  • Repair
  • Resolve

(Souers 79 and 80)

These six steps are outlined in Souers book on page 79 and 80, but I will detail the three we often miss again here. In steps two and three, it is essential to ensure the person knows that you think that their perspective and their feelings are important, and that they are valid and acknowledged. These two steps are often missed but take very little time to do.

After we respond, it is also essential to complete step 5, which is repair. Repair is even more often missed in the classroom, and that is simply acknowledging that something happened and working to ensure both parties have a clear understanding. This step ensures both the student and the teacher are on the same page and helps to prevent the upset from occurring again.

Modeling these steps in the classroom may be the only opportunity students have to see them! It helps students to develop as people with good communication skills as they go off into the world.

Other general practices in the classroom to foster resiliency are outlined on page 103 of Souers’ book! These include:

  • Assigned seating – this tells students that they belong there and that they have their own place in the classroom.
  • Posting pictures – posting pictures of students around the classroom helps students to feel more at home in the classroom. This can be a really great first week of school project, where students make a small poster about themselves with pictures on it to display around the classroom!
  • Notes/calls home – too often teachers send a note or call home in a negative context. Send them in a positive context, and much more frequently than in a negative context. Even simple emails or notes saying “your student did really well in class today!”, or “your student asked a brilliant question in class and we had a great discussion from it!”. These little notes home, which take you mere seconds to send or write, sends the message to your students that you see them and care about them, that they are important to your classroom!
  • Routines – having routine in the classroom, whatever that may look like for you, helps students to know exactly what to expect when they walk into the classroom! Some examples are in the graphic below!

(Souers 103)

Do you have more ideas about what to do day to day in the classroom to help make students feel at home and ready to learn? Leave a comment below!

How to make sure your cup isn’t empty!

I am sure that it is not a surprise to you that teaching is a demanding job. Teachers have a crazy amount of responsibilities and likely 150 students to teach and encourage and care for. The job is often not complete when the lights are off and the door is shut, as there is always something to make or plan or buy. But what about you?

You cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot keep giving and giving to those around you if you never take time to recharge and refill your cup!

The “empty cup” is sometimes inevitable and will have you drained and wanting to hide in a storage closet. However, it is important to do what you can to t make sure that you are getting what you need, too!

Check out this video – Hank Green outlines some self care strategies as well as why self care is important at all!

Self care looks different for everybody. There is not a one size fits all self care strategy, which is frustrating when looking for something that works for you. Experiment, try several things, and find out what works for you!

Also, as Hank said, self care for one mood or situation might look different than for another. But it is still important to practice self care even when you feel happy and productive! Some of my favorite self care strategies are:

  • When I am overwhelmed or anxious
    • I often clean! I find that a clean space will help to clear my head and I an become productive again.
    • I also make lists. I am the type that needs to see all of the tasks out in front of me. This in and of itself is overwhelming, but it helps me to prioritize and chunk my tasks into smaller, less overwhelming lists.
    • I also just take a moment to remember to breathe. I also remind myself how little this seemingly large task actually matters! In 10 years, will this task be in your mind at all? The answer is likely no.
  • When I am feeling good
    • I love to paint my nails when I am feeling good already. It feels almost like a cherry on top of a good day.
    • Make/buy coffee! I survive on coffee, but when I feel that I could use an extra treat, I switch it up and have a latte or add some fun ingredients.
  • Always
    • I always make sure to sleep 7-8 hours. Sleep is not something I will sacrifice (unless a situation truly warrants it), because I cannot function and be of service to those around me unless I (literally) recharge my brain!

What are some of your go-to self care moves? How do you care for yourself to recharge for the next days and tasks ahead?

That is all for now, see you next time!

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Fostering Care Within A Traumatized Classroom

What Do We Mean by Trauma?

As educators, we must prepare for trauma. It will be something we will face in our careers and continue till the day we retire. It will be present every year and is something we must embrace versus ignore. Trauma is when individuals experience such powerful and dangerous events that their minds cannot properly cope and deal with them (page 15). It’s a real concept that is very prevalent in many classrooms today. It doesn’t only affect students mentally, but physically and socially. According to Hall, the children we encounter are resilient and with positive learning environments, they can learn to grow and succeed.

How Can We Determine Trauma in A Student?

