Excerpts from EdWeek Classroom Q & A

The following are contributions Joe made to EdWeek as a guest blogger:

How can educators best learn about--and respond to--trauma that students have experienced or are experiencing?                                                                                  ~ Classroom Q & A with Larry Ferlazzo, EdWeek

Response From Joe Hendershott:

The first thing educators can do is make the delineation between an at-risk student and a student who is dealing with trauma.  I reference students dealing with trauma as being "wounded".  Wound is actually derived from the Greek word for trauma, and for the purposes of this article, I will interchange the two.  Learning about trauma has become a necessity for every educator, and I suggest that professional development offerings geared to emotional literacy are of the utmost importance.

While we may never fully understand the effects of trauma in each individual child, it is imperative that we recognize its existence and have interventions in place.  At-risk programs are wonderful preventative measures for children identified as such, but a child dealing with trauma has already been wounded, so the interventions need to be responsive versus preventative. By understanding that the effects of trauma can play out in poor behaviors and lack of a positive identity formation, we can offer a more empathic response that begins the bridge to a relationship. In my book 7 Ways to Transform the Lives of Wounded Children, I use the following model as a guide for working with wounded children:

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The key behind this model is that it is not designed to fix or control children; it is designed to cultivate safe, healthy relationships with wounded children that can bring a transformative level of healing into their lives.  We cannot guarantee a child's success; however, by following this model, we can position wounded children toward more opportunities for social, emotional, and academic successes.  The way to implement this model into your school is to gear it towards the unique culture that you have in your classroom and/or building--Be creative!  Creating a sense of community where everyone feels they play an important part, seeking restorative justice as an alternative discipline approach, developing an effective peer process, and/or providing students opportunities to experience empathy or compassion from or for their classmates or others in the community are just a few ways to assist wounded children in discovering a sense of themselves and more importantly, a sense of identity beyond their trauma, which brings hope.

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 How can we best help students develop self-control?    ~ Classroom Q & A with Larry Ferlazzo, EdWeek

Response From Joe Hendershott:

Helping our students develop self-control has major overall benefits, both individually and culturally within schools.  Many students who have experienced trauma come from situations beyond their control or environments out of control.  Students tend to act out as a way of feeling in control of their surroundings.  While this is a normal response to childhood trauma, it tends to present in unhealthy ways like being argumentative, risk taking, not listening, or trying to control others, which could lead to other dysfunctional behaviors like bullying.

By learning to exhibit self-control, others can feel safe around those experiencing emotional trauma or discomfort.  Not only is it critical for school safety, but developing self-control helps a person feel safe within themselves and their surroundings.  So how do we get to this point?  Creating inclusive environments and not only teaching empathy to our students, but positioning them to give and receive empathy with one another is a start to children feeling connected with themselves and others in their surroundings.  Children of all ages have a core longing for safety, security, and acceptance.  Teaching empathic skills raises one's social awareness, allowing children to be more accepting of one another's backgrounds and differences.  When a child begins to feel it's acceptable to be who they are and not judged by others or feel they must fit a social norm, they are less likely to be out of control and be more self-regulated.  Isolation should be avoided unless it is absolutely necessary to the safety of others because it tends to feed a child's feelings of not belonging and being out of control.

Here are a few strategies to encourage an inclusive community where children can begin to exhibit more self-control taken from my book 7 Ways to Transform the Lives of Wounded Students:

  1. Students need to feel that they belong in their learning community early on.  Feeling isolated within this community only feeds their false belief of unworthiness, which then follows them into larger communities.

  2. Provide opportunities for students to interact within their community.  This encourages a sense of purpose and belonging.

  3. Find redeeming qualities in students.  This does not excuse or endorse bad behaviors, but it does allow students to see they have an identity beyond the behavior.

  4. Seek restorative justice as an alternative discipline approach to further self-awareness.

  5. True community values its members, recognizing that each has special contributions to make to their community.  Having a sense of belonging is critical in helping students feel safe and secure enough to begin exploring their unique gifts and abilities instead of choosing disruptive behaviors.

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