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The Lakota learning experience is one filled with inquiry, innovation and discovery. Every student's learning style, passions and interests are different, which is why the experience of one student will never be exactly that of another. It's why Lakota teachers and support staff are committed to student-centered learning and providing a personalized approach marked by differentiated teaching methods. 

Let the Lakota Learning Team explain what that means and how that goal plays out on a daily basis in our classrooms. Through this blog, they'll guide parents and community members through the strategy behind Lakota's student-centered curriculum and how different methods meet students' educational needs. And because learning doesn't stop at school, they'll provide tips and strategies for how to be partners in the learning process and create a positive learning environment at home. 


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October 2019 - Posts

To support understanding of social and emotional learning, Student Services is hosting a three-part series, including the former “Trauma Informed Care”  blog post and this post on “Stress and Anxiety in our Children." The district screening of Angst on October 16 from 6-8 p.m. at Lakota West High School is the culminating event.  


Anxiety can be sweaty palms before giving a presentation, the elephant sitting on your chest as you look over the list of things to do, or it can be a crippling sense of inability to move forward. Our bodies are designed to feel the emotion dubbed “anxiety,” so we understand physically and emotionally how important something is to us. However, for many people, the body sends mixed signals of emotion/anxiety, making it difficult to navigate daily tasks. The most common forms of anxiety, especially in children, are: 

  1. General Anxiety Disorder – General Anxiety Disorder  (GAD) is the diagnosis when a child experiences anxiety, but the cause cannot be determined. General Anxiety Disorder can last a few months or several years.

  2. Phobias – Children sometimes suffer from a specific phobia. These children greatly fear a particular object, animal or certain situation. When a child encounters his or her phobia, they often exhibit symptoms such as shaking, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, or an upset stomach.

  3. Panic Attacks – Panic attacks are sometimes also referred to as agoraphobia. (Agoraphobia (ag-uh-ruh-FOE-be-uh) is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person fears and avoids places or situations that might cause them to panic and feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.) Children suffering from panic attacks have repeated episodes of shaking, dizziness, chest pains, and intense feelings of fear. They often avoid certain situations for fear of having a panic attack.

  4. Social Anxiety – Children with social anxiety only have symptoms when in social settings. They fear unwanted attention from anyone, including friends.

  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – Children with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are consumed by a specific obsession. They perform repetitive rituals as a coping mechanism.

  6. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder – When a child experiences a traumatic event, he or she may suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The child cannot stop thinking about the stressful event. Certain people or situations that remind the child of the traumatic event will make the child feel very anxious.

List Courtesy of Mommy Edition 


Our gifted learners often experience high levels of anxiety. This can be attributed to the courses they are taking, or perfectionist tendencies, but the more accurate understanding is that their brains work differently. Their synapses fire faster, which is what allows them to excel in school, but also creates oversensitivity or overexcitability, as identified by psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski.  This “fast firing” allows them to learn more quickly than their peers, but makes them more susceptible to experiencing anxiety. 


“Typical Teen Behavior” vs.  “Potential Warning Signs”?

Courtesy of Alyssa Louagie, Lakota parent, gifted advocate and Associate Director of NAMI,  Butler County 

How can a parent tell the difference between typical teen behavior and behavior that warrants help?  A few questions to consider to help determine when it’s time to seek help include: “Are the child’s emotions impacting and/or interfering with his/her day-to-day ability to live life in the way that he/she wants?” or “Does the child feel like his/her life would be better if he/she wasn’t dealing with these emotions all the time?”  

If the answer to those or similar questions is yes, it’s often a clue that it’s time to seek help.  A pediatrician can be a great first step towards getting help. They may have counselors to recommend, or may feel prescribing medication to begin treatment is appropriate.   Lakota’s school-based therapists are also a great place to start.

I just took my second child to the doctor this morning to start medication for anxiety and depression, so this subject is near and dear to my heart. I work in the mental health field, and still struggle with figuring out what is “normal teen behavior” and what is a mental health issue. 

Also, my pediatrician (who I feel is very knowledgeable on issues with gifted/high performing kids – he was a gifted kid himself and is raising gifted kids) recommended the following books  for perfectionism – What to do When Good is Not Good Enough: The Real Deal on Perfectionism – A Guide for Kids by Thomas Greenspon, and What to Do When Mistakes Make You Quake: A Kids Guide to Accepting Imperfection by Clair Freeland.  They teach common language for the family to use to discuss the problem and coping techniques for control. He recommends all major caregivers read it alone and to (with) the child (depending on the child’s age and whether they can read alone).


