Teach For Australia’s 2021 Impact For Equity webinar series kicked off on September 22, 2021 with a special presentation from Berry Street’s Dr Tom Brunzell and a panel discussion on how teachers can support students with trauma-aware practices in the classroom.
Dr Brunzell is Director of Education at Berry Street and is an experienced teacher, school leader, researcher and education advisor. Following Dr Brunzell’s presentation, guests Tom Cain, Meredith Barclay and Keita Matsumoto joined host Liam Wood for a live panel Q&A, taking questions from the audience. Click here to see the panellist’s bios.
The panel couldn’t tackle all the questions on the night, so Dr Brunzell has responded to additional questions below.
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1.How do you start the conversation with students about being “available to learn” and it not being exploited by students just wanting to tap out?
Provide clear expectations and brainstorm the difference with the whole class. We recommend creating a chart with the students with columns: “Strategies we can use to de-escalate, self-regulate and get back to learning” and “Warning signs that the strategies aren’t working.” We can assume that the students we are most concerned about will DEFINITELY test the systems and stretch the boundaries. This takes time and support from school leadership teams to be ‘hallway-based supports’ until students can do this on their own. Check out this link – it’s a case study that is exactly what you are asking about:
2. Any words of wisdom for early career teachers?
Words of wisdom: Hold unconditional positive regard for both your students–and yourself. Know that if you maintain a vision for who they can become and the developmental pathways that the students may have missed, then you can begin to separate your own identify from the way they may treat you in moments of stress. Also remember that the students may be enacting maldaptive patterns of behaviour for many, many years since their early childhood. Thus, you may not see change in a month or a term; but your support is part of their life’s journey. Your calming, centred, mindful presence is what they will remember into their own future.
3. Behaviour and oral language competence are often interconnected. What kinds of strategies does the Berry Street trauma informed model incorporate to support oral language/communication in the classroom?
Trauma-informed practices focus on providing proactive strategies for students to seek support when they hit a learning speed bump. For oral-language concerns, we know that they may not yet have capacity to feel safe to articulate when they need support. We place priority on a strategy we call “Ready to Learn” plans wherein students and teachers brainstorm strategies and ways to communicate (often non-verbally) to proactively get this support. We have shown how to do this in our new book.
4. As a First Nation PST- I often find it difficult with non-indigenous teachers/educators informing me how to teach first nations. How do I support teaching first nations content and concepts without opening myself up to non-indigenous people telling me how to teach my culture?
Your question is so important and we completely agree with you. Our team has worked with this organisation below because Aboriginal educators have created these resources with the understanding of the concerns you’ve articulated. These resources are aimed to be taught by non-Aboriginal teachers through videos and other learning supports that do not require Aboriginal and First Nations teachers to repeatedly tell their own stories or feel the burden of representation as you rightly feel.
5. Will the book explain all of this and other strategies to help the students and parents we work with?
All of the strategies in the book can definitely be shared with parents and carers. Our own team at Berry Street frequently assists the schools we work with to do just that.
6. What’s the interplay between teaching trauma-affected students and students on the autism spectrum? Is there a need to differentiate?
We invite you to explore this reference.
7. Can the panel share some more examples of morning circle activities for high school students?
We recommend a predictable circle routine that includes these elements: (1) a greeting, (2) values to connect us for learning today, (3) expectations for positive behaviour and contribution, (4) announcements, (5) a positive primer – a moment of fun, laughter and connection and (6) WWW – as in reflect together, what went well this morning or this week already.
8. I was drawn to Meredith’s “safe containers” strategy for individual students/groups. Does the panel have more examples further to the morning circle of good safe containers?
We are pleased to share that there are many, many ideas to create strong classroom circles. One of our favourite books is Roxanne Kriete’s “Morning Meeting book” and our own team at Berry Street has recently published a book in collaboration with the Institute of Positive Education at Geelong Grammar:
9. How do you link the Australian Curriculum with student learning and assessment?
NOTE: This question is far beyond the scope of the forum (and we do not address this in the new book).
10. I am really interested in the change process. I would like to know more about influencing change in those who out-rank you AND behind closed doors / overtly refuse to follow changed practice?