A common method used to determine a child’s level of trauma is called the ACE score. This refers to the level of Adverse Childhood Experiences that a person has had. Adverse Childhood Experiences can refer to physical or emotional abuse afflicted someone, growing up in poverty, encountering traumatic events, or having family members pass. There is a wide range of different aspects that can factor into an ACE score. This is why we must consider trauma as being unique to a student. Not all trauma is the same so it must not be treated the same.

Why does Trauma Even Matter?

Trauma matters due to the fact that it can have such a negative impact on our students’ lives. Trauma leads students’ brains to form new connections that focus on fight or flight responses. This deters them from their brains focusing on growing into young scientists. The 4 f’s that students go through in response to trauma are fight, flight, freeze, and faint. These behaviors are directly correlated to the classroom as the students cannot have the ability to shut it off when they come in. This often leads to behavioral issues within the classroom that can severely limit their educational experience. So trauma matters because it can have a direct effect on the quality of education that a student receives IF left untreated. There are ways we can give our students strategies to help them cope with their own personal trauma in their own ways.

How do We Help Students Who Experience Trauma?

To help our students, we must understand the concept of resiliency. What is resiliency? It is the ability for our students to break through and be the incredible learners we know them to be. This is something rooted within our students that if we can promote will let our learners shine bright! We must encourage them to be resilient and empower them to become the people they want to be!

Some Strategies to Help

  • Breathe! This can be one of the most healing and calming things for a student to do in a stressful situation. Breathing techniques can help alleviate and ground students fast. This is due to our breathing patterns being directly linked with our minds. Think about it, when an animal is scared, it breathes heavily, even if it’s not running. Our breath is connected to our sympathetic nervous system which is why breathing exercises can help soothe the mind.
  • Be Aware of Triggers! Having a teacher and student on board with things that trigger them can help prevent stressful situations from happening. The best way to not have stress in the classroom is by preventing it from happening. This can be done by identifying triggers and limiting their presence within the class.
  • Listen, Reassure, Validate, Respond, Repair, Resolve! Directly from Souers and Hall 2017, this is an important guideline to consider while working with a student that’s endured trauma. We must consider the emotional well-being of our students every day and think from a nonbiased standpoint on them. We must always ensure we are doing what’s best for our students!

In Summary…

Trauma is prevalent in modern society, this in turn means students who have experienced trauma are also prevalent. As educators, we must recognize this aspect of our jobs as something to embrace. We are given the opportunity not only to grow our students intellectually but can give them strategies to help them better themselves. This is why teaching is such a hard job, it’s people’s work. We always will have a different student with their own set of trauma. They will require their own unique strategies and this can be very tiring on a teacher. However, in my opinion, the reward is just too great when we are allowed the opportunity to help those students we care about.

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Resilience in a Traumatized Classroom

Child standing strong in front of classroom

Trauma. We’ve all heard of it, some say we’ve all experienced it. But what exactly is trauma? Trauma is an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope (Souers, 2016, p. 15). Trauma is disruptive at best and damaging at worst. Unfortunately, trauma is also widespread.

Trauma rates are growing, especially for children. Nearly 35 million US children have experienced at least one type of childhood Trauma (page 19). This is extremely saddening. Children are a very vulnerable group of people, yet people assume that children are able to handle a great deal. Souers writes “It is an ultimate irony that at the time when the human is most vulnerable to the effects of trauma – during infancy and childhood – adults generally presume the most resilience” (page 13).

Children are deeply affected by trauma. And largely, they are not in control of it. They are at the mercy of their surroundings. When children go through traumatic events, their development and learning ability are disrupted, and the effects are seen within the classroom. But just what exactly counts as traumatic?

Tolerable vs Toxic Stress

We all have tolerable stress in our lives. Stress from school, deadlines, work, relationships, etc. This is the usual stress we think of. In children, tolerable stress may be smaller things. Such as winning the spelling bee or not striking out at T-ball. Regardless of the things that stress you our, this stress is actually okay. It can even be healthy. Tolerable stress properly calibrates a child’s stress-response system. It can even build resilience!

Stress in Kids: Signs & Solutions to Help Calm the Chaos – CoachArt

Toxic stress, however, is a different story. This is very unhealthy to children and adults alike. “Toxic stress is caused by extreme, prolonged adversity in the absence of a supportive network of adults to help the child adapt” (page 22). Toxic stress actually damages the structure of a developing brain, “leading to disrupted circuits and a weakened foundation for future learning and health” (page 22).