Strategies to Cope with Anxiety at Home and the Classroom: 

Courtesy of Tina Pratt, Lakota parent and Lakota’s  Behavioral Specialist

  • Teach your kids how to do deep breathing. Deep breathing will help calm the child and teach them a great tool to self-regulate. My favorite for young kids is “Smell the flowers, count to 3, and blow out the candles.” I like this example as kids can visually imagine it. Teaching them when they are calm is important, so when they become stressed, they can implement it easier. Older kids can do 4 corner breathing.

  • Another thing that I really like is “rose and thorns” or the “good things/bad things” of the day.  Lots of times kids with anxiety will dwell on the things that didn’t go their way or the things that stressed them out. At dinner have the conversation about what didn’t go well for the day. Discuss how they could have problem solved or “fixed” the problem/issue. Then follow up with what was great (rose) about the day. Praise your child for sharing the positive things. Make the roses the last thing you talk about so they focus on the good.

  • I also really like check lists. Kids (and adults) with anxiety are often over-achievers…which then feeds into the cycle of anxiety. Writing a checklist and crossing off things as they finish them, can reduce anxiety.

Some of my personal favorites: 

  • Another favorite that works for all ages: write or draw the worry on a piece of paper (sticky notes are great for this) and share aloud with someone. Then rip the paper up and throw away! It allows the mind to let go of the concern. 

  • Coloring-any kind of coloring really works to release the stress and anxiety and provide the mind peace. It is also a great family activity! 


Discussing mental health in a safe place is the most important step in having happy, healthy kids. One opportunity  to learn more is to attend Angst, a film that promotes discussion around mental health. The film is offered on October 16 at 6 p.m. at Lakota West High School  After the film, there will be a unique panel comprised of mental health professionals, parents, and students to help us continue the conversation. 


Lori Brown headshotAs the Director of Student Services at Lakota Local Schools, Lori Brown oversees the district’s programs and services supporting students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. Connect with Lori via email at 
lori.brown@lakotaonline.com


Posted by lauren.boettcher@lakotaonline.com  On Oct 16, 2019 at 12:15 PM
  

Take a moment to think about what comes to mind when I say the words “student trauma.”  What images or thoughts immediately come to your head? If I had to guess, I would say most people typically think of war, a terrible car crash, loss of a family member, abuse, etc. Unfortunately, those are all examples of trauma-inducing events that our students experience and carry with them to school each day, whether they realize it or not. 


But as I have expanded my own learning about trauma, I have learned that it can also come from some not-so-obvious places - and that educators can have a tremendous impact on how students grapple with all the emotions and reactions that come with it. Some of these approaches might be construed as non-traditional, so I challenge you to read on to understand the logic behind our teachers’ actions to help curb the impact of trauma on learning. 



What Research Tells Us


Students who experience what is called “toxic” or “chronic” stress can have some of the same responses to different triggers as students who have experienced what you might traditionally define as a tragic event. A student who stresses endlessly about grades or a student who comes into a classroom worried every day about being embarrassed, for example, can also experience the adverse symptoms of trauma.  


“Trauma is an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope.” (Rice & Groves, 2005, p.3). We are learning that the impact of an event or series of events is more important in regard to trauma than the actual nature of the event. Depending on how much support a student has and on his/her capacity for resiliency, trauma can impact a student daily

Furthermore, it used to be thought that trauma was experienced in the brain and that the person was thinking actively about the adverse event when experiencing the symptoms of trauma. What we now understand is that the effects of trauma are physical. That is because, when we sense danger, we go into fight or flight mode. 


A student who goes into fight or flight may not even know when it happens or what the trigger is. When this occurs, we are  encouraging teachers to describe these times as going “offline.” Dan Siegel is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute.  His research and work has resulted in an understanding of what he calls the “hand brain.” In this video, Sarah Buffie, a consultant and trainer we have utilized in Lakota, explains the hand brain.


Sarah talks about “felt safety” in the video. As I travel around the district and observe in classrooms, I think understanding this idea can be one of the most important ways we can transform Lakota into a trauma-responsive organization. 




What It Looks Like to be Trauma-Responsive


We, as educators, are very used to the idea of building relationships with our students. Our teachers go above and beyond every day to connect with their students. They invest in learning about their students’ backgrounds, interests, and extracurriculars. They give positive reinforcement and support them every day. Felt safety adds the element of consistency and an environment that allows students to come “online” and engage in learning. Opposite of “offline,” going “online” means that students are regulated and ready to deal with cognitive tasks (logic, reasoning, etc.). There are so many ways our teachers increase felt safety in their classrooms:

  •  Mental health check ins: Having students evaluate how they are feeling as they enter the room helps them take a moment to self-check and think about what they need to be successful in the classroom.  It also allows teachers to adjust plans and check in with students who might be struggling.
  • Yoga/mindfulness: Taking a few minutes each day to do a yoga pose or a breathing exercise helps tour students (and the teacher) bring their bodies to a calm state to be sure their thinking brains are online. The idea here is to teach these techniques to students and to use them regularly so that the students know it is OK to check in and use a strategy to get their minds online, if needed. There are countless free apps and websites our teachers use, like The Calm app and this example of a belly breathing video for young students.  
  • Calming corners & flexible seating: More and more teachers are incorporating calming corners in their rooms to allow students a space to go if they need a moment to come back to being online. Flexible seating can also provide a comfortable space for students to get what they need physically, while engaging in the learning environment.  
  • Morning meetings: Starting class with a group discussion can be a great way to build community and give students a safe space to address or share what they bring into the classroom, address the needs they bring to the table and prepare to engage in their education. Morning meetings also allow classrooms to create a shared vision of the learning environment.                                                                    
 
  • Time-In: This is the idea that, when a student is offline or needs redirection, the teacher provides more time with the student, instead of time away from the student. Counter to this is asking an administrator or counselor to deal with an offline student. It may de-escalate the situation, but it takes away from the relationship between the student and the teacher. Often, the de-escalation and trust building ends up happening between the counselor or administrator and the student. Therefore, the teacher and student may still have a strained relationship. Instead, a counselor or administrator is utilized to support the rest of the class, while allowing the teacher to work directly with the offline student requiring more attention.

  •  

In addition to the things we can add to our classrooms to increase felt safety, we have learned that there are some practices we can decrease because they can trigger trauma reactions and decrease felt safety: 

  • Arguments or power struggles: Many times, students who are argumentative or challenging to authority are functioning with an offline brain at that moment. That means that the student is using packaged or go-to responses or behaviors, rather than using logic and reasoning. If the teacher engages in that interaction or becomes offline also, the student will most likely increase the fight or flight response while  the offline brain is in control. It is best to stay calm and help guide the student to felt safety and body regulation before trying to reason. That doesn’t mean that the student doesn’t receive a consequence for his/her actions. Rather, it just means that addressing consequences while the student is offline will not yield the intended results and could wait until they are mentally prepared to engage in reflection and rational discussion. 

  • Public behavior charts: These can cause humiliation for a student especially if the student experiences offline behaviors due to trauma or stress.  

  • Time-out: As discussed in the time-in section, it is best for offline students and other students in the classroom to see the teacher calmly, competently, and confidently address offline behaviors. That allows the other students to see that body regulation is something that all students are learning, and we address it just as we would an academic struggle. The only caveat here is that time-outs, or leaving the room, may be what a student needs to come back online and regroup. That is different than using removal from the classroom in a disciplinary or punitive way.



Trauma Training a Priority for Lakota

Just as I have personally engaged in a learning journey around trauma, Lakota, as a district, is on a similar journey. This year, all Lakota teachers will receive four training sessions about trauma provided by Lakota school counselors and based on the book Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers. Our administrators received trauma training from Sarah Buffie over the past summer, and Sarah will return to train our counselors, school psychologists, and community liaisons this fall.  We have 15 employees who have been trained and are trauma-certified practitioners, and we are looking to increase that number throughout the year. We are currently working to build our next layer of professional development for teachers to focus on building resilience in students and teachers. Resiliency is what allows a person to overcome the effects of a traumatic situation.  

In my 17 years in education, no topic has captivated my interest like trauma has. It has caused me to question my long-held beliefs around student behavior and how to interact with a struggling student. Most importantly, when teachers sometimes feel unprepared to deal with the myriad of experiences and needs that our students present, learning how to help students deal with trauma has provided me with tangible, simple, and teacher-friendly ways to support our students. It has reinforced my belief that, no matter the challenges, we can make a difference in the lives of our students.




Social & Emotional Learning a Community Issue


Trauma-informed care is a critical part of Lakota’s commitment to our students’ social and emotional well-being. Lakota is extremely proud of our teachers who were involved in writing Ohio’s new Social Emotional Learning Standards that passed this summer. 


To support learning and understanding around social emotional learning, Student Services is hosting a three-part series with “Trauma Informed Care” being the first installment of the series. The second installment will focus on understanding anxiety and will look at strategies to help students manage their anxiety. To close out the series, Lakota will offer a free viewing of Angst, a film that promotes discussion around mental health, to all staff and community members. After the film, there will be a unique panel comprised of mental health professionals, parents, and students. 



Lori Brown headshotAs the Director of Student Services at Lakota Local Schools, Lori Brown oversees the district’s programs and services supporting students’ social, emotional and mental health needs. Connect with Lori via email at lori.brown@lakotaonline.com


Posted by lauren.boettcher@lakotaonline.com  On Oct 16, 2019 at 12:15 PM