Echo Welcomes Canadian Vistors

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Echo hosted a delegation from Montreal School District this week. On Monday, they kicked up their heels at the one-day Working with Childhood Trauma training, gamely entering into the fun with our ‘mirroring’ and dancing regulation exercises.

Here is some of the team in a more serious moment:

WCT2a

From left to right: Tina Newton, resource teacher, David Meloche, region director,
and Jennifer Kurta, high school principal

The next day, the group of three principals, the district superintendent, two teachers and a behavioral (sorry, ‘behavioural’) consultant, visited Sally Ride Elementary where Echo is now in the third year working with the principal, Cathy Daley, and her staff, as well as parents, rolling out the pilot program for our trauma-informed Whole School Initiative.

The Montreal group has also been working during this time to create trauma-informed schools, guided by the book “Trauma Sensitive Schools” by Susan Craig (speaker at last year’s Echo conference) and was eager to ask questions and share experiences with their U.S. hosts. The visit ended with a tour of the classrooms, which revealed the wonderful creativity some teachers have applied to implementing trauma-informed tools and strategies. In one classroom, students can sit on large bouncy balls instead of chairs and have red, yellow and red plastic cups stacked on their desks. The top cup alerts the teacher to the student’s emotional state (green for calm and focused, yellow for needing help to regulate, and red for agitated or zoned out) and each cup has a strategy written out by the student to remind them what helps them to get back to or stay in the green zone. Every classroom now has a peace corner, which children can elect to use if they are feeling in need of some emotional regulation. The Canadian group seemed to enjoy all of it, snapping pictures of the tools and exclaiming over things they recognized from their own practice.

It is weeks like this that remind us at Echo about how far we have come and that many people over the globe are sharing this journey with us. Thank you Sally Ride Elementary for your warm hospitality and our Canadian friends for your enthusiasm and interest. Now let’s change the world together!

WCT3a

The Canadian delegation with Louise Godbold & Dominique Sanchez (Echo)
and Cathy Daley & Rocio Tafoya (Sally Ride Elementary)

 

How to be Trauma-Informed – for Real!

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017

Okay, we’ve got it: Not “what’s wrong with you?” but “What happened to you?” That explosive outburst? The child who cannot concentrate at school? The domestic violence survivor who is in a constant state of hyper-vigilance? Yes, most of us in family services are now able to recognize trauma-symptoms and respond with empathy… most of the time.

But what does it mean to be truly trauma-informed? For a start, it means that we have patience with others and ourselves as we seek to acquire the skills and attitudes of a trauma-informed practice. Calling out other people for being judgmental? Yes, this and many other ironies litter the path of learning this new language because we just so enjoy being right! It is easy to become smug or ‘preachy’ when we have all these wonderful new ‘dos and don’ts’ to crib from.

(click image to enlarge)

Echo has put together an info-graphic to help us see the difference between a trauma-informed and non-trauma-informed paradigm. We wanted to create a graphic that illustrated not a dichotomy of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but a journey – and a difficult journey at that, if we are willing to honest about ourselves and put in the work to transform attitudes we probably absorbed along with our mother’s milk.

How does it work? Take for example ‘labeling and pathologizing’. This is not just something we leave to the mental health professionals – we’ve all done it at one time or another: “They’re crazy… controlling… hyper… manipulative… have anger issues…”

Labeling is not just a matter of language – it’s an inability to look beneath the behavior to understand what that person is trying to communicate. Is the explosion about fear of losing control when losing control in the past has meant you got hurt? Is your kid’s cussing about trying to tell you, in the strongest terms they know, how strongly they feel? No one acts against their own self-interest, so if the behavior seems irrational or counter-productive there is something deeper going on, something you have not yet perceived.

Similarly, we can begin to shift our perspective and see that ‘problem behavior’ is actually a solution to the person who is engaging in it. Smoking and drinking provide temporary relief to unmanageable pain. Having children when you are not in a place to be able to support them or love them adequately may seem like a problem to social services, but to the person concerned this could be an attempt to build the loving family they never had. Obesity? Could be useful for repudiating any sexual overtures for those who have been sexually abused.

We hope that this graphic can get you thinking about your own journey toward becoming trauma-informed. If you would like to know more about childhood trauma and developing a trauma-informed practice, sign up for our “Working with Childhood Trauma” training here, or contact Azucena Ortiz for information about setting up a training for your organization.

Annual Appeal: Echo Appreciates You!

Tuesday, December 13th, 2016

heart-globe
Imagine a world where all children are promised a childhood filled with empathy and connection, free of physical and emotional harm; where all children grow up knowing how to express their feelings and needs without shame or fear; and where all children understand how to resolve conflicts peacefully through thoughtful dialogue. Now imagine a world where all adults have the tools to deliver on that promise – whether or not they benefited from such a childhood themselves.

