Do’s and Don’ts of a Trauma-Informed Compassionate Classroom

Thursday, June 30th, 2016

Classroom Kids

The summer break is upon us and right now parents and teachers are taking a much-deserved deep breath before jumping into the new school year. One of the programs Echo provides each summer is the salary-point Trauma- Informed Compassionate Classrooms training to help educators meet their professional development requirements and to give them the space to think about the classroom environment they would optimally like to create while not yet inundated with the day-to- day demands of the school year.

We were inspired by reading this article to create a short list of ‘Do’s and Don’ts of the Trauma-Informed, Compassionate Classroom’. We agree, that there is really only one ‘don’t’ and that is let’s not punish kids for behaviors that are trauma symptoms.

Here are a few ‘do’s’ to consider:

1) Create a safe space for all children to learn. What does that mean? Most school personnel don’t need much coaching about how to ensure physical safety but what about emotional safety?

2) Predictability: When children have been traumatized, they are on high alert, always expecting the next blow. Maybe they live with an unpredictable parent who buys them toys and hugs them one minute, and descends into an alcohol-fueled rage the next. Writing up the day’s schedule on the board and preparing students for transitions (“We’re going to be clearing up in 5 minutes and then we are going to go to the sports field”) helps create predictability and thus a sense of safety.

3) Trustworthiness: You promised the class they would get free time after they completed an exercise, but then someone asked a question and you took the time to explain something that you realized you should have covered in the lesson. These understandable changes of plan might seem like small beans to us, but to a child who has been around adults who constantly break their promises it can confirm what is already a deep-seated suspicion – that adults are untrustworthy. If we can provide stability and trustworthiness it will allow a child to begin to change their perceptions about how safe the world is.

4) Control: Do you get upset when your carefully laid plans are upset or when a child wants to go in a direction you had not prepared for? Many of us who experienced high levels of control growing up felt disempowered, and as a result we have an understandable urge to remain in control all the time! This is magnified for a trauma survivor whose physical or emotional safety was compromised because they had no power to protect themself at the time of the trauma. How can we begin to empower our students and offer ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’ strategies so that we don’t reinforce these harmful power dynamics?

5) Regulation: In many cases the behaviors that cause problems in classrooms (or at home) are a child’s best attempt to communicate something to you, the adult. How much they hurt, how confused they are, how scared, how overwhelmed. Or even how exuberant and full of energy they feel when our schedule is demanding that they sit quiet and concentrate. Sometimes children need calming down, sometimes they need energizing, and by paying attention to this we can keep the whole class in what is called “The Resiliency Zone” – the place where our higher brain is online and we can access learning and memory. Children who have experienced toxic stress or trauma are easily bumped out of this zone. As a teacher, it is good to have tools for keeping kids in the Resiliency Zone as well as methods to help kids deal with the big behaviors that come with getting stuck on hyperarousal (anger, fear, anxiety) or hypoarousal (checked out, numb).

This is an abbreviated list, but if you would like to learn more about Trauma- Informed, Compassionate Classrooms and the practical tools for creating safe, stable, nurturing environments for kids, please sign up for our 2-day training. And speaking of tools, if you need help remembering these important DOs and DON’Ts check out the great, visual guide  available for download on our Resource Page.

The ACEs You Don’t Know…Adverse Community Experiences

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Echo has recently expanded its focus to look at Adverse Community Experiences. What is that, you may ask. The Adverse

DeGruy Photo Childhood Experiences Study is now almost two decades old, and it has revolutionized the way we look at physical, mental and social problems. The take-away message is that adversity has long-lasting and sometimes devastating effects on later life, but as the science shows, a safe, stable nurturing relationship with a caring adult can help children heal and build resilience.

However, no individual, and no family, exists in a vacuum. What about the toxic stresses that weigh heavily on certain communities? How does poverty, racism, forced displacement, homelessness or community violence, for example, affect the health and wellbeing of communities and the individuals who live in them?

This is the question that we will be attempting to answer in our 2017 “Changing the Paradigm” conference. Dr. Joy Degruy, author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome”, has agreed to be our keynote speaker. Stay tuned for more!

In the meantime, how are we incorporating this work into what we do at Echo?

