Toxic stress in childhood can lead to all sorts of negative outcomes later in life. Abuse, neglect, witnessing violent events, prolonged hunger, and more can wreak havoc on children’s developing brains, putting them at an increased risk for many types of disease, as well as homelessness, addiction, and incarceration
Teachers today are seeing more violent outbursts, withdrawn behaviors, and other possible symptoms of exposure to toxic stress—and they want to know what they can do to help.
CEA has purchased copies of the movie Resilience: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope so that local associations can learn more about the effects of toxic stress on children as well as ways to protect children from those devastating effects. CEA trainers are available to facilitate discussions following the movie so that members can have open and honest discussions about the sometimes troubling content of the film.
After a recent screening for all educators during a PD day in Bloomfield, teachers gathered in school-based groups to discuss their reactions and ideas for how to help students.
“This is my second time seeing the film,” Bloomfield Education Association President Susan Sumberg told her Laurel Elementary School colleagues. “The first time I watched it the correlation between toxic childhood stress and heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments really surprised me.”
After watching the film a second time, the first grade teacher said her primary emotion was sadness. “These children need to be heard and listened to,” she said.
Teachers in Bloomfield had previous training on trauma-informed practices but still had many new insights after watching the film.
First grade teacher Ginette Kempf said the word she came away with after watching the film was empathy.
“We need to be so empathetic with our families,” she said. “We may be that listening ear when no one else is there for them.”
“This film highlights how we really need to meet children’s needs in whatever ways we can,” said Rose S. Rose, an instructional coach. “It takes us all working together as a community to address this issue.”
Lynne Dumas, another first grade teacher at the K-2 school, added, “When we offer additional academic assistance for a student families are only too happy to take advantage of that, but if we suggest that a child could benefit from seeing a psychologist parents are sometimes reluctant for their child to receive that support. We need to work to reduce the stigma that can surround mental health issues.”
Some teachers expressed concern that addressing children’s emotional needs is not something they are evaluated on, and they therefore worry about being penalized on their evaluations for taking time away from a lesson to address a student’s sudden need. “We need to make sure we have a district-wide approach and understanding about the importance of social-emotional learning and trauma-informed practices,” Sumberg said.
Teachers agreed that, while many of their students likely have experienced toxic stress many others have not. Sumberg pointed out that trauma-informed practices can help all students.
She added that she has raised the possibility of inviting pediatricians, police, SROs, faith leaders, and others to view the film as “this is something we need to bring to the whole community.”
Some of the things that the elementary teachers identified that they are already doing well to support their students include welcoming each child deliberately, listening, supporting students and each other, using stuffed animals to help young children with the transition from home to school, alternative seating options, and having a peaceful place in the classroom for children to visit when they need a break.
Things teachers wanted to start using in their classrooms to better support students included Zones of Regulation—which are already used with the school’s lunch groups, 10 minutes of yoga a day, and teacher evaluation goals linked to social and emotional learning.
“I think we have all done a lot of work already to make things better for our students,” said Sumberg. She said there are still extreme problematic behaviors at the school, but that the general level of student behavior has improved since teachers began focusing on trauma-informed practices. “We cannot forget to take care of each other,” she added.
To watch Resilience and hold a facilitated discussion in your local, contact CEA’s Professional Learning Academy at 860-525-5641 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.