We recommend a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ approach. Bottom up: From the science of wellbeing and strengths-based change management, we focus on placing 90% of change management on lighthouse teachers who will be the first to adopt and enact the change we want to see. Over time, we then build on the nucleus of best practice to strategically bring in other teachers, grade-levels, etc. Top down: For staff that are hold-outs after a strong foundation has occurred, school leadership teams must bring in these directives into their strategic plans and make it a priority through teacher observation, communities of practice and clear expectations for whole-school consistency.
11. What strategies can we utilise to support students who disassociate in the classroom/learning community?
Your question here is very important because we know that students can ‘act-in’ and disengage or disassociate as a response to stress, trauma and adversity. This happens due to many complex reasons that are student specific–and in our new book, we have definitely provided numerous strategies that build upon one another. Because of the complexity of the question, I’m not able to write more in this forum–and we wanted to ensure that in the book, we gave your question the full breadth of response that’s required.
12.With your experience in KIPP, you are best placed to compare and contrast the no-excuses, high expectations model with the BSIM. Why does BSIM trump no excuses?
My own understanding of the term “high-expectations” has definitely shifted through the years. In NYC, I naively thought that high expectations meant lecturing students on their uniforms and completing their homework. Now, I know (based on Hattie and others’ research) that high-expectations means creating the environment wherein students set high expectations for themselves. We detail these strategies in our new book – which is in part why we needed to write it as a way to correct various mis-applications of that term. Great question!
13. Great to hear about the benefit of creating rhythm and routine in school. I was wondering if you could share what ‘getting back to routine’ looks like when students aren’t engaging with morning circles and other routines?
We advise an invitational approach (which we use at the Berry Street School). We don’t give up on the routines, and as long as students are (1) respecting the class and (2) allowing the routines to occur, then they are free to observe until they feel ready. This takes time – sometimes years in a school to build the culture of expectations for student participation, but it’s worth it! And we want teachers and schools to stay with the strategies.
14. What would be the one thing/strategy that you would hope educators would leave this session implementing, especially as our children face the stress and change of returning to on campus learning in Term 4?
The strategy that we have named “Ready to Learn” plans are pre-agreed plans that have around three simple strategies that are okay for the student to do in the classroom (or outside if permitted) that they can do to de-escalate, self-regulate and get back into learning. It takes time to get these routines flowing and to build student literacy and buy-in; but this is the #1 proactive strategy to help students meet their own needs for learning when they’ve hit a speed bump. It requires teachers to proactively notice when a student is in the headspace to indeed choose a strategy (before they have ‘flipped their lid’ and lost the ability to choose a proactive choice before escalating. We have detailed this in our new book.
15.My school does CPS and is a co-teaching environment. We want to learn more about the domain of stamina? Where do you start with this domain?
Consider that building stamina for learning takes one minute at a time. Just like running a race, you can’t just do it tomorrow if you don’t have the stamina. We recommend visually charting success in stamina to visually show the student that their efforts are paying off. We have provided some excellent examples from our research and practice in our new book; and also attribute our ideas to the source author: Maddie Witter and her book Reading without Limits. Maddie is both a co-author of the Berry Street Education Model and on staff at Berry Street. Check it out!
16. Is there a place in the Berry St model with Dr Ross Greene’s Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model?
Love this question! Very important to me personally because my own masters-level research was based on Greene’s CPS model. For sure, we want students to actively engage with CPS; however sometimes they are not ready to listen or self-reflect in proactive or productive ways. Our new book was written in part to create a strong foundation for teachers to enact – so when they moved forward with strategies like CPS and restorative practices, learn the Respectful Relationships curriculum and the like, students were able to develop the readiness to actively restore relationships that have been ruptured and proactively contribute to solutions.
17. I’m learning so much and certainly have more reading around trauma informed practice to do… but as a Pre-school teacher I’m looking for the most important thing I can do for children aged under 5 on their first weeks returning (after a whole term away)?
Remember “co-regulation” which is non-verbally regulating the child when they hit a speed bump. Model strategies for breathing and for problem solving. Our team at Berry Street has designed an early childhood approach for early childhood educators which details there. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
18. Language around students and behaviours can be a powerful tool for change in and beyond school. Do you have some tips or tricks for influencing more positive framing and language around students and their behaviour outside of the classroom?