At Echo Parenting & Education, this is the world we envision. We are getting there through training social service professionals, teachers, and parents. Here is Mia’s story to illustrate how we use your donation to make a difference:

Little Mia was crying. Her mother tried to comfort her while holding her other daughter closely to
her chest. All this was happening in the middle of parents arriving for class in the normal Saturday
bustle at Echo.

One of the Echo team spotted the mother’s anxious attempts to calm her child and went to talk to her.
As the classroom door closed on the last of the parents, the mother sat in the deserted hallway and
explained.

“I was in a domestic violence situation,” she said, recoiling from the details. “I was breastfeeding,
so I escaped with my baby but I had to leave Mia behind. Now that she’s with me again, she won’t
let me leave her.”

“It makes sense,” the Echo team member reassured the mother and then invited her to stay in childcare
with Mia. Assisting parents with separation is one thing, but with everything we know about attachment
and toxic stress, insisting that Mia’s mother leave her child to go to class would obviously have been
counterproductive.

Mia’s mother relaxed and climbed the stairs to childcare. Soon Mia was playing with the other children,
glancing up every now and then to check that her mother was still there.

Many of our parents come to class with less obvious challenges. Some come to class because, like Mia’s mother, they have been mandated by a court system that views them as a ‘non-protecting parent’. Whatever the story, every week Echo opens its doors to parents who are struggling with that most basic cornerstone of human development – creating a safe, connected relationship between adult and child.

We ask parents to pay what they can. Some parents like Mia’s mother who is living in a domestic violence shelter pay nothing at all. A donation to Echo Parenting & Education can help us support those families and children that don’t have the financial resources themselves and yet desperately need help.

Will you help us help Mia, her mother, and other families who need our services? We rely on your generous support to make our parenting classes and other programs available to those who are shaping our children and our future.

 Sincerely,
Carol Melville, Board Chair
Echo Parenting & Education

Help for the Holidays

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

gingerbread-man-house

Hi all! My name is James. I’m a new trainer at Echo and excited to be a part of Echo family. I’ve been working with children and families and practicing nonviolent communication for about 16 years now. I thought I would share some quick tips and ways to frame things that might help you connect better with those you love over the holidays.

One of the things I’ve learned from nonviolent communication is the idea of life as a practice. I invite you to practice without worrying about doing it right; just try it out and stay curious about what happens. Holidays can present us with many opportunities for practice because they can be so much fun… and also quite complicated. As well as lots of potentially triggering dynamics, there are opportunities for connection and love. What is it like to maintain who I am authentically and also look for connection during the holidays?

First I’d like to bring your attention to pace: If we’re looking to make room for new choices that move us toward connection, going slow can really help. When I go fast I do what I normally do. When I slow down I’m more likely to make a different choice.

Whenever you are able, take a breath. I’d also invite you to james-bioclose your eyes while doing it. Making time for a bit of self-regulation and centering can really help with being intentional. Perhaps you could excuse yourself to the restroom and run some water over your hands, splash water on your face, or even call a friend to vent. (But maybe you should check-in with the friend beforehand to make sure they are okay with offering this kind of support.)

Sharing space with folks we love, who maybe have very different ways of seeing the world, can be really hard… this is especially true if we think about life in the terms of right and wrong. When disagreeing it can be hard to remember the people we love are the people we love. A question I like to ask myself is:

“Do you want to be right or to connect?”

(Because we often don’t get to have both.)

Another question: “How am I telling my story?” When something happens that I don’t like (especially if I’m overwhelmed by it), I sometimes tell the story of what’s happening as if it were happening only to me. When I do this my focus is on choices made by others. Although this is a normal place to start, I’m better able to “practice”/work on myself when I shift my focus to my choices. “What can I do differently?” In the end, I’m the only one I have control over. “If I were able to do it again, without wanting anyone else to do or be different, what could I do?” Once you have an answer hold onto it and get ready to practice. Again, try to go slow (to allow for more intention) and stay curious regardless of outcome.

And what about deepening our connection with children? Here at Echo, we’re always inviting people to see behavior as communication. In practice, this looks like asking yourself, “What is the choice Jr. just made telling me?” And it also looks like, “What is my choice telling Jr.?”

When relating to children, it is also a good opportunity to practice giving the other person what you most want first. Think about how often children are told to listen… how often children are told listening is important. And how much time do adults spend listening to children? Not much.

Remember how I interact in the world tells the children around me what I value, and what to replicate. There are no interventions for children in the world that will “work” if my choices contradict them. Children learn primarily by mimicking, not by our words. They listen to our choices. If we want them to listen maybe we as adults might want to set some time aside to show we value listening.