Well, unsurprisingly, community trauma and community resilience have a lot to do with strong, connected relationships – the lack or the presence thereof. Often our individual or collective trauma gets in the way of creating those relationships – we have a history that inclines us to fear and mistrust. That fear and our attempts to cope with a scary situation may have at one time actually protected us, but now maybe they no longer serve us.

As psychologist, Darejan Javakhishvili, says in her work on displaced communities, without being able to get to the real persecutor (because they are dead, too powerful, or are in the country you fled), the ‘enemy’ is an empty frame of aggression, which freely floats around and tries to fit the first available object. The easier target is ‘the other’ – a different person or group – which results in intolerance towards different opinion, attitudes and mentality.

It takes consciousness and intent not to fall into the trap of creating enemy images. Trauma tends to polarize the mind, to group people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, to live as if you are fighting your childhood oppressor in every person who holds a different opinion or thinks differently to you. We none of us are immune, including the proponents of trauma-informed nonviolent parenting! Diana Ayala, Co-Executive Director at Echo, has long argued that we need to try to understand the ‘dominant’ paradigm of parenting and have empathy for those who have such a hard time giving up punishment and rewards as a means of controlling behavior.


The Echo Team.

2016 Changing the Paradigm Post Conference Blog Post

Monday, April 4th, 2016

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Echo Parenting & Education Changing the Paradigm Conference 2016 

“See it, believe it, act on it!” That was the exhortation at the end of the Building Trauma-Informed Schools & Communities conference last week. Around 250 people gathered to share experiences, best practices, questions and dreams as Echo hosted the first ever national conference on trauma-informed schools.

We were fortunate to have many extraordinary thought leaders, including Dr. Ross Greene “Lost at School” and “The Explosive Child” who flew across country to deliver his presentation to a captivated audience. (Please check our website for his slideshow coming soon.)

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Our second Day One keynote was Dr. Susan Craig “Reaching and Teaching Children who Hurt” and “Trauma Sensitive Schools” who serenaded the participants with a rendition of “Happy Talk”.

Other highlights included hearing from the team from Sally Ride Elementary, which is the pilot site for Echo’s Whole School Initiative.

Sally Ride team: Parent representatives including Katia Tovar (center), Catherine Daley, principal (right of center) and Lizeth Toscano, Echo parent educator (far right)




We also heard from Pia Escudero, head of School Mental Health for LAUSD and Superintendent Robert Martinez (pictured left).

Workshop Highlights


Popular workshops included a Restorative Justice circle from Roosevelt High School, Jose Arreola on the mental health of undocumented students and resiliency building from Elaine Miller-Karas.

Photo Gallery


Want to see photographs of you and your colleagues at the conference? We have the entire album available.


Echo Co-Directors, Diana Ayala (left), Louise Godbold (right) and Jane Stevens, founder of (center)

Conference Feedback

We were happy to get back many evaluations extolling the event, but if you attended the conference and didn’t get a chance to fill in an evaluation, could you please complete the online version. We work hard to incorporate your feedback in each successive conference, so please take the time to tell us what you liked and didn’t like.




Journey to Healing – Our Year End Appeal

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015
 With support from community partners like you, last year alone Echo trained nearly 2,500 parents through community classes and classes in domestic violence shelters…parents like Karen Gonzalez who was featured in a recent NPR broadcast.
Here is an extract from the story:


“After years of physical abuse, Karen Gonzalez finally fled her home in November 2011 after she said her boyfriend tried to strangle her. She hadn’t realized just how much the experience had affected her and her three children.

“My body would feel stressed or tight or I couldn’t breath or I would hold my breath and I didn’t even realize, ‘Oh, wow, I’m not breathing,’” Gonzalez remembers.

Then 29, she struggled to meet her family’s clothes, food and other needs, then realized that her children also had been traumatized. They acted out, had trouble in school, and developed fears of many things.

She said her life changed when Echo Parenting & Education came to her shelter and invited her to a parenting class. 

Gonzalez said she learned that how she responded to her children’s behavioral issues mattered. She was taught “how to break the cycle of violence, how to look at the children [with] compassion and [with] love — basic human needs that we’re all trying to meet,” she said.

Gonzalez felt she received life-changing benefits from the Echo trainings, so she took the 100-hour certification course and now conducts classes herself.”

Through Echo’s classes, many families experience what it is to overcome generational trauma and all parents learn how to create loving, connected relationships so that children can grow up happy and healthy…and continue this legacy to their own children.

