Fostering Resilience

Educators play a critical role in shaping the learning and development of their students. This is why we must make it a priority to create a safe classroom environment for our students. One that fosters creativity, community, and learning. Unfortunately, many students come to school with experiences of trauma that can impact their ability to learn and engage in the classroom. Creating a trauma-sensitive learning environment is essential for teachers who want to support their students’ social emotional well-being and academic success. If we as educators make the effort  to understand the impact of trauma on our students’ brains, emotions, and behavior, then we should be able to implement teaching strategies such as building relationships, creating a positive classroom culture, developing coping skills that support and foster resilience and academic achievement for all of our students. Our goal should be to do what we can in hopes of making a significant impact on the lives of our students both inside and outside of the classroom.

In this video, Dr. Fox encourages listeners to re-think how they relate to and build relationships with their students who have social-emotional needs and the strategies they implement in their teaching to connect with students who may have experienced trauma in their lives.

Upstairs vs. Downstairs

Operating in the Upstairs Brain

  • The upstairs brain, also called our cortex, is our thinking and receptive brain.
  • This is where logic, reasoning, and self-control come from.
  • Provides a fuller perspective of the world and enables us to emotionally regulate and to have control over our body. 
  • When this part of the brain is working well, students are able to utilize self-understanding, empathy and morality, as well as consider consequences and think before we act.

Operating in the Downstairs Brain

  • The downstairs brain, also called the amygdala, is our reactive and defensive brain.
  • This is where fight, flight, or freeze responses come from.
  • When the downstairs brain is activated, the upstairs brain is shut off and the student goes into survival mode.
  • Students aren’t able to learn properly when their operating in the downstairs brain.

How Teachers can Foster Resilience?

  • Understanding the impact of trauma on our students brains, emotions, and behaviors.
  • Building strong relationships with students by being present, empathetic, and authentic, and by creating opportunities for students to connect with each other.
  • Creating a positive classroom culture where students feel safe, respected, and valued. This can be done by establishing clear expectations and routines, and providing opportunities for students to contribute and participate.
  • Using positive and affirming language in addition to feedback that is specific constructive, and focused on effort and progress rather than just achievement.
  • Teaching coping skills such as mindfulness, self-regulation, and problem-solving that aids in stress management and builds resilience.

Kristin Souers emphasizes the power of seven seconds in her book titled, Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom. She describes the first seven seconds of our interaction with every student in our classroom as critical and that it should be full of enthusiasm, joy, compliments, friendly banter, etc. When dealing with students who’ve experienced trauma, taking the first seven seconds of class to acknowledge them and assure them that you are excited they are in class can be very impactful.


  1. Hey Hannah! Great Post! I love the breakdown you had between the upstairs and downstairs brain. I struggle to understand the difference but your post really helped. How do you think we can incorporate the coping skills you discussed into our classrooms? Can we incorporate the standards with those skills?

  2. Hi. The videos embedded within this post are WONDERFUL and ENGAGING when addressing trauma. Both the explanation of the upstairs and downstairs brain is very informative. Your post is very detailed and is a great resource for educators.

  3. Hi Hannah, this is a great post with a lot of important information! I liked that you included the breakdown of “upstairs” and “downstairs” brains, and how trauma affects the brain. I liked the language choice of “foster resilience” instead of something more negative like “deal with students who have experienced trauma”. The video and tiktok resources were very helpful!

    • Thank you for reading! I think using positive language is critical when discussing students who have experienced trauma because helps highlight the reason behind student behaviors and what they have had to endure in their personal lives.

  4. I really enjoyed your video and TikTok you included in your post. I also really liked the upstairs/downstairs brain metaphor from Fostering Resilient Learners, you did a great job of summarizing the main differences between the two. As usual, your graphics are stunning and helpful.

    • Thank you! I wanted to breakdown the idea of students operating in the upstairs brain versus the downstairs brain and it’s connection to their ability to effectively learn. I think the visuals help people see the difference!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.