Make time for 2-3 minutes of listening without interruption. Tell the child what you hear them saying. No fixing, problem solving or teaching. Try to do this once a day.

Redirect with, “Yes, and…” Find something to say ‘’yes” to before you ask the child to consider what is up for you. By way of example, if the child is playing in an unsafe way, first acknowledge (say “yes” to) how exciting the play is for them. Then ask them to include more safety. Tell the child they can play in lots of ways and you really want them to play in a way that’s fun for them AND we want it to be safe. When we redirect we say with our choices we value what’s up for the child and then we ask them to value what’s up for us. This allows for understanding, collaboration and connection and avoids power struggles and “either/or” dynamics.

I hope this helps.

Happy holidays!

 

Sustaining Support

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

west_orange_1977_er_015

That teaching is stressful work is hardly news. But the extent to which teachers experience toxic stress in connection with their work is only beginning to be illuminated. Also concerning are findings that students of stressed teachers show elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggesting that stress may be contagious. The good news is that there is new research (and old wisdom) pointing toward our innate potential for healing and growth. Our own practice of self-care is a key and first step in supporting students through the stresses and traumas of their lives. To paraphrase Audre Lorde, acts of self-care are not self-indulgence but self-preservation, and such acts are necessary in the creation of an educational paradigm that honors the value and dignity of all people.

 

A recent article in The Atlantic drew together current research around the implications of high levels of teacher stress on students and schools. The article paints a clear picture of a teaching profession in which ever-shifting priorities, new initiatives, and an inattention to teachers’ own learning process contribute to what educator Mike Anderson calls, “a recipe for making people feel incompetent.” Passionate and skilled teachers are leaving the profession in large numbers. And it makes sense: the ability to experience meaning and mastery in one’s work is essential to a sense of fulfillment, an interest in further learning, and growth. We know this when it comes to our students, and it is no less true for ourselves.

As an educator, I appreciate that the article did not seek to blame high levels of teacher stress on students and their behavior, instead focusing on the current conditions within the profession and society that inhibit our ability to embody safety, stability, and authentic care for our students. To be supportive and present in the lives of our students is why most of us got into this work in the first place. We committed to meet the young people who walk through our doors precisely where they are on any given day, and guide them toward a deeper sense of meaning, agency, and efficacy.

michelle-bio

One of the reasons I joined Echo Parenting & Education is to support the work of creating trauma-informed schools.  We define trauma as a physical or psychological experience that overwhelms a person’s capacity to cope and leaves them feeling powerless (which, as an educator, sounds all too familiar!). First and foremost, we approach our work with great empathy for teachers and how stressful the profession can be. We then dig deeper to understand how a person’s trauma history – both teacher and student – can affect experiences in the classroom. Psychiatrist and researcher Judith Herman reminds us that traumatic experiences are “normal reactions to abnormal circumstances,” so rather than labeling a person’s behavior ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, we see trauma responses as a person’s best attempt to adapt to their particular experience.

In our work with teachers we explore ways to provide safety, stability, and care for a student who has adapted to their particular context by shutting down or raging or any possible trauma responses in between. There will be no one-size-fits-all solution. Rather than prescribe a rigid course of action to address stress and trauma in the classroom, we seek to learn from teachers’ experiences and facilitate the drawing of connections between these lived experiences and the emerging knowledge about the physiology and psychology of trauma. What is needed is a paradigm shift, and thankfully one is already underway.

Critical educator and researcher, Patrick Camangian, states that, “although students often communicate their humanity in ways that seem destructive, their actions serve mostly as indicators of their own social trauma.” Camangian draws upon the theory of authentic caring developed by Angela Valenzuela. From her research, Valenzuela has distilled the essential elements of authentic care to be, “connection, unconditional love, and a comprehensive apprehending of “the other.” She contends that teachers must embody these elements, not merely understand them on an intellectual level. Authentic care, similar to authentic learning, is a process and a practice, not a product. It is not something we do to someone, but with them. Caring for our students means sustaining embodied practices of care in our own lives. It means modeling self-regulation, self-awareness, and empathy. As we say in our professional development trainings, 50% of any interaction is you!

The potential crisis of teacher stress and burnout described in The Atlantic article is, indeed, grim. Yet it is not a foregone conclusion that working in and attending school is stressful and potentially traumatizing. I’m sure that many of us have witnessed, heard about, and even facilitated spaces of  authentic care.  Through sharing information and practice, by looking toward what is working to heal teachers, students, and communities, I am optimistic that we can create more connected, stable, and meaningful environments for learning and growth.