Trauma is Toxic

When we are in extreme stress our bodies become on high alert. This is known as our flight, fight, or freeze response. Our bodies can handle being in this state, but for only small periods of time. When children experience trauma, their brains switch from focusing on developing to focusing on surviving. Their brains become stuck in this stress response of flight, fight, or freeze (page 21).

When brains are in this stress response, chemicals are released into the body that help us survive these stressful states. If the doses of these chemicals is large enough, they are actually toxic to the body and impair development (page 22). The childhood brain is very sensitive, and if stress hormones levels are continuously high, then many aspects of brain development are altered, including learning, memory, relational skills, and higher functioning.

What is "Anniversary Trauma" and How Can I Help My Child Cope?

What is Resilience?

Resilience is our capacity to acknowledge and attend to personal difficulties while still working toward expectations (page 154). Resilience is not something that some people are born with and others are not. Instead, it is something that can be learned and practiced.

Resilience is necessary for many setbacks in life. Generally, these might include a job loss, an illness, a natural disaster, or death of a loved one. Resilience is when you use your inner strength to move on from these challenges. It allows you to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It allows you to see past them and find enjoyment in life. It doesn’t make your problems go away, but resilience allows you to better handle stress in your life.

What does it look like to not have resilience? People who lack resilience and face challenges often find themselves dwelling on problems, or feel a victim to their circumstances. They may be overwhelmed and seek out unhealthy ways of coping such alcohol or drug abuse.

Strategies to Foster Resilience

Building professional resilience: A quick guide - SAFETY4SEA

#1 Learn to Identify Upstairs/Downstairs Brain

Many people don’t know, but your brain can basically be divided into two states. These are called the Upstairs and Downstairs brains.

Upstairs brain

  • Cerebral cortex
  • Controls higher functioning and reasoning
  • Ability to respond to stress logically
  • Developing in young people until at least their 20’s

Downstairs brain

  • Brain stem, limbic region and the amygdala
  • Reptilian/Primitive brain
  • Controls arousal, emotion, flight, fight, freeze
  • Strong emotions and impulses 
  • Fully built and functioning in young children

#2 Praise

Students who have been traumatized often have a limited ability to “self-acknowledge.” This is when they recognize and validate themselves, their feelings, or their efforts. They often look to the reactions of others to receive a sense of self, instead of looking inwardly at their own inherent worth (page 184). We can help students build this sense of worth through praise.

Praise is a critical part in helping students build a strong self-esteem and help foster resilience. This will help their ability to persevere through obstacles. However, some types of praise are better than others. Instead of praising qualities of students that they cannot control, it is better to praise qualities that are within their control. “Praising effort, encouraging resilience, and supporting the belief that intelligence is not fixed (page 185).

#3 Self-Care

Self-care is extremely important to learning the skill of resilience. When we take care of ourselves, we are better able to cope with stress and setbacks. By teaching your students concepts of self-care, you can radically help them react better to stressful events in their lives and learn resilience!

Some ways you can encourage your students to practice self-care:

  • Go for walk
  • Read a book
  • Eat a healthy snack
  • Have a dance party
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Play a board game
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Bake cookies

Self care is so important, not just for students but also teachers! If you are able to take time for yourself, you will be better able to teach your students and engage with them. Trust me, they will notice a difference!

Here is a list of self-care techniques for teachers that I highly recommend trying! Thanks for reading!

20 Ways To Practice Self-Care - Joanna Rahier | Self care, Self care  activities, Self care routine
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Building Brilliance by Fostering Resilience

When we start to look at the prevalence of the adversity that many of us have faced in our lives, we must also celebrate the power of resilience.

Kristin Souers, p. 23

One of a teacher’s biggest joys is seeing brilliance in their students. Whether that be academic brilliance, emotional brilliance, or social brilliance, all of these are hindered by the presence of trauma. To respond to this trauma, our students need to be resilient, yet how do we build this in our students?

Kristin Souers and Pete Hall offer a framework and depth of experience on this topic in their book, Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom. In this blog, I want to take some time to respond to this book, asking some key questions that will guide teachers in their trauma response.

1. What is trauma?

Trauma is a big buzz word in education, but what does it really mean? What do we need to know about it in order to respond best to it? Kristin and Pete provide these five points that describe trauma in the classroom.

