Inside Lakota Learning
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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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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.

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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
  

Will you do me a favor before we begin?  

 

Close your eyes and picture your favorite, most influential teacher. Try to imagine a specific memory you have with this teacher. Now, indulge me a bit further and think about why you chose him or her 

 

My guess is that you are not currently thinking about pedagogy, organizational techniques, lesson plans, or what specific learning standards you mastered under this teacher’s care. 

 

This August marks the beginning of my 13th year at Lakota West High School. Much has changed since I first walked into room 106 in 2005, and not just that I now walk into room 140 daily. When I began teaching, I believed I had to prove myself in those first days of August—prove that I was in charge; prove that I was smart; prove that I was organized and ready; prove that I knew all the answers; prove that MY class would be challenging and meaningful.  

 

I’m assuming you are shaking your head at me by this point. While organization, classroom management, and preparedness are key characteristics of a good teacher, those are certainly not the qualities my students list first when asked about their ideal teachers. And they certainly aren’t the only qualities I’m looking for as a parent.  

 

Now that I’m older, perhaps wiser - but really because I’m a parent who has two children in Lakota schools this fall - I have new priorities for those first days. What are my priorities now?  

Mrs. Dunn loves you.  

Mrs. Dunn loves her job.  

Mrs. Dunn’s room is safe.  

You are valued.  

You are capable of learning.  

I believe in you.  

This is not MY room; this is our room.   

We are a community.  

We will learn from one another.  

I don’t know all of the answers, but I can’t wait to find them out with you.  

 

I realize these goals may sound unrelated to my English Language Arts learning standards, and I am certainly aware of the intense pressure on teachers and students alike these days to cover too much curriculum and to pass too many standardized tests. However, I have learned in the past decade that I can cover curriculum more efficiently and effectively when my students and I have first worked to build a genuine relationship 

 

I should not have had to learn this. Everyone who has ever been a part of a team knows: Good teammates know one another well. Consequently, they can communicate well. They anticipate moves; they cover for one another; they highlight one another’s strengths; they know what each other is thinking or worried about. And teams that work to build this type of foundational relationship are generally far more successful than those who don’t.  

 

Earlier, when I closed my eyes, I pictured Mrs. Karen Frailie, and, no matter what you say, I can guarantee she was the best teacher pictured in that exercise. I had the honor of being her student for two years as she was my 7th and 8th grade English teacher. I can still see her bright eyes and her perfectly lipsticked smile, and I can still hear her gentle voice in my head. 

 

I can also still list the short stories, novels, and plays she taught me, and, if you’d like, I could still diagram sentences in the same format she modeled for me. Please understand: I cannot do this because I absolutely loved the literature or grammar she was teaching at the time. Instead, I remember because of Mrs. Frailie.  

 

She noticed I loved books and slipped me ones she thought I would like to read in my spare time. They had nothing to do with her required learning standards, but they fueled a fire that has never gone out.  

 

She made me feel like I was a good writer—I was 12; there’s no way I was actually writing enjoyable content. She made me believe otherwise.  

 

She spoke gently, graciously, and kindly to all of her students at all times—except for that one time she yelled “STOP!” at the top of her voice in order to demonstrate how an imperative sentence worked grammatically. 

 

She made me feel valued and as though what I said mattered. Again, I was 12 and likely not delivering profundity in conversation. Yet, she made me feel otherwise.     

 

She intentionally built a personal relationship with me. Thus, I learned from her, and I believed her when she told me I could conquer whatever challenge she put in front of me. 

 

Mrs. Frailie passed away when I was a freshman in college, and through a series of humbling and fortunate events, I was gifted a box of her teaching materials. There is one item that has a special home in my desk, and I occasionally pull it out to remind myself of something crucial to a successful classroom.  

 

Lesson bookYou see, I have the lesson plan book for one of the classes she taught me. Each square is filled to the brim with her scrawling cursive—day after day is packed with meticulous plans for what the class would learn. Well, every day except one. The first day of school has two words written on it: Welcome Students. I know Mrs. Frailie well enough to know this was not from a lack of preparedness or inability to put together a proper syllabus. Instead, she knew what was important on that first day—love her students, learn about them, teach them about her, and build community. 

 

That first day was not wasted. I remember her and what she taught me because she chose to invest in me—from day 1.   

 

Bethany Dunn's kindergarten sonAs a parent, I wish for nothing more than my children’s teachers to get to know them as quickly as possible. Admittedly, now that my son is beginning kindergarten in the fall, I’m a bit terrified he will be expected to fit into his older sister’s mold. But he won’t fit. His mold has more energy, more confidence, more noise, more fun, more random dancing, and less rule-following. The parent in me wants to send a note on his back on the first day of school that reads, “I’m not my sister. Please get to know me and love me for me. Please see my potential. Thankfully, the Lakota teacher in me who has the privilege of knowing several kindergarten teachers across the district knows this is unnecessary.  

 

As a teacher, I’ve learned to reframe my thinking about those first days of school. Am I losing precious time to teach? Nope. I teach several lessons those first days: Humans over data. Relationships over rules. Students first. Your teacher is human too. Learning requires community.  

 

I’m excited for another year with students, and I’m committed to remembering and employing one of the great lessons of Dr. Maya Angelou. She taught me several—to be an unapologetically fierce woman and a reverent keeper of words to name a few—but this one is particularly prudent for our purposes here: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  

 

I want my students to feel welcomed, known, and empowered—from day 1. 


This August marks the beginning of Bethany Dunn's 13th year as a language arts teacher at Lakota West High School. You can connect with her on Twitter @BethanyDunn19 or through email at bethany.dunn@lakotaonline.com

Posted by lauren.boettcher@lakotaonline.com  On Jun 12, 2019 at 10:37 AM 135 Comments