A contribution of $500 sends a whole family through our 10-class parenting series and covers the cost of providing safe, caring childcare while parents are in class. With your gift of $50, $100, $500 or any amount, you can be assured that you are helping Echo change lives of many families from different backgrounds and experiences.

Please send your contribution today or visit our website to make an online donation. And thank you for your support, in all its manifest ways.

Carol Melville
Board Chair, Echo Parenting & Education

Stories from the Whole School Initiative

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

This month, Echo was invited to participate in a webinar hosted 5073552229_3dd9459eeb_oby Region IX Equity Assistance Center at WestEd for educators in the Western Region of the United States. We were honored to be highlighted as a ‘promising practice’ for trauma-informed education

For those of you who don’t have 90 minutes to listen to the whole webinar, we thought we would pick out a few of the delightful stories related by Catherine Daley, the principal of Sally Ride Elementary,  the site of our Whole School Initiative pilot:

“I have a student who frequently gets sent to the office for his behavior. He’s usually pretty flooded when he gets to me. Maybe before I might have demanded that he explain himself immediately. Now I’m letting him know he can have time to regulate, to breathe, and I invite him to talk when he’s ready. 

“Usually, when he gets to me, he’s stuck… he can’t move, he’s breathing really heavily. I might let him know, I’m here, its okay…you can take your time. And I’ll start to see his shoulders relax, his hands unclench, and he starts to look around, like he’s coming back into the room. Then we can talk. This seems to give him the catharsis he needs, allows me to understand him better, gives him a chance to go through the emotions he needs to go through. It also gives him a chance to practice using the strategies with support in a place where he knows that he’s safe, so that he can do them independently in other situations… Now he’s coming to me and telling me, “I walked away Ms. Daley. I breathed, and I didn’t hit anybody.  I walked away.””

“A few weeks ago a student was sent to the office because he had called a teacher a strong expletive. In the past, I probably would have told him that it was unacceptable behavior, demanded that he apologize, and then call his mother so that he could explain his actions.  

“This time, I had made a conscious decision that my goal was to repair the relationship between that teacher and the student. I began by inviting the student to talk about what he was feeling before he said what he said, and with that invitation, the student was able to recall what happened before he got angry. 

“After acknowledging his feelings about the interactions that led up to him calling his teacher this word, we talked about what he might want to do to repair the relationship. He kept saying, “I think I should be punished. 

“That was the first time that I realized that for many people, making a reparation in a relationship usually involves a punishment. We talked about what I meant by repair, brought in the teacher, gave them each a chance to hear each other, helping them each to reflect back what they were hearing. 

“At the end of the conversation, both teacher and student were able to acknowledge each others’ needs in that situation and make a plan for the future that would allow them both to feel safe while still completing the activity. Since then, I’ve continued to employ this focus when working with students and have not needed to give any negative consequences in order to create repair in the relationship.”

Cathy also shared Freddy’s story:

“Every day, Freddy would arrive in the middle of morning meeting, or later, and had a hard time integrating into the class. Previously, his teacher might have just asked the parent, “Do you realize he’s been late every day this week?”, or, “Why aren’t you bringing him on time?” This time, instead of confronting his mom, she took the time to find out what was going on. 

Apparently, Freddy’s mom was working two jobs – a day and a night shift.  After getting home every night at 3 or 4 am, she was struggling to get up again a couple hours later to get her kids to school at all. Instead of dismissing Freddy’s tardiness as a sign of his mother’s failure to support his education, the teacher chose to look deeper and see the incredible lengths his mother is going to in order to meet her family’s basic needs and get her kids to school every day. 

Freddy’s teacher started to feel more empathy. She was able to explain to the mother why she was worried about Freddy coming in late – that he was missing out on the morning routine and it was having a negative impact on him. The teacher then asked if there was anything she could do to help. In this way, an interaction that could have been confrontational and disconnecting became a point of connection and support for both the mother and the teacher.

We hope you enjoyed these encouraging stories of a school community on the journey to become trauma-informed and nonviolent. We thank Ariel Wrye, our lead trainer at Sally Ride, and Cathy Daley for their commitment to this work and for compiling the stories and other information for the webinar. We would like to thank you too for continuing to support our efforts and wish you and your family a very Happy Thanksgiving!