  1. Trauma is real.
  2. Trauma is prevalent. In fact, it is likely much more common than we care to admit.
  3. Trauma is toxic to the brain and can affect development and learning in a multitude of ways.
  4. In our schools, we need to be prepared to support students who have experienced trauma, even if we don’t know exactly who they are.
  5. Children are resilient, and within positive learning environments they can grow, learn, and succeed.

(Souers & Hall, 2016, p. 10)

Oftentimes, students with trauma will also have a high ACE score, a measure of the number of Adverse Childhood Experiences someone has had. These range from abuse and neglect to poverty to divorce. Whatever the student’s score, any ACE is going to change how a particular child views the world. They will develop specific coping mechanisms (good or bad) to deal with their hurt, and they will bring these into the classroom with them.

I found the video below helpful to visualize what trauma looks like and dive deeper into what that entails for a student.

2. What isn’t trauma?

After defining trauma, the question that naturally follows is what isn’t trauma? In this explanation, I am not trying to delineate between bad experiences that are not traumatic versus actual trauma, and I don’t think I have the qualifications to do so.

What I’m actually getting at is that trauma is not what defines our students. When I had the opportunity to teach in a middle school, I heard far too often teachers describing kids to me solely based on a traumatic experience in their life. Yet this frames these students in a deficit light. This deficit thinking asserts that because of their trauma, students can’t _________. Regardless of what you fill in the blank with, you are hindering students’ growth and potential.

Souers challenges us in her book by asking the following questions:

Can we focus on our students’ strengths rather than their deficits? Can we view our students as overflowing with potential rather than doomed to failure? It’s up to us.

Souers & Hall, 2016, p. 141

There has been an increasing call to reframe the way we view students with trauma and how we deal with it. Instead of focusing on each student’s specific issue, focusing on the cultural context of each student and their strengths, what they bring to the table.

This new framework, often called Healing Centered Engagement is summarized and championed in this article by Shawn Ginwright.

When we stop defining students by their trauma and start seeing them for their strengths, we can begin to build their resilience that leads to brilliance.

3. What can we do? Trauma-sensitive teaching has become a major topic recently as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

So what can we do, as teachers, to respond to the trauma our students bring to the classroom with them? I wish I could provide a simple cure-all method that would work all the time, but that’s not the nature of trauma. Each student’s experiences are different, so our responses to each must also be different.

But I will seek to provide to you a couple of methods that apply broadly to situations where students with trauma (or those without) descend into their emotional “downstairs brain” and behave in a way not conducive to a safe and healthy learning environment.

One tried and true method is simply taking a breath. While this doesn’t sound like cutting edge educational research, it is a necessary step whenever you are confronted with a harrowing situation. Souers describes this breath as “time to give ourselves and our students the opportunity to pause and reflect before reacting to whatever is happening in front of us” (Souers & Hall, 2016, p. 68).

And sometimes more than a one second breath is needed. Sometimes it might mean sending a student to cool down in the hallway for a minute or waiting two minutes before confronting a student that is clearly in their “downstairs brain”.

When these conversations eventually need to happen though, it can be easy for you and your students to go right back to being tense and on-edge. A guideline is provided by the authors that breaks down the steps of a healthy conversation when a student is acting out of their trauma coping mechanism.

It goes like this:

  1. Listen
  2. Reassure
  3. Validate
  4. Respond
  5. Repair
  6. Resolve

(Souers & Hall, 2016, p. 79)

Some of these steps might seem unnecessary and a waste of time. Yet far too often, we only listen to students until we can come up with a solution, yet this does not make them feel validated or reassured, and it doesn’t repair the relationship.

For students who have dealt with significant trauma, these steps are essential to assure the student that they can trust you in these moments.

For more information about trauma-sensitive instruction, check out this blog from Learning For Justice.

4. What can’t we do?

Finally, I want to end by acknowledging that we have limitations on the care we can provide to students that have gone through trauma. No, I’m not talking about government regulations or school policies (although those definitely play a role), but a more personal limitation.

Namely, you can’t give what you don’t have. You can’t pour from an empty glass. If you are not taking care of yourself as a teacher, how can you expect to take care of hundreds of children?

In their experience, Kristin and Pete describe that “the more self-aware we become, the easier it is for us to manage the needs of those in front of us” (Souers & Hall, 2016, p. 45).

