BLOG - GROWING STUDENT'S BRAINS (06/01/2013)
Meeting the complex learning needs of many students today is profoundly different from the educational process a decade ago. Changes in society, family, electronic entertainment, and easy access to hand guns all have an adverse impact on children’s brain development which require altered teaching techniques.
Early childhood experiences sculpt the brain, says Louis Cozolino in his new book, The Social Neuroscience of Education. [WW Norton & Co. 2013] Electronic imaging in the last decade has provided insights into brain activity that totally cancels earlier assumptions regarding behavioral and learning issues.
Children who had weak or disrupted attachments missed critical brain development due to stress and anxiety. This results in a lack of neural circuitry and connections essential for the learning process. Trauma-informed education offers the necessary resolution to these challenges.
The good news is that the neuroplasticity process or brain growth of students of any age can be stimulated by attuned teachers. Trauma-informed teaching focuses on close supportive relationships between students and teachers which stimulates positive emotions and learning in addition to brain growth. Cognitive engagement alone does not accomplish neuroplasticity while attention to social and emotional development does. Cozolino states that there is no cognition without emotion.
The home, community, and classroom all have a part in growing children’s brains. Children’s ability to learn is managed by how they are treated at home, and by teachers in the classroom. Stressed students cannot cope with threats, rejections, or shaming. Teachers follow parents as nurtures despite not being therapists. In this process, all teachers are neuroscientists in growing student’s brains.
Empowering symbolic classroom activities, such as art, creative writing, and journaling that focuses on resolving security or social injustice issues provide stressed students with relief and hope. Healing and resiliency are integral to trauma-informed education.
We cannot cling to what was comfortable in the past if we hope to meet the educational needs of anxious students today.
BLOG - GUN VIOLENCE (02/01/2013)
As America debates how to address gun violence, the proffered resolutions will regretfully have very little impact on stopping urban street shootings with handguns. As I see it, public education does have a role in averting the automatic survival reactions of stressed youth to perceived or real threats and fears that trigger youth’s use of a gun. The best time to address such distress is in early child education as that is when the brain is most malleable.
Schools are traditionally where cognitive learning takes place but reducing street gun assaults is not a teaching issue; it’s a healing issue and one that does not fit status quo school protocol unless we choose to change.
Classroom activities that are designed to relieve and transform the angst of early childhood scary memories of witnessing violence or experiencing maltreatment can permit youngsters to trust their problem solving abilities once again for staying safe. Addressing early trauma is also the best way to avert mental illness in older teens or adults.
Children whose behaviors are controlled by their automatic survival reactions whenever they sense a threat to their well being will drop out of their thinking brain into the emotional center deep within their brain. When this happens, the child or youth feels helpless and hopeless and cannot participate in problem solving resolutions for their own safety and instead, trust a gun. Unprocessed traumatic memories contribute to the pattern of relying on handguns for safety and power. This contributes to the survival code of, “do it to them before they do it to you”! Revenge can also accompany traumatic stress and fear.
Trauma-informed education is built on maintaining emotional security and building trusting relationships. It prohibits threats, shaming, or isolation in school which can exasperate anxiety or can even reactivate it. These fears are not a lack of courage but a deep, internal, and pervasive fear known as traumatic stress. Relieving the toxic stress of unprocessed scary memories is a core process in trauma-informed education..
Trauma in children is not yet a mental health condition but if unresolved, it can lead to mental illness in young adults and grown -ups. This does not include schizophrenia.
Classroom teachers are not clinicians. Neither do they want to be but they can provide sensory, symbolic activities to their classrooms as part of language arts and social studies which can relieve student’s sense of helplessness. By writing, journaling, or drawing an empowering ending for a social injustice story or for a lost, lonely puppy, students can begin to transform their traumatic stress without being aware of it. The relief is personal, internal, and silent while it restores hope.
Trauma-informed education can reach distressed students, empowering them to become productive and pro -social members of society.
When informed, teachers and staff can apply neuroscience research, schools can make a significant contribution to our society’s quest for safety and saneness.
© 2013 Barbara Oehlberg
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