Two things have really shifted staff culture on this topic: (1) introduce the term “unmet needs”. Instead of saying: “This [student] is a real pain and he is totally out of control”, staff benefit when they are coached to instead say: “This student has a lot of unmet needs today! I’m trying to meet those needs and it’s tough…” The other strategy we recommend is to ensure a strengths-based literacy flowing through all staff. We detail this in our new book.
19. Is it fair to say, for many of these practices that support the students – teachers are taking a more deliberate direction of walking beside the students, as opposed to more traditional practices of teacher at the front/separated from the students they teach? It takes on experiential learning practices because regulation, rhythms and growth occur from watching and living the positive relationships and routines WITH the staff?
We certainly agree with your terrific reflection here. In our new book, we have detailed how leadership can indeed implement strategies to strengthen and sustain a relational culture that takes into account unmet needs (of staff and students) and a strengths-based approach to bolster school-wide wellbeing.
20. Does the Berry Street model use different strategies to support students with an intellectual disability or multiple disabilities as well as trauma? If so what are these strategies?
We certainly employ the strategies that we’ve introduced in our new book for all students and particularly for students with diverse learning needs. We know that many, many students impacted by trauma and adversity have needs like you’ve suggested. We invite you to review our book (and recognise that this topic definitely deserves more than a few sentences here); and we are definitely grounded in the knowledge that for students with diverse learning needs, they can struggle with higher levels of escalation, stress, and anxiety. Trauma-informed practices provide promising pathways to support these learners.
21. I have recently been diagnosed with complex PTSD, similar to what these students are experiencing. I have been teaching in a BSEM school and the model has been amazing for the students but it is tricky when I am personally triggered in the classroom. Obviously the routines and regular practices are helpful, but l am wondering if you have any specific tips for being “ready to teach” in those moments?
We appreciate your question and great that you already have the BSEM resources. I recommend that you review the resilience chapter in Book 4, because we have worked with experts in ACT (acceptance commitment therapy); and while our curriculum is aimed at children, ACT has been a powerful personal intervention in my own life – and for many, many adults. You can also check out this link.
22. Where can we find more information about wellbeing literacy?
Here are two helpful publications from the team at Univ Melbourne: Oades, L. G. (2017). Wellbeing literacy: The missing link in positive education. In Future directions in well-being (pp. 169-173). Springer, Cham. Hou, H., Chin, T. C., Slemp, G. R., & Oades, L. G. (2021). Wellbeing Literacy: Conceptualization, Measurement, and Preliminary Empirical Findings from Students, Parents and School Staff. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(4), 1485.
23. Could you repeat which change management model you used?
The methodology we use both in our research and practice is called “Appreciative Inquiry Particpatory Action Research” This stems from both wellbeing research, school implementation and change management research for social action. It is a strengths based approach; and just as Keita shared last night, is empowered by setting data goals. We recommend these great papers as a starting point: Ludema, J.D., Cooperrider, D.L., & Barrett, F.J. (2006). Appreciative inquiry: The power of the unconditional positive question. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of action research (pp. 155-165). London: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Ludema, J.D., & Fry, R.E. (2008). The practice of appreciative inquiry. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds.), Handbook of action research (2nd ed., pp. 280-296). London: Sage Publications, Ltd.
24.Can we access the book in NZ
Absolutely! You can buy our book on Amazon, NZ booksellers or directly from us.
25. I’m a brand new rookie to TFA, as an incoming Associate I intend to look into these models in my own time… but in relevance to Trauma-informed strengths based classrooms — is there a model that is best to implement or will it really be seeing what best fits? Thank you in advance 🙂
Your question is exactly why we wrote our book. We provide a step-by-step guide to ensure you’re not overwhelmed as a new teacher, and to feel confidence that the strategies we recommend are based on the most recent research – and our own longitudinal research and practice at Berry Street. We definitely aimed to create a “one-stop shop” for busy teachers like you : )
26. This is such meaningful work. I would love to find out if there is any advice for educators in terms of maintaining a work/life balance when doing this work. It’s something that myself and many that I know really struggle with.
Thank you! We invite you to check out a new peer-reviewed academic paper that we published this year on the topic of “trauma-informed teacher wellbeing” Brunzell, T., Waters, L., & Stokes, H. (2021). Trauma-informed teacher wellbeing: Teacher reflections within trauma-informed positive education. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 46(5), 91 – 107.