In order to respond well to the trauma we will learn about from our students, it is so important that we can take care of ourselves. Whether that means taking up a hobby like fishing, birdwatching, or tennis, or finding a perfect TV show to watch or band to listen to, or praying or volunteering with a religious group, find something that can ground you!

Listen to the top teachers in the nation talk about what has been beneficial to them:

In the end, all of us will at some point have a student that has dealt with trauma in our classroom. Will we rise to the occasion and see the brilliance in that kid or write them off as a lost cause, too far gone to be helped? It’s up to us!

Thanks for reading, and I hope this helped!

Catch ya later!

Mr. Larson

Posted in Misc, Resiliency in Learners | 2 Comments

Supporting Resilient Learners

Personally, one of the main reasons I want to be a teacher is to cheer my students on and support them as they go through high school, one of the toughest and most stressful seasons of life. High schoolers often face the stresses of academics, peer pressure, the desire to fit in and belong, depression and anxiety, bullying, balancing relationships, discerning their futures, and navigating drama and conflict, etc. in only four years. High school can be hard for a lot of students, and many have experienced trauma by the time they reach high school that is bound to follow them into the classroom.

What trauma?

As we know in the post-COVID classroom, many adolescents struggle with their mental health and it has become increasingly common among teenagers in recent years. Approximately 1 in 5 teens between 12-18 years old suffer from at least diagnosable mental health disorder. Between 2009 and 2017, cases of major depression in teens 16-17 rose by 69% and the suicide rate among teen girls ages 18-19 increased by 56%, according to Adolescent Wellness Academy.

But, trauma in adolescents can come from a variety of factors. Although this list is not comprehensive, types of trauma may include:

  • Substance abuse in the home
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Mental illness in the home
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Death of a parent or loved one
  • Parental incarceration
  • Experience of abuse (psychological, physical, or sexual)
  • Experience of neglect (emotional or physical)
  • Poverty
  • Victimization or bullying

Trauma is an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope.

(Rice & Groves, 2005, p. 3)

When teachers are often the primary adult adolescents will spend the majority of their day with, it is so important that teachers acknowledge and are aware of their students’ trauma. Based on the definition above, trauma is limiting, and can hinder students’ ability learn, be motivated, succeed, and/or build relationships. While students are not defined by their traumatic experiences, it shapes them into the person they are and changes them. However, as Kristin Souers says in her book, Fostering Resilient Learners, we are “not necessarily forever damaged,” as that part is up to us to act on (Souers, 2016, p. 137).

What Teachers CAN Do –

It’s important to know that oftentimes trauma manifests itself in the form of outbursts, fight, flight, or freeze responses. When this occurs, we need to try our best to depersonalize the situation because how they are acting or responding in a certain situation is not about us, but may just be in response to their trauma. While we as teachers can’t change the traumatic experiences of our students, we can love and support them where they are at through implementing simple, yet effective strategies in the classroom.

  1. Communicate effectively with students through the 6 communication steps: listen, reassure, validate, respond, repair, resolve. We want to address each one in order to make our students feel seen and heard, instead of jumping to our own response or finding a quick “fix” to their problem.
  2. Identify triggers in students in order to avoid them and be aware of them. Common triggers in students and ourselves are things like exhaustion, previous bad experiences, challenges to our belief system, preconceived notions, and fear (Souers, 2016, p. 70-71). This is key to knowing our students, through identifying certain stimuli that may impact their behaviors or energy levels.
  3. Help ground students to regulate their “downstairs” brain. When students are driven by their emotions, their downstairs brain may have overcome their ability to think rationally or logically. When this happens, it is important that we help students learn how to ground themselves through breathing exercises and asking them questions to help them think rationally.
  4. Continue building meaningful relationships with students. Students need to know that they are supported by their teachers. Oxytocin calms our nervous system after stress, so enabling students to feel calm and safe with you can do more than you think – it’s science! Show students that you care not just about their academic success, but their emotional, mental, and physical well being too.
  5. Everybody breathe! When faced with a high intensity, stressful situation with a student, we as teachers need to be able to take a few seconds to pause, slow down, and breathe. Also, students can be taught how to practice mindfulness through breathing exercises, which can be used before tests or at the beginning of class. This is an simple, yet important social emotional skill for all of us!

