What a journey! After 16 weeks of reading and research, I have learned so much about Trauma-Informed educational models and Social Emotional Learning this semester! And yet if I were to estimate how much I have read compared to the amount of information out there—it would probably be about .001% of the total body of knowledge created by researchers and clinicians over the last couple of decades. The word burgeoning comes to mind when considering all the brain and learning science that has grown out of…well, technology, really. Because researchers before technology (BT) couldn’t measure the brain, map the brain or observe the inner-workings of the brain in action.

Despite all this empirical energy, enthusiasm, expertise, and technology, however, the revolution needed to transform educational models into trauma-informed (AKA Enlightened) models has yet to occur.

Why, is this the case, you ask?

It certainly isn’t that the need for these systems has decreased; there are no signs of traumatic events in American culture decreasing anytime soon. Perhaps, it’s that people have reached a higher plane of enlightenment through advanced practice of social emotional skills on their own, and so they are now better able to cope with trauma, get on with their lives freed from the bursts of emotion-based behavior that not only disrupts their own lives but the lives of everyone around them to the point of becoming toxic to self and others?

Currently trending Twitter feeds prove otherwise.

And so do the facts. According to Michael Moe, et al. (2018), in A 2 Apple News “Beary Merry Christmas” post: “In the United States, suicide rates are up 30% over the past twenty years. Opioid deaths increased 45% to 75,000 casualties last year alone. That’s more than the number of people who died in traffic accidents. Add it up, and life expectancy for U.S. citizens actually fell last year.”

The bottom line: Kids who have experienced trauma will continue to be in our classrooms for a long time to come.  These kids may grow up to be well adjusted adults capable of managing the impacts of trauma because they have adequate family support systems, healthy community-based relationships and enough emotional and financial resources to get back on their feet— or not. Some may get to the point of being high functioning, productive, valued members of society—that is for sure. Others may live on the brink of the abyss. Never certain what the next day may bring.

And what happens when you add climate refugees to our long list of traumatic woes? Alaska, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, California—all know the trauma that inevitably accompanies natural disasters. Never forget Paradise, California. Home to 26,000 people, Paradise burned to the ground in less time than most people spend on air travel. How can resilience thrive when your whole town is erased?

All of this indicates that our educational systems need to address the impacts of trauma, and in order to do this we need to 1) acknowledge the widespread impacts of trauma and 2) help educators build emotional safety, relationships and self-regulatory skills in the classroom.

Volumes of Learning Science research shows that the emotional regulatory capacity of the learner may be one of the greatest predictors of success—and also one of the key tools that we have to improve equity in our educational systems—so how come we see so few educational systems focus on building these self-regulatory skills?

Simple answer: we put too much of the burden on teachers. Even if we want to classify teachers as Saints there are practical pedagogical limits to what they can do in the classroom. I hate to beat the same drum here, but what we need to do instead of asking educators to do more in the classroom is to build better systems that will help educators: help educators, help students.

These systems should require only quick, micro-training or no training at all. The technology must be interactive and user friendly. Think iPhone. Think television. Plug, then play. Gaming environments, mobile devices, ipads can all deliver what we know teachers need. Teachers should benefit from these tools as much as students.

Like this one:


This is an example of a practical “help educators, help students” tool that provides a research-based trauma-informed toolkit—only you would never know it. Because it does something useful! It provides the framework that all kids need to build planning and self-regulation skills without calling attention to the other benefits embedded in its research-based instructional design. Love Sown to Grow! Hurray!

Or this one:


Love the awareness and inclusion built into this tool! Instead of receiving a one-way ticket to the principal’s office, KidConnect helps connect the behavior to the emotion behind that behavior allowing the teacher to better intervene and allowing the child to start self-regulating for learning. A win-win!

This one’s a bit pricey and extravagant for young kids, but older students and teachers would like this real time self-regulation gadget:

Heart Math

Did you know the heart sends more messages to the brain than the other way around? Hearts are the first responders when it comes to emotions apparently—so happy hearts lead the way to learning. Heart rate is a key indicator for dis-regulation, according to researchers, so thinking of heart happy activities in the first few minutes of class (instead of a quiz!) can get the brain ready for learning. What makes your heart happy? Movement, music, deep breathing, visualizations, visual imagery, massage, stretching, positive relationships, healthy conversations,  animals—rabbits, turtles, fish, dogs, cats, horses (!)—all make our hearts happy. Once our hearts feel calm and regulated then we are ready to learn.

Ultimately, only a systems approach can address the widespread impacts of trauma in education. So leaving economics out of the equation simply won’t work. Financial stability equals freedom and all the emotional skills in the world will only support half of  a career in a global, knowledge-based economy. So apprenticeships are a vital part of the trauma-informed equation. Kids need to see a path upward toward freedom and that motivation will drive change. Which is why programs like those featured in Doc Maker’s

Job Centered Learning: http://docmakeronline.com/job_centered_learning.html

are so important. Learning science confirms motivation and resilience are linked to learning. The power of knowing that your path forward promises financial stability cannot be overlooked.