Creating an Environment in Which Resiliency Can Thrive

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As teachers, our students come from all walks of life. Though it’s a lot easier to pretend everyone learns the same way or experiences life in the same way, we cannot treat our students all the same and assume they all learn the same. Each student brings with them their own experiences, and more relevantly to this blog post, their own traumas. Souers gives us a list of five items that we need to acknowledge as be attempt to understand our students’ traumas on page ten of her book Fostering Resilient Learners:

  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.

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We cannot, though, get caught up on those traumas themselves, but instead we have to focus more on how those traumas effect our students. The culmination of traumatic events in our lives can be summed up in an ACE score, with higher scores being “worse” than lower ones.

To help students navigate through their young lives and through their learning, we need to focus on our own availability to them. Souers defines availability in this context as “our emotional investment, our nurturing and encouragement, and our willingness to engage, empathize, and be there for students as the maneuver through life’s many stressors and disappointments,” (p. 43). But like any middle schooler could tell you, you can’t love someone else if you can’t love yourself. We have to take care of ourselves first and foremost before we can be effectively available for our students.

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But how can we take care of ourselves with such a busy, hectic life with so little respite? Man of use admit we don’t really know how to do it (p. 192). It’s not as difficult as it sounds. It’s not complicated or big things that help us find peace within ourselves, it can be as simple as going outside for a few minutes.

  • Go outside
  • Take a nap
  • Go for a walk
  • Exercise
  • Engage in a hobby you love

Once you care for yourself, you can help give your students that extra level of attention and empathy. You don’t have to understand everything they’re going through – in fact, you probably shouldn’t try to. Kids know when you’re being “fake” and can see right through it; be yourself but be open.

Be receptive. Be kind. Be understanding. Listen.

If students view your class as a haven from whatever ACEs they may have experience, whatever trauma they carry with them, and anything else troubling them then they can finally learn – something something Maslow’s hierarchy.

Not to focus only on the negatives, also understand your students on a more personal level. Incorporate more of their personal elements into your pedagogy, make them feel important and valued. If your students love Vivaldi, let them compose some classical BANGERS that relate to science or something.

I remember a headline in the Miami Student a few years ago that said something like “Students Thrive When They See Purpose In Their Learning” and I think my initial response was “yeah, duh…” A little understanding goes a long way.

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6 Responses to Creating an Environment in Which Resiliency Can Thrive

  1. grantcp says:

    Hi Katie! Those are interesting questions, and obviously this is just my opinion. I feel that teachers may take a universal approach because, like you mentioned, it’s easier. However, they may also be unequipped to differentiate instruction, they might not be comfortable talking about those things – they might feel they’re prying, or maybe they just feel that all students should be treated equally instead of equitably. We already do a ton of exhausting work that isn’t (extrinsically) rewarded, and going that extra step might just be too much for some teachers and that’s a hard balance to find that comes with experience, I’m sure.

    Chris

  2. grantcp says:

    Hey Bryce! I think we too often can focus on what makes us who we are rather than who we are. It’s like a person-first language kind of thing if that makes sense. We can too often use traumas as an excuse to dismiss behavior or activity that isn’t “good” i.e. not doing work, when instead we should try to incorporate that into our remedying of that situation.

  3. grantcp says:

    Hi Margaux! Thank you for your response; I think my favorite form of ~self care~ is simply just practicing mindfulness. It isn’t hard, but just understanding who you are, what you are, why you are, and what you’re doing brings a lot of peace I feel. I try not to stress out over things, which I know sounds weird, but over a long period of time and through plenty of experience (lol) stress has become a kind of switch that I can turn on and off when I think about why I’m doing the things I’m doing.

    Chris

  4. haiberm says:

    Wow stellar post Chris! I liked the whole thing, but I specifically liked how you mentioned taking care of yourself. So many people don’t or don’t know how to specifically, so I like that you listed some really easy options. What is your favorite thing to do to take care of yourself? Also, I love Vivaldi so I could totally see creating some BANGERS around that.
    Great job!
    -Margaux

  5. thomasbs says:

    Hi Chris! I loved reading your blog, and the quotes that you use from the book really tie together your points. I love how you focus on treating students like people, rather than like the trauma they have experienced. Awesome job!

  6. welshkm says:

    Chris,
    I really enjoyed reading your blog! One of my favorite things that you mentioned is the fact that there are a lot of teachers who act like all students experience life in the same way, and that’s just not the case. Do you think teachers assume this because it’s easier? Or because they just aren’t comfortable dealing, or even asking, about the trauma?
    Your TED talk also brings up some really important points.
    Your mention of the Miami Student headline is perfect. Great job!

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