Supporting Our (already) Resilient Learners

No matter the subject or age of our students, each student has developed resiliency over the course of their life, education, and unique experiences. In my opinion, resilience isn’t fostered in students because students already have resilience. Resilience isn’t something to give from the teacher necessarily, but can absolutely be supported and encouraged in the classroom.

Instead of fostering a trauma-informed classroom, we can move towards healing-centered engagement, which is a newer approach by Shawn Ginwright. Healing-centered engagement views trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but highlights the ways in which trauma and healing are experienced collectively. Overall, this is less of a deficit approach and focuses more holistically to foster student well-being, because students are not defined by one traumatic event, as they are complex human beings. Check out the lecture by Ginwright below or his article linked here to learn more!

Don’t forget YOU, too

When discussing trauma and addressing it in the classroom, we have to remember that this is heavy stuff, and as teachers, we can’t pour from an empty cup. We have to be able to practice self-care and take care of our own traumatic experiences if we are to effectively support and engage with our students. Even if it’s for a few minutes each day, it is crucial for educators to take a moment to rest, reflect, and recharge. Don’t forget about yourself in the process of caring for your students – seek out help, community, and support as you need it too!

Thanks for being here! I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments!

As always, Miss Creeden

Posted in Misc, Resiliency in Learners | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Coping Together: Helping Students Cope with Trauma

Teaching is hard. Ask any teacher. And it’s certainly not made any easier by the fact that our students are not blank slates. Teaching would be so much easier if students came into the classroom without previous experiences. But the reality is they are. More than that though, students are coming to our classrooms with trauma. Teaching traumatized learners takes skill, practice, and patience. Today, we’re going to unpack how we can help our students become resilient learners.

You First

I’m sure everyone has heard that you can’t pour from an empty class. But it’s true. You cannot give to your students if you have nothing to give.

Before even entering the classroom you need to begin to unpack and cope with your own trauma first. But once in the classroom, you have to take time to care for yourself. Here are some recommendations from Fostering Resilient Learners that you can use to practice self-care as a teacher!

  • In the words of Kristin Souers, you have to “[give] ourselves a cookie” (Souers pg 189). Acknowledge the hard work you are putting in and be proud of it
  • Get moving! For 3 days out of the week get up and move for 40 minutes. One of my favorite ways to get moving when I’m down is to put my favorite songs on and dance. It’s not pretty, it definitely involves a lot of flailing and singing along, but I’m up, I’m moving, and I’m having fun.
  • Express gratitude. Spend 1 week writing down all the things you are thankful for as the week goes on. These don’t have to be big things, in fact, pay attention to the little things you are thankful for. Just like when small things build up until we’re upset, little things we’re grateful for the build-up too. And the more we notice them, the more joy we allow into our lives.

And when it comes to traditional self-care, check out this list from the counseling teacher specifically about teacher self-care!

50 self-care ideas for teachers

Preventative Measures

It’s inevitable that at some point a student with trauma is going to walk into our classroom, so why not take steps in advance to build a classroom and a community that is ready to cope with trauma and trauma responses?

This article by Kenton Levings talks all about how to build a trauma-informed classroom!

Do's and Don'ts of a Trauma-Informed Compassionate Classroom | PACEs in  Education | PACEsConnection

Moving Upstairs

One of the focuses of Fostering Resilient Learners is helping students shift from the downstairs brain to the upstairs brain.

Upstairs and Downstairs Brain | Whole brain child, Child therapy, Brain  based learning

Confused about what those are? Don’t worry, this article by Karen Pace helps breaks it down and provided additional solutions to help students move from the downstairs brain to the upstairs brain.

While the downstairs brain with its strong emotions and impulses is fully built and functioning in young children, the upstairs brain is unfinished and is still under construction well into a person’s twenties

Karen Pace – Understanding the “upstairs” and “downstairs” brain

Because the upstairs brain is still “under construction” many kids will respond to stressful situations with their downstairs brain. This rate is impacted ten-fold in students whose traumatic experiences have impacted the development of their brain.

It is important to stress to students that there is nothing wrong with their reaction happening through their downstairs brain. Often time that knee-jerk reaction is uncontrollable and a result of their experiences. Instead, we need to shift to how we help students calm their downstairs brains down and start climbing the stairs to our upstairs brains. “We have to stay in our upstairs brain and help the other person [student] come back upstairs and join us” (Souers, pg 59).

