Trauma-Sensitive Strength-Based Resources for Teachers

Do you have teacher envy? 

Do you look over into the other classroom, and as you walk by, you see a teacher smiling, students gathering around desks working together, and creating fantastic projects in their classroom. Do you think, how can they do all of this? What do they have that I don’t have?

Great teachers have self-awareness of what works for them as a teacher and what doesn’t. They know what comes easy for them and can manage the challenges. Great teachers know their strengths!

I taught for over ten years in a middle and high school science classroom. In my first couple of years of teaching, I would watch veteran teachers and believe that I had to teach just the same way. I often would learn new tools to add to my toolbox of strategies. However, when a method that I tried repeatedly didn’t work with students, I felt awkward and very uncomfortable in front of the class. I am sure the students could feel that too! I now see that I wasn’t teaching in a way that fit my strengths.

What has helped good teachers become great is being aware of their strengths. When they know their strengths, teachers can see their students’ strengths to build a classroom that honors diversity.

Two resources to help you create classrooms that develop strengths and honor diversity

Teaching to Strengths, Supporting Students Living with Trauma, Violence, and Chronic Stress by Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes

Classroom educators have the job of being one of the leading influencers on how a child views themselves and develop their unique set of assets and strengths. Teach to Strengths is written by three English Language Learner (ELL) instructors that approach the instruction of a diverse group of learners from a trauma-sensitive strength-based approach. As stated in the book’s introduction, the fastest-growing segment of U.S. school students is English learners, many of whom have experienced trauma, violence, and stress in very distinct ways. These learners come to the classroom with many unacknowledged strengths and resilience. The authors use case studies and many examples to help educators develop the strategies and skills for creating a strength-based inclusive classroom that capitalizes on the asset of the learner. 

This book offers ways to bring strength-based approaches into the classroom, families, schools, and community. A strength-based approach to supporting students with trauma, such as EL learners, can be a way to help educators to see their strengths and values that helped them through adversity and build resilience. When classroom teachers can recognize students, who have suffered adverse situations, they have strengths that have helped them create resilience. We need to acknowledge that the flip side to trauma is resilience.

The teacher-student relationship is one of the most significant influences on student engagement and achievement. As stated in Teaching to Strengths, “the power of our influence in our interactions with students and the methods we use have a great deal of significance in student outcomes.”

The first step is to identify your strengths and values as a classroom teacher. “Our strengths, our assets, and our capacities to support our own well-being and that of others are based on our own uniqueness.” 

If you are not familiar with your strengths, I would like to suggest the following books as excellent resources.

Teach With Your Strengths, How Great Teachers Inspire Their Students by Rosanne Liesveld and Jo Ann Miller with Jennifer Robison

Teach With Your Strengths is specifically written for the classroom teacher to know and develop their unique strengths. Teach With Your Strengths uses the Clifton StrengthFinder assessment to help teachers acknowledge their strengths and relate them to teaching strategies that can best help them be better teachers. 

The book starts with what makes a great teacher. “Great teachers’ methods and intuitions are different. They don’t operate like other teachers, and they don’t believe everything they are taught or told.” In other words, great teachers know their strengths and weaknesses. They have developed their strengths to create successful relationships with their students. They have also developed successful systems to manage their weaknesses. 

The first step in your journey is being aware of your strengths. The book comes with a code to the Clifton StrengthFinder so teachers can start by identifying their top five strengths. If you would like to know all 34 of your strengths in order, you can go to the website and pay a fee to access all 34 strengths and many resources to help you go deeper into each strength. Teach With Your Strengths ends the book with supporting teachers. The rest of the journey is learning to own and apply them in your professional and personal life. 

Self-awareness has been a huge part of my journey as a lifelong learner. I have used the process of identifying, developing, and applying my strengths and value to become a better speaker, trainer, and coach. If you would like more support in identifying and using your strengths in your classroom, book a call with me, and we can talk further.

Four-Step Strategy for Challenging Behaviors

I want to introduce you to one of my closest friends, Kim Hruba. Kim is an author, book coach, speaker, and mom to five children. She often writes about her family’s adventures on her weekly blog published Saturdays on the Wannaskan Almanac site. 

She recently posted a blog that so fantastically illustrates the 4 C’s – Create Your Calm, Co-regulate, Connect and Change, that I immediately asked if I could share it with the Wildewood Learning readers. In her post, she shows how to use the 4 C’s when her daughter felt anxious and nervous about the upcoming piano festival. 

I created a video explaining the 4 C’s for this month’s post and sharing Kim’s post to demonstrate how the 4 C’s would work in real life. I would suggest you watch the video and then read Kim’s post to see if you can identify the 4 C’s in action.  

After learning about the strategy and reading about how a parent used the process, I would love to know about your 4 C’s experience.

You can find Kim’s blog post on the Wannaskan Almanac HERE. Plus find out more about what Kim does at her business website Redshoes Writing Solutions.

If you want to know more about the upcoming classes in 2022 for Strength-Based Resilience, click here!

Three Reasons to Find Your Resilience Support Team

This time of the year is for traditions, celebrations, and community. It’s also a time for rest, darkness, and solitude. In some ways, this time of the year is a paradox for me. How can I be both happy and sad at the same time? Can I be in the dark area of my soul and then see the light?

As I have aged, I believe that I have felt this paradox more strongly than ever. I see both sides of the story. I want to be with family and friends, yet at times I just want to sit on my bed by myself. The paradox is confusing. Life isn’t as cut and dried as we sometimes think it needs to be.

I want you to know that if you feel the push and the pull of the season, that is perfect. You are feeling, aware, and knowing that most people’s lives are not like the family photo on the Facebook page. 

I work with a small school that I am lucky enough to support with staff professional development working on resilience skills. The resource we use is a book written by Elena Aguilar, Onward Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators. It is a wonderful resource, and I have used it for the past two years. 

I was first privileged to be part of a small group that read several chapters in the book; there are twelve for each month. However, we had started the book later in the year. Now I am part of an online book club that is reading and discussing the book, plus I am co-facilitating a local book study group of educators and community members at school. 

There are three needs that I am currently seeing addressed through both groups:

  1. The need for community and support. We need to know that we are in this together. The feelings coming up, especially this time of the year, can be confusing. Knowing I am not alone in that feeling makes it okay. Giving voice to what you feel is a path to self-awareness and self-management.
  1. Learning skills that can be used to build our own resilience. Onward and many other resources are full of skills to develop our resilience. Knowing and implementing those skills can be a way for adults in the school or organization to regulate their nervous system (calm brain and body). There are many ways to regulate, and you can pick and choose what will work for you.
  1. Stress relief is huge and needed! One of the ways the groups relieve stress for me is through authentic connection. At the beginning of our sessions, we have a set of norms. We talk about having confidentiality within the group. This norm helps to give people a safe space to be authentic and vulnerable. When we feel safe in a relationship, growth and learning can happen. 

In my last post, I wrote 

“Even when I know better, I don’t do better.” 

We go for the immediate rewards of the short sprint when we really need the consistency of the long haul. Building resilience, emotional intelligence, and ways to relieve stress, plus doing it with the support of a community, is the life preserver that we all need. I hope you find that group of compassionate adults who can support you in 2022. 

Wishing you all the best in 2022!!

If you want to know more about the upcoming classes in 2022 for Strength-Based Resilience, click here!

How Are You Doing?

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Maya Angelou

Even when I know better, I don’t always do better.

How about you?

I know I need to exercise more – however, it’s a struggle to get to the gym or out for a walk.

I know that I need at least 7 hours of sleep to feel my best – yet I stay up watching Netflix.

I know that yelling doesn’t solve any problems – and I find myself yelling at my family.

I know better, but am I doing better?

How about you? 

I believe that many educators thought schools would be back to normal by now. At the beginning of the fall 2021 school year, I heard educators say, 

“2021 has to be better than 2020!”

“We can now get on with fixing the learning loss of the past school year.”

“Let’s just move on from 2020 and put it in the past.”

Many people were hoping for school to be “back to normal,” yet that has not been the case; 2021 has been a challenging year.

When teachers talk about the last 18 months, words such as sadness, blah, and isolation are shared. Many are looking for support in the form of community, conversation, and connection.

Not just teachers are feeling the effects of the pandemic so are all the school support staff. Bus drivers, custodians, kitchen staff, school nurses, social workers, substitute teachers, and paraprofessionals are feeling the stress and exhaustion of the lingering Covid-19 pandemic. Plus, there is a lack of people to fill the numerous open positions in many districts. 

The effects of the pandemic are undermining the mental health of our children. American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry posted a statement in October declaring a national emergency of a mental health crisis among children. 

Behaviors never seen before in school classrooms are cropping up. Intense conflict levels, screen addiction, increase in substance use, disengagement, and lack of motivation are just a few of the behaviors educators have experienced. School leaders ask parents and caregivers, who are also at the end of their rope, to help with their child’s behaviors.

Self-care and mental health has never been so important to school leaders, educators, and support staff as it is now. What is going on now with teachers will not be taken care of by a couple of mental health days during the school year.

Self-care professional development is on the rise for educators, and rightfully so. When the school’s system and culture set self-care as a priority, it can help the staff develop routines for improved well-being. 

I will not share my top 10 tips for self-care or tell you to get a massage or take a bubble bath. However, that does sound good! Self-care, well-being, and mental health practices are a habit that you set for yourself. What might work for one person as self-care might not work for another. 

However, there are a few areas that by setting a routine it can help you make considerable gains in feeling better:

  • Sleep
  • Good nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Fun
  • Connection
  • Nature
  • Setting boundaries

James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, quotes, “In the long run, the quality of our lives depends on the quality of our habits.” He suggests starting with a tiny change. Maybe it’s setting a time of the day to exercise. Every day you exercise at that same time, maybe for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or you just get your shoes on. When you start, the length of time isn’t the goal, and the goal is consistency. You then become a person that doesn’t miss time to exercise, and a habit starts to form.

Many years ago, I set my morning routine to meditate and journal. I do it almost every day, sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for an hour. I have now become a person that meditates and journals in the morning, and I rarely miss a day. When I do miss a day, it just doesn’t feel right.

You are a person worthy of self-care, no matter what shape or form it may take for you. As an educator that honors self-care, you can do your work, change kids’ lives, and have time for yourself. Just develop the habit by starting small. Your students, colleagues, and family will thank you for it!