But how do we help students move to their upstairs brains? Here’s some quick suggestions!

  • Help students learn coping strategies! Like deep breathing or using their hand to communicate what headspace or brain level they’re at!
  • Provide a safe space for students to go. This can be as simple as a quiet corner with a few fidget toys and posters that students can follow to self regulate
  • Do it with them! Practice self-regulating strategies together!
  • Check out Karen Pace’s article for more strategies!
The Brain in the Palm of your Hand: Dan Siegel's Hand Model — The Behavior  Hub

Provide Students with Healthy Communication

This one may seem like a no-brainer, but many people struggle with what healthy communication actually is. Follow the six steps below to help students feel seen, heard, affirmed, and valued!

  1. Listen
  2. Reassure
  3. Validate
  4. Respond
  5. Repair
  6. Resolve

Kristin Souers points out that generally, “we are ex[erts at steps 1, 4, and 6. Unfortunately we often skip steps 2, 3, and 5, which are essential to effective regulation and long-term relationship” (Souers, pg 79).

This article by Dr. Chris Moore breaks each step down to help you understand how to communicate effectively!


Trauma is a complicated subject, and it makes teaching all the more complicated. But it needs to be acknowledged. And most importantly we need to help students cope with it by taking preventative measures, helping students move from their downstairs brain to their upstairs brain, taking care of ourselves, and providing students with healthy communication.

What is one step you want to take to help prepare yourself to help students cope with trauma?

That’s all for this week! Take care of yourself and give yourself a cookie.

Signed, Ms. Brennan

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Dealing with Misconception in the Classroom

As individuals we all have our own experiences that have gotten us to where we are in our lives. Lessons gained from in the classroom to interactions with peers outside that classroom that led to teamwork or maybe disputes that needed resolved. All of these experiences at the end of the day leave us with who we are as individuals, each one a piece of ourselves. Then what happens if one of those pieces is built out of a misconception?

Throughout our lives we hear many things and most people are not privy to double checking what they learn through every source they consume. Whether it be a fab magazine or a rumor or word-say of a trusted friend, these lead to misconceptions. Think about something you may have heard that may not be true. Were you ever told how animals abandon their young if they smell like humans or maybe that the sun is on fire or perhaps that one year for humans equals seven in dog years or lastly maybe you have been told humans have only five senses. It is little tidbits like these that humans take for face value without a second thought which leads to misconceptions that as science teachers we will have to clear up for our students.

What can we do as teachers to fight misconceptions?

The first step as teachers is that we will have to discover the misconceptions that students currently hold in their heads. We can do this through demonstrations, debates, or written assessments of what students believe.

Check out the video below and reference how many of these misconceptions you have heard in your lifetime.

Misconceptions about Evolution by Mental Floss

So you may be thinking what can I do in my classroom to dispel misconceptions? For us teachers we have many tools at our disposal to help us understand if students are leaving their misconceptions behind and embracing new information with an open mind free of bias.

Some of these tools are:

  • Teaching in the Margins, allowing students to explore new knowledge on their own might enable them to renounce their own misconceptions
  • MTV activities, by making thinking visible we can see the processes that are occurring in our student’s heads.
  • The 5E method is another great example for tracking students’ progression from old knowledge to new knowledge
  • Debates between students can also be used to dispel those misconceptions through shared ideas
  • Research of case studies is another great way we can keep misconceptions away.
  • Demos that engage students and have them fill out what they think will happen before an activity and then what they learned after doing it.
  • Lastly, creating an exit slip such as what the student thought before, during, and after presented at the end of your lesson or activity to see how students’ thinking developed over the period

The most important thing we have to do as teachers is that not only do we have to get students to challenge their misconceptions, but we have to teach them how to not make anymore misconceptions.

We can achieve this by teaching students:

  • To not rush through materials we want them to have a clear understanding of what is being presented.
  • To double check any fact that they are told, no matter the source. Google is free and in everyone’s pocket.
  • How to find credible sources that back up information along with how important it is to persevere and understand those sources.
  • Use models they can build upon to help them define their misconceptions.
  • Lastly, to only work out one misconception/new fact at a time so as not to accidentally cross information between them.

Hopefully these methods help you in your classrooms get students thinking to challenge their misconceptions and help them in their futures!

Posted in Misc, Misconceptions in Science | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments