Cultivating Belonging: Navigating Exclusion with Restorative and Resilience-Focused Approach to Discipline

Hello, fellow educators and guardians of compassionate learning! Today, we embark on a transformative journey towards redefining disciplinary practices through the lens of restorative justice and resilience-focused mindset. Prepare to be inspired as we delve into a realm where exclusion, as a last resort in response to behavior, is reframed as an opportunity for connection, growth, and healing.

At Starr Commonwealth, we recognize the profound impact of trauma on young minds and the urgency of cultivating safe, nurturing environments within our educational spaces. It’s time to bid farewell to punitive measures that fracture relationships and breed resentment and, instead, embrace a mindset centered on restoration and reconnection.

Imagine this scenario: a student grappling with challenges beyond their control acts out in a way that disrupts the classroom environment. This might trigger an immediate exclusion in traditional settings, perpetuating a cycle of disengagement and isolation. But what if we paused, took a collective breath, and approached the situation with empathy and understanding?

Enter restorative discipline—a proactive and holistic approach rooted in the principles of healing and accountability. It begins with nurturing a culture of belonging and empowerment, where every voice is valued, and every behavior is viewed as an opportunity for growth.

Before exclusion becomes the default response, let’s explore the power of staying connected. This means reaching out to the student and their family, not with judgment or blame, but with genuine curiosity and support. It means engaging in restorative conversations that foster empathy, reflection, and mutual understanding.

In addition to maintaining connection, consider implementing restorative circles within your classroom or school community. These circles provide a structured space for dialogue, allowing participants to share their perspectives, express their feelings, and work collaboratively toward resolution. By embracing restorative circles, you create a sense of collective responsibility and empower students to become active participants in their own growth and development. This, in turn, serves as a proactive and universal approach to prevent behaviors that are hurtful to the learning environment!

Furthermore, let’s not overlook the critical role of reintegration meetings. Within the system of education, we understand that sometimes exclusionary practices are deemed necessary, especially in ensuring the maintenance of a safe learning environment for both staff and students. As such, when removing a student from their learning environment is deemed necessary, the need for a reintegration meeting upon their return to school is critical! These gatherings bring together all parties involved in the incident that took place, creating a sacred space for healing and reconciliation. Here, relationships are reaffirmed, harm is acknowledged, and plans for moving forward are collaboratively devised. This is where the real work of accountability, learning from mistakes, and learning empathy takes place.

But the journey doesn’t end there. Restorative discipline isn’t just a reactive measure; it’s a way of life. By adopting the Circle of Courage philosophy, we equip ourselves with a framework that honors the innate resilience and potential of every student. Start with universal approaches that promote belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. And for those in need of additional support, offer targeted interventions that address underlying needs and teach essential skills while we simultaneously work to fulfill any unmet needs that exist.

So, dear educators, let us embark on this transformative journey together. Let us reclaim discipline as an act of love, healing, and empowerment. As we navigate the challenges ahead, let us remember the profound impact we have on shaping the hearts and minds of the next generation.

Together, we can create a world where every child feels seen, heard, and valued. Let’s make it happen, one restorative connection at a time.

School readiness and success: Are you meeting basic needs?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Circle of Courage model of Resilience

Conversations and curriculums to promote school readiness in early childhood programs tend to focus on cognitive development, academics, concentration, and focus. In many cases, the priority must be basic needs. For children to be successful in school, they need to be well-fed, sleep well, feel safe at home, and have confidence in themselves. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a popular theory, which focuses on a series of needs to be successful.  He considered five needs – physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization- and put them in a pyramid. A person reaches their fullest potential, beginning with the foundational aspects of the basic needs – physiological and safety – and only when those needs are met does a person eventually reach self-actualization.   

The Circle of Courage, a model of resilience, suggests there are four universal needs for all human beings. These fit within the framework of Maslow’s Hierarchy and include belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity.

Both are helpful reminders that all learners are less likely to succeed if their basic needs are unmet. And for many children experiencing too much stress and trauma, their needs are not met.  The hierarchy of needs can help identify gaps; for example, breakfast might need to be provided for children who come to school hungry.

Considerations and Suggestions for meeting needs in early childhood centers

If you go through the details of the needs, this may become clearer in the context of children who are experiencing stress and trauma and what they need most to have a successful school experience.

Physiological needs include proper nutrition and water, access to fresh air, and enough rest, exercise, and warmth. Trauma-informed considerations include:

Is the child eating enough nutritious food?
What is the child’s sleep schedule?
Does the child have shoes that fit correctly?

Suggestions to meet physiological needs:

  • Snacks, free and reduced breakfast, and lunch options.
  • Available drinking water, working drinking fountains, and extra water bottles for those who need them.
  • Extra clothes, coats, hats, and mittens for accidents and playing outside in colder weather.
  • Nap or rest time.
  • Plentiful undirected play and exploration.

Safety needs are about security and feeling safe – physically and emotionally, as well as the need to have shelter/home and stability in one’s life. Trauma-informed considerations include:

Does the child know what to expect?
Do they have a predictable routine?
Is support provided when the child is learning a new skill?

Suggestions to meet the need of safety:

  • Rules – many verbal reminders and visuals posted.
  • Expectations – consistent and follow through.
  • Support during transition times.
  • Feedback and support with everything.

Belongingness and love have to do with others, the social side of feeling that you belong, are connected, loved, and included. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have friends?
Is the child securely attached to at least one caring adult?
Have adults modeled how to share and take turns?

Suggestions to support meeting the need for belonging and love:

  • Cooperation experiences with ample support.
  • Opportunities to take turns and share toys and supplies.
  • Plentiful social and playtime with other children.

Esteem, Mastery, and Independence concern the inner self – having feelings of achievement, being recognized, having power over one’s life, and being a unique person with strengths and talents. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have someone who pays attention to their achievements?
How often does the child receive compliments?
What is the child good at doing?
Does the child have access to co-regulation with a caring adult?

Suggestions for meeting the needs of esteem, mastery, and independence:

  • Notice children – often smile, wink, fist bump, and say their names.
  • Compliments from adults and peers.
  • Laughter and smiles galore.
  • Practice and support with emotional awareness and regulation.

Self-actualization and Generosity involve achieving one’s full potential, being creative, and finding that specialness of oneself. Trauma-informed considerations:

Does the child have access to a safe area to play with supervision?
Has the child ever completed a chore such as putting away toys in a box?
Does the child show empathy for others?

Suggestions to meet the needs of self-actualization and generosity:

  • Free play and exploration.
  • Opportunities to help one another.
  • Age-appropriate classroom jobs.
  • Service learning – making pictures/cards for hospitals.

Find more resources for supporting kids in early childhood care here.

Sparking Joy: Transformative Time-In Strategies for Resilience-Focused Learning Spaces

In the vibrant realm of shaping young minds, where every moment holds the potential for transformation, we often encounter challenges that disrupt the journey of growth and learning. However, amidst these moments lies an opportunity to transform behaviors and lives. At Starr Commonwealth, we believe in the power of joy, resilience, and trauma-informed care to create safe and supportive classrooms where every student can thrive. Join us on a journey to explore practical time-in strategies designed to nurture resilience, foster connection, and empower both you and your students.

Embracing Time-In Strategies

As trauma-responsive educators, we firmly believe in the stark contrast between time-in strategies, which nurture a student’s sense of belonging and resilience, and exclusionary practices that jeopardize their connection to the school community. By embracing time-in approaches, we prioritize building supportive relationships and fostering a culture where every student feels valued, respected, and empowered to thrive.

Time-in strategies offer a beacon of hope, guiding us toward meaningful connections and transformative moments in the classroom. Instead of resorting to punitive measures, time-in strategies invite students into a space of reflection, growth, and restoration.

Practical and Proactive Strategies

  1. Mindful Moments: Begin each day with a mindful moment, inviting students to center themselves through deep breathing or gentle stretches. These mindful moments can include no movement, small movements, or large movements depending on what the student’s body needs to achieve regulation. This sets a positive tone for the day and cultivates emotional regulation skills.
  2. Emotion Check-Ins: Create a safe space for students to express their emotions through check-in circles or journaling exercises. Encourage active listening and validation of each other’s experiences, fostering empathy and a sense of belonging.
  3. Calm Corners: Designate a cozy corner in the classroom equipped with calming activities such as coloring books, sensory bottles, or soft pillows. This provides students with a refuge to self-regulate and recharge during moments of distress.
  4. Strength-Based Affirmations: Integrate strength-based affirmations into daily routines, acknowledging each student’s unique talents and contributions. Celebrate their resilience and growth, fostering a culture of positivity and self-empowerment.
  5. Restorative Circles: Engage in restorative circles to address conflicts or challenges within the classroom community. Facilitate open dialogue, active listening, and collaborative problem-solving, promoting accountability and reconciliation.

Responding to ‘Disruptive’ Behavior

When faced with behaviors that are disruptive to the learning environment, it’s essential to approach them with empathy and a trauma-informed lens. First and foremost, we must always remember to maintain our curious mindset, being inquisitive about what the child is attempting to communicate to us. What need has not been met for that child that they are seeking to get met in the best way they know how? Instead of reacting impulsively, consider the underlying needs or triggers behind the behavior. Here are some strategies to respond effectively:

  • Stay Calm: Maintain a calm demeanor and avoid escalating the situation. Take a moment to breathe and collect your thoughts before responding.
  • Validate Feelings: Acknowledge the student’s emotions and validate their experiences. Let them know you’re here to support and help them navigate through challenges.
  • Offer Choices: Provide the student with options to regain control and autonomy. Offer alternative activities or ways to address their needs within the classroom environment.
  • Reconnect: Focus on rebuilding the connection with the student through positive interactions and reaffirmation of their strengths. Emphasize that mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning.

Embrace the Journey

As you embark on implementing these time-in strategies, remember that change takes time and patience. Embrace the process with an open heart, knowing that each small step you take has the potential to make a profound difference in the lives of your students.

Trust in the resilience of your students and yourself. Together, let’s create classrooms where joy, compassion, and learning flourish hand in hand. Let’s cultivate a culture of connection and empowerment, one time-in strategy at a time.

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mind body skills

Sensory-based strategies: Support Children’s Learning and Behavior

What is a sensory-based intervention or strategy?

Sensory-based strategies involve any five senses: Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch—the central nervous system changes based on the input of various sensations. When a child of any age is engaged in learning and can complete tasks, their central nervous system is regulated and balanced. However, when a child is having difficulty with learning, engaging with peers and adults, or has behavior that prevents them from functioning well at school or home, their central nervous system is dysregulated in some way. It is either in a state of hyper-arousal where you might see a child unable to sit still, pay attention, or express defiance or aggression. Or perhaps you might observe a child who is in a dysregulated state of hypo-arousal, where you might observe a child who refuses to participate, ignores direction, withdraws, isolates, or spends a lot of time sleeping or numbing by misusing electronic devices or substances.

Engaging children in sensory-based strategies can help re-regulate their nervous system regardless of the dysregulation. This happens because sensory-based strategies target the brain’s area responsible for heart rate, muscle tension, and respiration (breath). Based on the stimulus received, these brain functions can be re-regulated (either slowed down or sped up). For example, if a child can’t sit still, allowing them to go for a walk or use their hands to draw or solve a puzzle will help exert some of their energy and calm their nervous system down. For a child who is disengaged and lethargic, taking a cold drink of water or intentionally noticing the environment around them will stimulate their nervous system to be more alert.

  • Sensory-based strategies you can use today:
  • What do you see?
    Invite the child to notice their surroundings. Ask them to identify all the objects around them, naming them out loud. (i.e., clock, desk, coffee mug, pencil, notebook). As a variation, ask the child to notice all the objects around them of a particular color. (i.e., name all the red objects you see.)
  • Trace your hand.
    Ask the child to straighten their arms in front of them with their palms facing down and spread out their fingers. Then, ask if they are left or right-handed. With the dominant hand’s pointer finger, tell the child to trace around each edge of the non-dominant hand with their finger.  Repeat this several times.
  • Sensory pathways.
    Create a pathway on the floor using stickers or sticky notes with instructions for children to follow. For example, hop on one foot, two jumps forward, arms stretched out, skip for three counts, march in place, etc.
  • Walk, run, or do jumping jacks in place.
  • Tension and Relaxation.
    Invite the child to notice various muscles in their body. Guide them to tighten and then relax each muscle. (I.e., fists, biceps, glutes, toes). Repeat several times.
  • Offer headphones.
    Offer headphones that cancel out all noise or allow for listening of calming music.
  • Hand on chest, hand on belly
    Ask the child to place one hand on their chest and the other on their belly either when seated or standing. Then, invite them to take a few breaths and notice where they feel the breath. Repeat. You can ask the child to take a few deep breaths and then finish with a few normal breaths.
  • Provide a drink of water or a small mint or hard candy if the child is old enough and choking is not a potential risk.

Sensory-based strategies can be implemented to support children in successful learning and behavior. Rather than getting frustrated with disengaged children or not behaving in ways that keep them on task and interacting successfully with others, notice the dysregulation. Once you see the dysregulation, you can determine what the child might need most to regain a balanced state in their nervous system.

Embracing Joyful Learning: Prioritizing Play and Empathy in Secondary Classrooms

In the vibrant tapestry of education, every thread contributes to the rich fabric of student growth and empowerment. As we navigate the complex landscape of trauma-informed teaching, let’s weave in the colorful threads of play, brain breaks, and sensory-based interventions, especially in our secondary classrooms. Because who said learning can’t be a joyful adventure?

Spark of Play: Let’s reimagine our classrooms as playgrounds of possibility! Introduce games, collaborative challenges, and interactive experiences that ignite the imagination of even our most stoic learners. After all, age is just a number when it comes to the joy of play. When students engage in play, they’re not just learning; they’re exploring, discovering, and building connections with each other and the material. In these moments of play, barriers dissolve, and the magic of learning truly shines.

Refresh and Recharge: Picture this… a classroom buzzing with energy and enthusiasm, punctuated by joyful movement and reflection moments. That’s the power of brain breaks! By infusing our day with these rejuvenating pauses, we invite students to stretch their bodies, quiet their minds, and reconnect with their innate curiosity. Whether it’s a spontaneous dance party or a peaceful mindfulness exercise, these breaks are like bursts of sunshine amid academic clouds, energizing our students for the journey ahead.

Sensory Symphony: Welcome to the sensory wonderland of learning! Sensory-based interventions offer a kaleidoscope of tools and experiences to support our students’ diverse needs. From squishy stress balls to soothing textures, these interventions empower students to regulate their emotions and engage with learning on their own terms. And yes, embracing the unknown can be an adventure in itself! Let’s embark on this journey with open hearts and minds, celebrating the joy of discovery and growth.

Pro Tip – Be the Guiding Light: As we continue our venture into this realm of joyful learning, let’s illuminate the path with empathy and understanding. Introduce new tools with intention, guiding students through their use and embracing the beautiful chaos of exploration. Together, let’s co-create a classroom agreement that honors each voice and fosters a culture of respect and collaboration. In this space of shared ownership, every stumble becomes a stepping stone towards greater empathy and resilience.

Here are 10 joyful ways to begin prioritizing play in your learning space today:

In the mosaic of education, every student deserves a place to shine. By embracing play, brain breaks, and sensory-based interventions, we not only create trauma-responsive classrooms but also cultivate communities where every voice is heard and valued. So, let’s embark on this journey with joy in our hearts and curiosity in our souls, lighting the way toward a future of inclusive education and radiant futures where every child can flourish.

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How adults can help youth engage in helpful and appropriate social media use

Social media is not inherently helpful to young people. The impact of social media and what youth see and do online depends on several variables. An adolescent’s personality, psychological characteristics, social circumstances, context in which they have grown up, strengths, and vulnerabilities are all characteristics that determine social media’s effect on youth.

Adolescent development is gradual and continuous. Therefore, depending on the child, appropriate use of social media should be based on self-regulation, intellectual growth, comprehension of potential risks, and their home environments. Overall, the best outcomes occur when there are limits and boundaries around how youth use social media. Discussions and coaching between children and adults around the appropriate use of social media are a must. Youth need to understand time limits, recommended content, how to use the “like” button, and most importantly, how their behavior on social media can be used, stored, and shared with others.

Some social media can be beneficial. For example, functions that support social support and companionship help youth who otherwise feel isolated, want access to like-minded peers, or seek mental health support. On the other hand, when social media interrupts sleep and physical activity or supports excessive social and physical comparison or maladaptive behaviors such as eating disorders or self-harm, social media can be harmful. Social media that pays excessive attention to behaviors related to beauty and appearance have been shown to result in poorer body image, disordered eating, and depression among adolescents.

The Surgeon General’s 2023 social media and Youth Mental Health Advisory’s Call to Action includes:

  • creating tech-free zones,
  • encouraging in-person interactions
  • modeling responsible social media behavior
  • educating youth about appropriate social media use.

There is also a push for digital and media literacy curricula in schools and with academic standards, so educators and students strengthen digital resilience – the ability to recognize, manage, and recover from online risks such as cyberbullying, harassment and abuse, and excessive media use.

Simple tips for youth include:

  • Take social media breaks.
  • Turn off notifications to limit distractions during studying and socializing.
  • Unfriend, unfollow, mute any social media accounts that do not show you respect or make you feel good about yourself.
  • Track screen time. Try to decrease the time.
  • Prioritize sleep, physical activity, and in-person interactions with family and friends.

Surgeon General’s 2023 Social Media, Youth, and Mental Health Advisory

American Psychology Association 2023 Health Advisory on Social Media Use in Adolescents

Cultivating Belonging: Alternatives to Suspensions for Nurturing School Communities

One of the most common misconceptions about schools becoming trauma-informed and resilience-focused is that the approach allows space for excused behaviors and creates opportunities for students to escape the consequences of their choices. However, this could not be further from the reality of the philosophy and fundamental pillars of creating a trauma-responsive disciplinary system.

Conventional disciplinary actions like suspensions often fail to address the underlying needs of students and families, jeopardizing their sense of belonging and connection within the school community. However, there are alternative strategies grounded in a trauma-informed, resilience-focused mindset that prioritizes support and growth over punitive measures. Research consistently underscores the harmful effects of suspensions on students’ academic performance, mental well-being, and prospects (Skiba et al., 2011). Rather than perpetuating cycles of disconnection, schools can adopt proactive interventions aimed at tackling the root causes of behavioral issues while fostering a culture of belonging.

One powerful alternative is the implementation of restorative justice practices. Emphasizing accountability, empathy, and the restoration of harm, restorative circles, mediation, and dialogue offer students opportunities to reflect on their actions, understand their impact on others, and collaboratively seek solutions that promote healing and reconciliation. Within a robust restorative practice implementation, the process would include proactive and universal structures to prevent harmful behaviors and reactive structures to repair and restore the harm once it is done. Having both ends of the restorative spectrum fully in place is key when aiming for the most impactful and effective implementation.

Moreover, trauma-informed approaches recognize that disruptive behaviors often stem from unresolved trauma or unmet social-emotional needs (SAMHSA, 2014). Introducing trauma-sensitive practices into the curriculum and school environment creates safe spaces where students feel supported, understood, and empowered to navigate challenges constructively. It empowers staff to apply a curious mindset to consider what is or has happened in a child’s world, contributing to their decision-making process. This includes considering which Universal Needs are being met and unmet (Belonging, Independence, Mastery, and Generosity) and considering the student’s private logic contributing to their emotional reaction which drives their thoughts as they consider their choices. Once we identify which areas of their Circle of Courage are broken, we can create plans to intentionally mend those broken Circles and meet their needs proactively as we foster healing.

When considering consequences to apply in response to a challenging experience within the school, one should always aim to:

  • Apply a curious mindset: Staff should consider the background and circumstances of the student before applying any consequences. This includes recognizing any potential trauma the student may have experienced, such as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), socioeconomic challenges, or mental health issues. By understanding the context, administrators can approach the situation with empathy and tailor consequences accordingly.
  • Focus on Belonging: Instead of resorting solely to punitive measures, staff should prioritize building positive relationships with students. This can involve engaging in restorative practices such as open dialogue, active listening, and problem-solving discussions. Strong relationships foster trust and understanding, essential for effectively implementing restorative consequences. If exclusionary practices are required due to the nature of the incident, communication with the student and family, while they are being kept from school, is critical, along with scheduling a time to connect with the student upon their reintegration into school to reestablish that connection and sense of belonging.
  • Promoting Accountability and Growth: Restorative consequences should aim to hold students accountable for their actions while providing opportunities for reflection and personal growth. Staff can achieve this by involving students in decision-making and encouraging them to take ownership of their behavior. Restorative consequences should be either natural or logical and focus on repairing harm, restoring relationships, and helping students learn from their mistakes.
  • Encouraging Empowerment and Agency: Staff should empower students to actively participate in the restoration process. This can involve providing opportunities for students to express their perspectives, identify the impact of their actions, and participate in creating solutions. Students are more likely to feel invested in the outcome and motivated to make positive changes by fostering a sense of agency.
  • Prioritizing Support and Well-being: Administrators should consider the student’s well-being when implementing consequences. This includes providing appropriate support services, such as counseling, mentorship, or academic assistance, to address underlying issues contributing to the behavior. Restorative consequences should not exacerbate trauma but promote healing, resilience, and overall well-being.

By considering these factors, administrators can ensure that consequences are trauma-informed and restorative in nature, ultimately fostering a positive school climate and supporting the holistic development of students. Prioritizing alternatives to suspensions rooted in a trauma-informed, resilience-focused approach preserves the sense of belonging and connectedness of students and families and cultivates a school environment where every member feels valued, supported, and capable of overcoming challenges together. By investing in proactive interventions prioritizing growth, understanding, and community-building, schools can lay the foundation for a more inclusive, equitable, and nurturing learning environment for all.

The Vaping Epidemic

Vaping is a public health concern of epidemic size identified by several health agencies, including the United States Department of Health and Human Services, The Public Health Administration of Canada, the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 2.1 million youth currently use e-cigarettes.

What can you do as an adult to help prevent vaping and intervene if you know a child is vaping?

Be Curious

  • Ask children why they started vaping. Ask children what benefit they are currently receiving from vaping.

Many children start vaping because of peer pressure and the desire to fit in, or they may be interested in all the different flavored vaping liquids available to them. They come in fun flavors, have sleek, enticing packaging, and can be charged in a USB port. Youth who vape have been led to believe that vapes are much less harmful than cigarettes.

  • Consider a child’s experience of stress and trauma.

There is research linking stress and trauma exposure to the use of e-cigarettes. Children who have experienced the following are more likely to vape:

  • Emotional abuse and neglect
  • Exposure to verbal interpersonal violence
  • Household substance abuse
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental problems with police
  • Poverty

Meet unmet needs.

Trauma and stress experiences are often associated with children who do not have their needs met. Needs include:

  • Secure attachment to at least one caring, stable adult.
  • Belief that they possess an area of strength, talent, or ability.
  • Emotional awareness and the ability to manage emotions and behavior.
  • Feeling valuable to others.

If you identify an area with an unmet need, try to meet that need through experiences. This builds resilience.

  • Connect with the child. Notice the child. Let them know you are their champion.
  • Point out areas of strength and talent. Encourage the child to engage in experiences where they can practice their abilities.
  • Co-regulate and teach the child emotional awareness and ways to regulate their feelings and behavior when overwhelmed.
  • Provide children opportunities to help you or others.


Talk to children about why e-cigarettes are harmful to them. It’s never too late to quit. Some children are not aware that most vapes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive and can harm brain development. Exposure to nicotine negatively affects a child’s learning, mood, and attention. The aerosol from vapes can contain harmful and potentially harmful substances, including:

  • Cancer-causing chemicals
  • Heavy metals (nickel, tin, or lead)
  • Ultrafine particles
  • Flavorings with chemicals that are linked to severe heart and lung disease.
  • When addicted to nicotine, it is hard to stop.
  • Some kids turn to vaping to try to deal with stress, but vaping often becomes a source of stress.

We must remember that vaping, like all maladaptive behaviors, is a clue. It is a child’s way of communicating what they need most. For some children, the need is to feel a sense of belonging and connection among their friends. For others, vaping gives them something to do because they do not feel like they are good at anything else. Many believe vaping will help them regulate emotions that they have never been taught how to manage. Others may feel like offering a vape to a peer is a way to make them feel like they have value to others.

Building Resilient School Communities: Making PBIS Trauma-Informed and Resilience-Focused

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) has been widely adopted in schools as a framework for promoting positive behavior and preventing disciplinary issues. However, as our understanding of trauma and its impacts on learning and behavior evolves, it becomes increasingly clear that as we implement PBIS in our schools, we must also adapt some the principles to become more trauma-informed and resilience-focused. By integrating trauma-informed practices and fostering resilience, schools can better meet the diverse needs of their students and create environments where all learners can thrive.

Trauma-informed PBIS recognizes that many students have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or other traumatic events that can significantly impact their behavior and ability to learn. Traditional disciplinary approaches often exacerbate trauma by focusing solely on punishment rather than addressing the underlying causes of behavior. In contrast, a trauma-informed approach seeks to understand the root causes of students’ behavior and provides support and resources to help them cope and heal.

One key aspect of a trauma-informed approach to PBIS is creating a culture of safety and trust within the school community. This involves building strong relationships between students, teachers, and staff based on empathy, understanding, and respect. When students feel safe and supported, they are more likely to engage in positive behaviors and seek help when needed.

Additionally, trauma-informed PBIS emphasizes the importance of providing students with opportunities to develop resilience—the ability to bounce back from adversity and overcome challenges. Resilience is a critical skill that not only helps students navigate the ups and downs of academic life but also prepares them for success in the future.

So, how can schools make PBIS more trauma-informed and resilience-focused?

  • Professional Development: Teachers and staff need training on trauma-informed practices and how to recognize the signs of trauma in students. By increasing awareness and understanding, educators can better support students who have experienced trauma and create a more compassionate learning environment.
  • Culturally Responsive Practices: It’s essential to recognize that trauma manifests differently across cultures and communities. Schools must incorporate culturally responsive practices into their PBIS framework to ensure that all students feel seen, heard, and supported.
  • Universal, Group and Individualized Support Plans: Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all approach to behavior management, schools should develop a multitiered approach to supporting students social emotional and behavioral growth. Designing universal systems of support for all students to access such as a Reset Room, small group-based supports with a specialist focused on teaching new skills, and individualized support plans for students who may be experiencing symptoms of traumatic exposure ensure a system where all students are seen and supported equitably. All these plans should address students’ unique needs and strengths and provide them with the resources and support necessary for healing and growth.
  • Implement Sensory Supports: Recognize that students who have experienced trauma may be hypersensitive to sensory stimuli and may struggle with self-regulation. Incorporate sensory supports into the classroom environment, such as providing fidget tools, noise-canceling headphones, or designated quiet spaces where students can retreat if they feel overwhelmed. Be mindful of the classroom environment, minimizing unnecessary distractions and creating a calming atmosphere that promotes a sense of safety and predictability.
  • Community Partnerships: Schools cannot address trauma and build resilience alone. Collaboration with community organizations, mental health providers, and other stakeholders is crucial for creating a comprehensive support network for students and families.
  • Strength-Based Restorative Approach: Finally, schools should adopt a strength-based restorative approach to discipline that focuses on building on students’ strengths and assets rather than dwelling on deficits. By highlighting students’ resilience and capabilities, educators can empower them to overcome challenges and achieve their full potential. Within this approach we provide students an abundance of opportunities to hear what is great about them and specifically what they are doing well with, rather than focusing on what they are not doing well with. *Consider this as you begin to evaluate classroom color-coded behavior management systems and point systems to manage behaviors.

In conclusion, making PBIS more trauma-informed and resilience-focused requires a shift in mindset and practice. By prioritizing safety, trust, and support, schools can create environments where all students feel valued and empowered to succeed. By integrating trauma-informed practices into PBIS, we can build resilient communities where every student has the opportunity to thrive.

Supporting Staff Towards a Resilience Focused Mindset Shift

Mindset is the most critical step for making lasting changes within a school or organization aspiring to be trauma-informed and resilience-focused. We know that when trauma-informed, resilience-focused adults work within trauma-informed and resilience-focused systems, the well-being of all children increases. However, like with any change, people will experience various reactions to a shift in mindset. Keep in mind that for some, trauma-informed, resilience-focused best practices are the opposite of long-held beliefs driving the practices they have been using for decades. We often see people oscillating between responses such as frustration, blame, doubt, anger, and worry before moving to a place where they can start to learn and implement new approaches. It helps to understand four main types of people, their responses, and strategies to help support them when encouraging mindset shifts. The four types of people you might encounter are historians, resistors, fence-riders, and change leaders.

Types of people and how they respond to change.

Historians. Historians are people who reminisce. It is not that they are opposed to change, they are just not ready to stop doing what they have done for years. They may say things like, “It never used to be this way,” or “behavior is getting worse.” They are used to the way things have been, and even though they see areas for improvement, they are hesitant.

Resistors. Resistors are not enthusiastic about change in whatever form it takes. They will probably only change when given no choice. Resistors openly challenge change. They are convinced that changes will not work and will look for any example to prove they are correct. Resistors may try a strategy one time, and if it doesn’t go well, they will say, “See, I knew this would not help.”

Fence riders. Fence riders will make up most of the population in every organization. They tend to stay on the edge of trauma-informed discussions. They are not fully bought in, but they are not entirely opposed. They are generally open to change once they know it will optimize their performance. Fence riders see strategies work for someone else before buying into their value and benefit if you must select a person to spend time and energy with, choose a fence rider.

Change Leaders. Change leaders are forward thinkers who are prepared to lead the agenda rather than follow. For them, the future isn’t something to respond to but rather shape themselves. They jump in with both feet. They champion the mindset and are ready to implement strategies immediately. They are the first to adopt a new mindset and improve upon practices, so they become operationalized within an organization.

Once you know how a person responds to a proposed shift in mindset, you can try some strategies to support you. People have a fantastic capacity to change and do well when provided with education, strategies, practice, and feedback to help them along the way.

Strategies to encourage mindset shifts.


  • Build connections and relationships.
  • Get curious about why they wish to return to the past. “What works well about what you have always done?”
  • Ask them share stories and examples of what worked well in the past.
  • Invite them to discuss what worked and what did not work in the past.
  • Provide facts and research.
  • Avoid debates.
  • Give them time.


  • They will need to see the historians and fence-riders using strategies before they agree to join in.
  • Start slow.
  • Invite to discussions.
  • Be consistent and patient.
  • Listen.
  • Mirror what they say. “I heard you say that you do not think the strategies will work.”

Fence riders

  • Build connections and relationships. Focus on fence-riders.
  • Set up individual meetings where they can ask questions and share any hesitations.
  • Provide opportunities for them to see strategies in action.
  • Provide them with various experiences for side-by-side modeling.

Change Leaders

  • Nurture this relationship.
  • Advocate for change leaders to chair committee meetings.
  • Invite them to discussions and ask them to speak and share experiences and examples.
  • Encourage them to help with system-wide policies and procedures.

Now that you understand the types of people, you might want to look at a roster of your staff members and identify each person according to their type. From there, you can create a strategy for implementation. All types will benefit from Starr’s trauma-informed, resilience-focused training.

Fostering Healing Communities: Implementing Trauma-Responsive Restorative Practices in Schools

Establishing safe and nurturing environments is paramount for the comprehensive growth of students. Educators across the world are working diligently to identify effective strategies to strengthen skills of empathy, conflict resolution, and interpersonal communication within their students. Acknowledging the widespread occurrence of trauma and its influence on the learning process, educators are progressively embracing Restorative Practices within their classrooms. This proactive and responsive approach aims to diminish conflicts, revive relationships, and mend harm within the classroom setting.

Understanding Trauma:
Before delving into Restorative Practices, it’s essential for educators to develop a deep understanding of trauma and its symptomology. Trauma can manifest in various ways, impacting a student’s ability to learn, engage, and form positive relationships. By adopting a trauma-informed lens, educators can create an empathetic and supportive environment that addresses the unique needs of each student.

Proactive Implementation of Restorative Practices:
Proactive restorative practices form a solid foundation for cultivating a positive learning environment by fostering strong connections and open communication. By establishing clear norms and agreements, educators empower students to take ownership of their behavior, resulting in increased accountability, reduced conflicts, and a sense of shared responsibility. This approach not only prevents disruptions but also contributes to a supportive classroom community that prioritizes the holistic well-being of students.

Three proactive strategies you can implement in your learning space include:

  1. Build Strong Connections:

   Begin by fostering strong teacher-student relationships. Regularly check in with students, create a safe space for them to express themselves, and validate their experiences. Strong connections act as a foundation for implementing restorative practices effectively.

  1. Classroom Routines and Agreements:

    Doing things ‘with’ one another instead of ‘to’ one another is a foundational pillar of the restorative work. Collaboratively establish classroom routines and agreements with students. This empowers them to take ownership of their learning environment, promoting a sense of agency and shared responsibility. When conflicts arise, refer back to these agreements as a guiding framework for resolution.

  1. Circles and Check-ins:

   Integrate circle practices into your routine. Circles provide a structured opportunity for students to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Regular check-ins help educators stay attuned to the emotional well-being of their students, creating a preventative approach to potential conflicts while fostering a strong sense of belonging within the culture of the class.

Responsive Implementation of Restorative Practices:
Responsive restorative practices provide a structured and empathetic framework for addressing conflicts, allowing for deeper understanding and resolution. By facilitating restorative conferences that bring affected parties together, educators not only address the immediate issues but also promote a sense of community and accountability. This approach fosters an environment where conflicts are opportunities for learning, growth, and the restoration of relationships, contributing to a more resilient and harmonious classroom dynamic.

  1. Addressing Conflict with Empathy:

   When conflicts arise, approach them with empathy. Understand that behaviors may be rooted in trauma, and seek to uncover the underlying unmet needs first. Having a curious mindset about what may be happening or has happened in a student’s life is a critical component of a resilience focused and restorative mindset.  This approach shifts the focus from punitive measures to understanding, helping both educators and students develop a deeper awareness of one another.

  1. Restorative Conferencing:

   Instead of traditional disciplinary methods that often lead to exclusionary practices that break the sense of belonging between the student and their school community, opt for restorative conferences when appropriate. After doing pre-conferencing work to ensure safety and predictability of the conference, bring affected parties together in a safe space to discuss the impact of the conflict, explore feelings, and collaboratively work towards resolutions. This approach encourages accountability and promotes a sense of community.

  1. Teach Conflict Resolution Skills:

   Integrate conflict resolution skills into the daily curriculum. Equip students with the tools they need to navigate conflicts independently, empowering them to become active participants in the restoration process. Explicitly teaching, modeling, practicing, and reinforcing these skills the same way we would teach a reading or math lesson is necessary in developing the whole child.

Implementing Restorative Practices in a trauma-responsive way requires a commitment to building a community where empathy, understanding, and healing are prioritized. By proactively establishing a supportive environment and responding to conflicts with restorative approaches, educators can contribute to the creation of nurturing learning spaces where students can thrive academically and emotionally. Through these efforts, educators play a pivotal role in fostering healing communities within their classrooms and beyond.

Nurturing Minds: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Fostering Student-Educator Relationships

In the realm of education, the adage “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” holds a profound truth. As educators, our primary responsibility extends beyond the delivery of academic content; it encompasses the holistic well-being of our students. A trauma-informed approach recognizes the impact of adverse experiences on a student’s behavior and emphasizes the crucial role of positive relationships in fostering a conducive learning environment. With so many priorities fighting for our attention, it can feel overwhelming to “find the time” to foster a sense of belonging as a proactive approach to creating safe and supportive learning environments. Wondering where to start? Here a few ideas to try!

Cultivate a Safe and Inclusive Environment
Building a trauma-informed classroom starts with establishing an atmosphere where students feel safe and accepted. Recognize and validate diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Foster a sense of belonging by incorporating inclusive practices that celebrate individuality. A safe environment is the bedrock upon which trust and connection can flourish.

Quick strategies: teambuilding brain breaks like the name game, engaging in an interest inventory, and creating a shared classroom calendar of upcoming events that are important to your students, writing a co-created classroom charter everyone agrees to of how to treat others.

Practice Active Listening
Engaging in active listening is a powerful tool for understanding and connecting with your students. Take the time to truly hear their thoughts, concerns, and experiences. By demonstrating empathy and understanding, educators send a powerful message that students’ voices are valued. This validates their emotions and builds a foundation of trust.

Quick strategies: open ended journal prompts, inviting students to sign-up for lunch with their teacher, attend extra curricular activities your students are involved in, join a student(s) at their table for lunch, and leverage student conferencing as a chance to check in with how they are doing emotionally prior to talking about academics.

Be Consistent and Predictable
Consistency provides a sense of stability that is especially crucial for students who may have experienced trauma. Establish clear expectations, routines, and consequences. Predictability helps alleviate anxiety, allowing students to focus on learning rather than navigating uncertainty. Consistency fosters a sense of safety, which is paramount for building trusting relationships and promoting positive behavioral outcomes.

Quick strategies: implement proactive classroom circles or meetings regularly, utilize restorative circles in response to solving issues that arise, elicit student feedback when creating classroom norms together, establish classroom routines and rituals that you teach, model, practice and reinforce, and focus on what students are doing well before you have to correct what needs improvement.

Model Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Educators serve as role models for their students. Demonstrating healthy coping mechanisms for stress and adversity can positively influence students’ own strategies for managing challenges. Share your own experiences and coping mechanisms, creating an environment that encourages open dialogue about emotions and self-care. This vulnerable two-way communication helps establish trust and authentic connection between all involved.

Quick strategies: model your own body map, name when you are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed and demonstrate how taking a deep breath helps you, share personal experiences of age-appropriate trials and tribulations that helped you recognize your inner strength, and find moments of joy to share with your students to highlight positive emotions as well.

Collaborate with Support Systems
Building relationships extends beyond the classroom walls. Collaborate with parents, guardians, and other support systems in a student’s life. Share insights about a student’s strengths, challenges, and progress. This collaborative effort reinforces a unified front, ensuring that the student receives consistent support both at home and in the educational setting.

Quick strategies: positive outreach to family members via phone/email/text/note highlighting what their child did well with today, inviting families into the classroom to engage in learning alongside the class, ensure diversity in classroom celebrations that represent the cultures of your students, invite students to bring artifacts from home to display or present to the class, send pictures of their child excelling at something home, and provide regular newsletters to families informing them of important information regarding the classroom learning.

Prioritizing relationships with students as a proactive approach to foster characteristics of resilience and support positive behavior is not just an educational strategy; it is a commitment to the well-being of the next generation. By embracing trauma-informed practices, educators contribute to the creation of a nurturing environment where students feel valued, understood, and empowered to thrive academically and emotionally. In these connections lie the seeds of positive behavior and a brighter future for all.


Behavior is your clue: Understanding the window of tolerance

Behavior is communication. Even though adults often tell children to “use your words,” the reality is that children (and adults, too) often struggle to find the words to describe what they are feeling and what they want or need. This is especially true when stress is high. This means that being hungry, tired, bored, overstimulated, worried, scared, angry, or just plain frustrated makes language difficult. For this reason, look to behavior as a clue to help you understand what a child is currently experiencing.

For example, if a child is cooperative, engaged in play or learning, pleasant in nature, and finds it easy to use words to talk about what they are doing or to ask or answer questions, these are all behavior clues that the child is well-balanced. They are not too tired, hungry, bored, overstimulated, worried, scared, angry, or frustrated. We can say here the child is in their window of tolerance.

When not well-balanced and perhaps tired, bored, scared, or worried, you might see behaviors that indicate hypo-arousal, like clinging, whining, inattentiveness, refusing to do things, and appearing foggy and tired. When a child is hungry, overstimulated, angry, or frustrated, you might see behaviors that indicate hyper-arousal, such as yelling, fighting, defiance, impulsiveness, aggression, and an inability to sit still. When in a state of hypo- or hyper-arousal, a child is not in the window of tolerance.

Emotional awareness is the ability to notice being in or out of the window of tolerance.

If you notice the child is not in their window of tolerance and does not yet have their own emotional awareness, it means that the child needs you to prompt them by saying something like, It seems like you aren’t feeling balanced. Let’s take a minute to check in and see what might be going on. How does your body feel? What might your body need to feel more balanced?”

This is a time for a pause. Listen to the child, provide them with suggestions if they are unable to voice how they feel in their body. Perhaps ask them to point to the part of their body that feels most stress or tense.

“It seems like you might need to take a pause. It is okay; let’s pause to see what you need to feel better.”  “I am noticing you are (clinging, arguing, etc.) and when we don’t feel balanced our body can get tight, hot, tired, or even filled with a lot of energy.”

When a child notices they are not in the window of tolerance, they can learn to tell you they need a pause. If not, the adult can encourage a pause for the child, letting them know that this does not mean they are in trouble; it means you are helping them to notice their body is not in balance.

Emotional awareness is something children need to learn and practice. Children need repetitive opportunities to be made aware of when their bodies are and are not in the window of tolerance. Help them describe how their body sends messages to help them know if they are in or out of their window of tolerance. Behavior is a clue that will help you notice when a child is dysregulated. Instead of focusing on the behavior, get curious with the child about the signals their body is sending to them.

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Circle of Courage

Looking through a Circle of Courage Lens: Why the “other kids” are not the “other kids”

It is bound to happen. In a school, a daycare, a sports practice – maybe even in the middle of a religious service. A child – of any age – will misbehave, perhaps melt down, and even experience a crisis because, for any number of reasons, they cannot manage their overwhelming feelings. Their reactions in these moments can be intense, scary, aggressive, or destructive.  Trauma-informed, resilience-focused adults can help support and regulate a child when this happens, using de-escalation and co-regulation tools and strategies. This is helpful for the child who is in crisis.

Other children and adults, however, often wonder, “What about the other kids?” This is a fair question that is prompted by additional concerns such as:

  • Is it all right for children to witness others struggling? Will it traumatize them?
  • Who will attend to and care for the children not currently in crisis?
  • Why don’t children who act out and cause disruptions have more consequences?
  • It isn’t fair that some children have more attention from the child-caring adult in charge than others.

Let’s look at how we might view these scenarios through the lens of the Circle of Courage resilience model. Throughout, the questions to the above frequently asked questions will be addressed.

Adults can prepare children in their care for these scenarios so everyone knows what they can expect—telling children what might happen, how the adult will respond, how the adult will prepare them for this kind of experience, and what will happen afterward.

All children need to feel a sense of connection and belonging – no matter what. It should not depend on their willingness or ability to be a particular person. Belonging isn’t a privilege but a fundamental human right (Shalaby, 2017). Children don’t get traumatized because they are hurt; they get traumatized because they are alone with that hurt (Mate, 2021).

A script for the adult:
Everyone struggles from time to time. Depending upon what is happening in your life or what has happened, along with your ability to cope, will depend on how you respond to certain situations. This does not make you bad or good – it just is. Chances are, we will experience someone in our group having a hard time – this could be a hard hour or even a hard day. I want you to know that if that happens, I will do what I can to help that person feel better. I will not be mad at that person, and they will not get in trouble. If they are struggling – it means that they need my help. I will ensure you all have a chance to learn and practice what you can do if something like this happens. When someone is struggling, things might get loud and unstructured, but I will do everything I can to keep all of us safe. I may be able to do that independently, or I might call another adult to help me. Later, when things settle down, we will always have an opportunity to talk together about what happened if you want to. We can do that as a group or individually. Even if one of us disrupts our room, everyone will always be welcomed back when calm and settled.

We cannot assume that all children have learned to regulate their emotions and behaviors. Children must have several opportunities to learn and practice emotional awareness and regulation.  Just like learning to read and solve math problems, children must be taught skills and engage in experiences to try out what they have learned.

A script for the adult:
We will spend some time practicing techniques to help relax our bodies. We will practice different ways to slow down our breathing, close our eyes, imagine a happy memory, color designs, draw pictures, or write down our thoughts and feelings. All of us should practice how to calm ourselves down. I want you to feel good at calming yourself down, but I know this isn’t easy for everyone – it takes time and practice.

Children feel safe when they know what to expect and when they are given choices about how to respond in potentially disruptive situations.

I want you to know that this room might not feel very calm if a child struggles. However, even if it is noisy or chaotic, please know I will take care of that. I will keep my voice even and stay in control.  You can do what you need to do for yourself and others around you. Maybe you will try one of the relaxation techniques we practice. You may find that you want to go out into the hallway; you can do that; please stay close to the wall by our room. You may find that you want to put your head down on your desk, which is all right, too. Maybe you will want to sit with one of your friends. You have a choice about how best to take care of yourself.

I know it might not seem fair for those of you who are not disruptive and stay calm most of the time – you might think, why don’t you spend so much time with me, or why doesn’t that person get into more trouble? I understand why you may feel that way. Nevertheless, I have learned that what is fair is not always equal – some of us need more support than others. You know, I would need a lot of support picking apples from a tree because I am not very tall – I might need a stool (or a ladder), but someone else might be able to reach up and pick apples easily because of their height. Is it fair that I get a stool, but the other person does not? The other person does not need a stool, silly, but I do! So, this is the same as staying calm. Some of us find it more difficult than others, so some need more support. That is how it works – if someone needs something, we try to give it to them. As far as consequences are concerned, I think that if a person has a tough time, that is enough pain, and it does not do anyone any good to make them feel worse by punishing them on top of it. I will instead help teach them to better manage a situation next time with additional strategies and practice. I will support them.

We all have difficulty managing our emotions and behavior occasionally. This can be especially difficult when going through a particularly stressful time or have a history of very stressful experiences in our lives. We feel valuable when we can have empathy for and provide support to others.

A script for the adult:
Try to understand that the person struggling is not trying to be “bad,” but rather, they cannot manage their emotions and behavior and need help. You may find that you want to be with one of your friends and find a place in our room where you can sit together while I attend to the child who needs me, and if that is the case, please join your friend. If you are someone who feels good about your ability to calm yourself down and you find others having a hard time with what is happening in the room, please help your friends if they need support. I appreciate that we will all look out for one another.

There are no “other kids”; there are all kids. Providing unconditional connection and belonging, tools to help children manage their behavior and emotions, the agency to make choices when faced with difficult situations, and permission to use their value to support others can empower all children.

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Shalaby, C. (2017). Troublemakers lessons in freedom young children in school. New York, New Press.
Mate, G. (2021). The Wisdom of Trauma. Zaya Benazzo. Science and Nonduality.

    Nurturing Yourself: A Trauma-Responsive Approach to Post-Holiday Self-Care by Practicing Resilience

    The holiday season, with its festive cheer and joyful gatherings, often marks a time of celebration and togetherness. However, for many individuals, the holidays can also bring about stress, triggering memories of past traumas and exacerbating existing emotional wounds. As the holiday decorations come down and the new year begins, it’s crucial to shift our focus towards self-care, especially from a trauma-responsive perspective as we continue with our daily lives working to become the best versions of ourselves.

    Acknowledging and Validating Sensations & Emotions

    Trauma can resurface during the holidays due to various triggers, such as family dynamics, social expectations, or reminders of past events. Recognizing and validating these bodily sensations and emotions is the first step towards self-care. Understand that it’s okay to feel a range of emotions, and giving yourself permission to experience and express them is essential for healing.

    The first step is often self-auditing and keeping a record to understand the full picture. There are many ways to do this, but we recommend our simple Distress Indicators worksheet, featured in 10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed, Resilient School.

    Download your free Distress Indicators worksheet

    Creating Safe Spaces

    After the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, carving out safe and comforting spaces becomes imperative. This could mean designating a cozy corner at home, finding solace in nature, or establishing boundaries with others. A trauma-responsive self-care approach emphasizes the importance of feeling secure in your surroundings to foster healing and recovery.

    Mindful Practices and Grounding Techniques

    Engaging in mindful practices and grounding techniques can be powerful tools for those navigating trauma. Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or grounding exercises help anchor individuals in the present moment, offering a respite from intrusive thoughts and memories to find even the smallest moments of joy to feel a sense of relief. 

    Connecting with Supportive Networks

    Isolation can intensify the impact of trauma on our brains and bodies. Actively seeking connection with understanding and supportive individuals is crucial for post-holiday self-care. This could involve reaching out to friends, family, or even joining support groups where experiences can be shared in a safe and non-judgmental environment.

    Prioritizing Physical Well-Being

    Trauma can take a toll on both mental and physical health. Prioritizing self-care from a trauma-responsive perspective includes paying attention to your physical well-being. Learning to listen to your body is a great first step in the healing process. Getting adequate sleep, eating nourishing meals, and engaging in regular exercise contribute significantly to overall wellness and resilience.

    Seeking Professional Guidance

    For those navigating complex trauma, seeking professional guidance is a crucial aspect of self-care. Trauma-informed therapists or counselors can provide a safe space for processing emotions and developing coping strategies tailored to individual needs.


    The period following the holidays is a crucial time to shift focus inward and prioritize self-care, especially for those with a trauma history. By acknowledging emotions, creating safe spaces, engaging in mindful practices, fostering connections, prioritizing physical well-being, and seeking professional support when needed, individuals can embark on a journey towards healing and resilience. Remember, self-care is not selfish; it’s a vital component of reclaiming control and building a foundation for a healthier, more empowered future.

    Resilience I Spy

    Finding the Circle of Courage in Action

    Start the New Year with a focus on resilience by teaching your students about the Circle of Courage. Then, challenge them to eye-spy the resilience model’s components in action. 

    Circle of Courage: A Model of Resilience

    This resilience model is easy to teach students of all ages.

    We all have four universal needs. When these needs are met, we feel our best. But we will not feel our best if even one of the four universal needs is unmet. When even one is missing, we might feel sad, frustrated, worried, or angry. Let me tell you about the four universal needs. 

    The first one is Belonging – we feel good when we feel like we belong. This can be at school with friends or at home with our families. We feel connected to other people when we feel a sense of belonging. 

    The next universal need is Mastery. We feel good when we can accomplish and are good at something – this can be like solving a math problem, learning a new skill while playing a sport, or drawing a picture that makes us proud. 

    Independence is the third universal need. This need is met when we control our emotions and behavior. This doesn’t mean we don’t get upset – it just means if we get upset, we know what to do to help ourselves feel better, so we don’t lose our temper or misbehave. 

    The last universal need is generosity. We get this need met when we feel helpful and valuable to others. 

    To review, we all need to feel like we belong or are connected to others, are good at something, can stay in control of our emotions and behavior even when we are upset, and feel like we are valuable to other people.

    Offer your students an I Spy Challenge

    As a fun way to start the new year, I am challenging you to a game of eye-spy. In this game, I want you to try to notice your classmates and me when we are getting any one or more of our universal needs met or helping another person obtain one of their needs.  

    Whenever you notice the Circle of Courage in action, you can raise your hand and say, “Eye-Spy”. Then, you can tell us what you saw. For example, when a classmate greets another student when they enter the room by saying, hello, they are making that person feel like they belong. If a student helps another student learn how to solve a tricky math problem, they demonstrate mastery. When a student asks for a break instead of yelling or getting angry, they are showing us independence. And, lastly, if I ask a student to bring something down to the office for me, they are being generous. 

    Ask students to give you more examples. You can add the examples to a whiteboard, so they are easy for students to reference. Then, start the challenge. You might want to have one or two students keep track of how many universal needs in action are spotted by using a tally for each.  You can play along too. Set a goal for the class for a total number of universal needs spotted during the day. Reinforce the importance of all students getting their universal needs met to feel their best. When all students are aware of others and strive to help meet their needs, the overall classroom culture and climate will improve. 

    Stress and Trauma in Disguise

    Jack, a 3rd grader, has difficulty paying attention to the teacher and staying in his seat in the classroom. He often blurts out answers without raising his hand and never stops fidgeting. He looks so much like he has ADHD. 

    Susie, a 6th grader, never smiles these days. She keeps mostly to herself and barely submits her assignments. When asked if she is alright, she shrugs and replies, “I’m fine.” Maybe she is depressed? 

    Mary is a kindergartener. She is always very jumpy and nervous. Her hands sometimes shake. She spends much time looking out the windows and at the classroom door. When her friend was late last week, she started crying. She was worried her friend may have gotten killed in a car accident. I wonder if Mary has anxiety. 

    Stress and trauma result in emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms and reactions that are often mistaken for other mental health disorders. However, emotions, behavior, physical symptoms, and responses are often clues of acute or chronic stress. When we observe these symptoms and reactions and are not curious about their origin, we can easily mistake them for other mental health disorders. This is why many children are labeled or misdiagnosed with a mental health disorder when stress or adverse life events are to blame. 

    Examples of emotional symptoms include worry, mood swings, crying, clinginess, anger, overreactions to minor things, isolation from friends, sadness, and feeling hopeless. These symptoms and reactions, at first glance, look very similar to those of depression. 

    Behavior-related examples observed in stressed and traumatized include withdrawing from friends, changes from regular eating patterns, overusing substances such as drugs or alcohol, finding it hard to make decisions, inattention, lack of focus and concentration, trouble remembering things, fighting, arguing and defiance, difficulty sitting still or calming down. Many of these behaviors fit the criteria for ADHD.

    Lastly, physical symptoms include headaches, stomachaches, nightmares, nervousness, feelings of panic, dizziness, fatigue, chest pain, and trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. These are certainly like those present in anxiety disorders. 

    All these symptoms and reactions are expected in the first hours, days, and a couple weeks following exposure to stress and trauma. The number of overlapping symptoms and reactions between stress, trauma, and mental health disorders requires us to be careful not to make assumptions.

    This is why it is so important to understand stress and how it impacts children. Then, curiosity can help you explore what the child needs most. When curious about observed symptoms and reactions, you might think, “I wonder if something is happening with this child? What is driving the symptoms, reactions – the emotions and behaviors I see – or even the physical complaints this child tells me about?” 

    Jack is hypervigilant because he lives in a violent apartment complex where fights break out regularly. 

    Susie’s grandmother recently died, and her grandmother was her primary caretaker. Mary is experiencing symptoms of depression because she is grieving the loss of her grandmother. 

    Mary witnessed a car accident on her way to school last year, and she is constantly worried someone she loves is going to end up in a car accident.

    Children’s Grief and Loss

    Grief and Loss

    Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. Grief reflects what we love and for this reason, it can feel overwhelming and all-encompassing. Any loss can cause grief. We often think about death when we hear the word grief. Still, losses can also include living losses like separations, absences, and departures that are very common with divorce, estrangement from a family member, and having a loved one who is in the military or incarcerated. The loss of connection such as when a person you are attached to becomes chronically ill, struggles with mental health issues or addiction. We must also consider the loss of pets and animals and the experience of moving homes, schools, or even teachers when a child moves from one grade to the next. 

    When a person experiences grief they usually report both emotional and physical symptoms. These symptoms and reactions should be normalized and validated. Say, “What you are feeling is normal considering what you have experienced.” There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Grief is individual and unpredictable. Even two children grieving the same loss might respond differently. Let children know it is alright to laugh, play, and have fun simultaneously as they are experiencing grief symptoms and reactions. 

    • Sadness and crying.
    • Loss of appetite. 
    • Trouble sleeping.
    • Headaches and stomachaches. 
    • Disinterest in activities or socializing or may want to be surrounded by people and with many activities. 
    • Fatigue. 
    • Difficulty finding the words to express feelings. 
    • Regression.
    • Anger.
    • Numbness. 
    • Non-linear healing (Feel alright one day or hour but not the next). 

    Grief and Trauma

    Prolonged, persistent, and complicated grief symptoms and reactions might indicate the experience is traumatic for the child. Sadness following grief is undoubtedly normal but when the reaction turns into one that appears more like terror, that is a trauma response. Similarly, it is typical for grieving children to be mad but when that anger becomes aggressive or assaultive, that too is a trauma response. Another indicator of a trauma response is when a child expresses the death or loss is their fault. For example, “If I wasn’t misbehaving while my granny was home with me, she would not have had a heart attack and died.” A shift in identity is also something to watch. In grief, the identity of the child remains intact but when a child’s identity becomes shifted or distorted as a result of the loss, that is more of a trauma response. For example, “kids with incarcerated parents don’t go to college.” 

    Helping Someone through Grief

    • Be patient and listen. Let the grieving person be seen and heard. If you don’t know what to say, that is alright, just be there and listen. Ask what you might do to help them feel even a tiny bit better.
    • Be nurturing. Offer kindness and care. Sensory support is helpful. Your presence, a glass of water or a snack, a blanket or plush animal to snuggle with can be very comforting. Downtime might be more necessary while grieving. 
    • Offer consistency. Boundaries and expectations should be kept in place however, they may require some flexibility during grief. Try to implement a routine so the child feels a sense of predictability.
    • Talk about the loss whether it is a person, place, or experience. Ask questions but don’t demand answers. Invite the child to share memories of who or what they are grieving if they wish to do so. 
    • Offer opportunities for expression. Children will experience relief when they can play, listen to or dance to music, draw, paint, or create other forms of art with simple supplies like paper plates, chenille stems, beads, fabric squares and buttons. 

    Giving and Gratitude: Experiences to lower stress and boost happiness in adults and children 

    Benefits of Giving and Gratitude

    The holiday season is upon us. During this time, there will be many opportunities to experience giving and gratitude both of which provide many benefits for health and overall well-being. This is essential knowing the stress today’s adults and children face. When we give and when we receive, we lower stress and boost happiness. 

    Giving time, energy, expertise, or even tangible things to others prompts the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good hormone. Giving, also known as generosity, provides the experience of feeling valuable to others. A sense of value is so important that Starr’s Circle of Courage resilience model includes generosity as a key universal need for all people, regardless of age, to feel whole. 

    Generosity is beneficial for the giver and when we are on the receiving end of generosity, we experience gratitude, also a well-being booster. Perhaps someone offers support, nature provides a beautiful sunny day before the weather turns cold, or a neighbor shares a baked good. The feeling we have in these moments is often described as calm, content, and grateful. Research supports experiencing gratitude makes adults and children happier overall and results in better sleep, less physical complaints, and an improved ability to cope with stress. 

    Giving and Gratitude in Action

    When adults teach and model giving and gratitude, children learn how to engage in each. The more opportunities a child has over time, the more giving and gratitude are part of their lives. And, as adults teach and model, they also reap the benefits.  However, just saying, “thanks” or dropping canned goods off at a food drive isn’t quite enough. There are three components necessary to gain the rewards associated with experiencing generosity and gratitude. These components include notice, feel, and response. 

    Here are some examples to help teach, model and practice embracing the experiences of giving and gratitude. As you read through and discuss each example, take the time to be present with how more awareness of what is happening allows a fuller experience of both giving and gratitude. 

    Giving in Action: Notice, Respond, Feel

    Example: Canned food drive at school 

    Notice:  There is a canned food drive at school. 

    Respond: I want to donate food to school. I bring canned goods to the food drive. 

    Feel: Helping others in need makes me feel good. My body feels happy, and I am proud of how I can do my part to help. 

    Example: Offering a friend help with schoolwork. 

    Notice: My friend is struggling in Math.

    Respond: I offer my friend help with Math problems that I understand. 

    Feel: I feel valuable because I was able to help support my friend. I feel more connected to my friend and good about myself for what I did to help. 

    Gratitude in Action: Notice, Feel, Respond

    Example: Being included in lunch.

    Notice:  She invited me to sit with her at lunch.

    Feel: I feel like I belong, and she likes me. I feel safe, connected, and calm.

    Respond: I smile and say, “Yes”.

    Example: A teacher being kind. 

    Notice: I was late to school. My teacher asked, “are you feeling alright – do you need anything?”

    Feel: My teacher noticed me and cares enough about me to ask how I am. This calms down my body and makes me feel safe to ask her if I need support. 

    Respond: I thank my teacher and tell her I will let her know if I need anything. 

    Giving and Gratitude Activities

    Talk to children about giving and gratitude or engage in one or more of the following activities. Remember to take time to identify the generous gesture, how it makes the giver and the receiver feel and how both respond.

    • Affirmation cards 
      • Color in affirmation cards that say things such as “I am thankful” or “It feels good to be kind.” 
    • Giving thank you notes, cards are artwork to others. 
      • Create thank you notes or cards with words or pictures for friends and colleagues. 
    • Giving and Gratitude Trees 
      • Draw a large tree on a board. Cut out paper leaves and write words or images on them that are examples of ways to give or things to be grateful for on them. Post them on the tree.  
    • My strengths can be used to help others. 
      • Create a list of strengths. What are you good at? As you look at the list, how can you use these strengths to help others who might benefit from your assistance. Put one of your ideas into action. 
    • ABC’s of gratitude 
      • Identify words for each letter of the alphabet that describe ways to be generous or give to others. Do the same with words that describe things, people, or experiences for which you are grateful.
    • Classroom meeting or circle 
      • During classroom meetings or circles, spend time talking about what generosity and gratitude means and how both can be experienced. 

    Take advantage of this time of year to experience the benefits both giving, and gratitude can provide. There will be countless opportunities all around you. Whether you are giving or receiving or helping children as they give and receive, pause, and notice, feel, and respond. 

    Dysregulation and Behavior: The Roots of Teacher Burnout

    In the demanding world of education, teacher burnout has become a critical issue, often rooted in the complex interplay of dysregulation and challenging student behavior. By understanding the underlying factors of these challenges, we aim to offer insights and strategies to support educators in navigating daily life in their classrooms, ultimately fostering a more sustainable and fulfilling teaching environment.

    Teacher Burnout Epidemic

    More than 70% of educators in a national survey report that students are misbehaving more now than ever. The most common unwanted student behaviors they observe in their classrooms include emotional and behavioral outbursts, constant fidgeting, nonstop chatter, inattention, getting out of seats to leave the classroom and defiance. The National Center for Education Statistics cites worsening student behavior as a reason for teacher burnout. More than four in 10 K-12 school professionals in the U.S. (44%) say they “always” or “very often” feel stressed at work, outpacing all other industries nationally making educators among the most burned-out groups in the U.S. workforce. 

    Student Mental Health Crisis

    Managing a classroom of students has always been a challenge but over the past few years, this job has become increasingly more difficult. The number of youths experiencing mental health symptoms and reactions such as anxiety, depression, attention problems and behavior dysregulation has increased. Mental health disorders since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic have continued to rise among children as well as adults.  Stressful and traumatic experiences related to the pandemic along with constant exposure to racial tension and political conflict have remained constant. Child maltreatment, domestic violence, and the overuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs have also increased. In 2021 a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health was declared by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This declaration comes with reports of a severe shortage in the number of mental health practitioners available to meet the demand.

    Emotional Dysregulation in Kids: The driver of misbehavior

    Often, what is observed as defiance, deliberate or intentional misbehavior may not be what it appears. It is a student’s best attempt to regulate their nervous systems. When students experience a significant amount of stress over a prolonged period, their bodies become dysregulated, thus over-active nervous systems. At times the need for movement can appear disrespectful and not aligned with classroom norms and rules. A dysregulated body cannot sit still as it demands a discharge of energy and activation from the stress overload. A dysregulated body, in survival mode, will do everything it can to regain balance even if that involves a fight or flight response.

    • An overwhelmed student can seem inattentive but really be worried about what happened at home the night before.  
    • An angry student appears to start unnecessary conflict with a teacher or another student however, they couldn’t control their body’s response to a threatening look or tone of voice. 
    • A student elopes from the classroom – they seem not to care but really it is their way of avoiding what they perceive as intimidating and scary.  
    • A student refuses to complete an assignment then you learn they were afraid of looking dumb in front of their classmates.  

    How to Heal a Dysregulated Nervous System to Return to Learning

    When educators view unwanted behaviors through a lens of being trauma-informed they can see that the real problem is rooted in a student who is dysregulated rather than a student who is “bad” and needs punishment. Dysregulated students need to feel safe by experiencing a sense of connection with a caring adult who is curious about what they need most. Reframing behaviors from what is observed to what the behavior is communicating can make all the difference. Behavior can be a clue to help understand unmet needs such as dysregulation – difficulty with emotional and or behavioral control. Giving up a need to know exactly what to do when unable to control classroom behavior and shifting to a mindset of curiosity can help.

    Starr’s Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Behavior Support Plan will help you become curious about the function of the behavior you observe, assess potential unmet needs for students and develop a support plan to help meet their needs. 


    American Academy of Pediatrics (2021). A declaration from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association: Retrieved November 10, 2023, from

    Marken, S. & Agrawal, S. (2023). K-12 workers have highest burnout rate in the U.S. Gallup Poll Education. Retrieved November 10, 2023, from

    National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Teachers’ Reports of Disruptive Student Behaviors and Staff Rule Enforcement. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from

    young black girl sitting in calming corner in classroom

    Calming Corners: How to Implement in your Classroom

    In the bustling world of education, where students and teachers are constantly navigating through a whirlwind of learning activities, introducing a calming corner can be an effective solution for many student needs. As reported in Starr’s Resilient Schools Project whitepaper, this is paramount to learning. While trying to individualize the instruction and social emotional supports for every student, the universal approach to creating a safe space for all students to learn is easily overlooked, but is truly the essential component of a resilience focused classroom.  

    The Importance of Calming Corners

    The modern classroom is a dynamic space filled with diverse personalities, learning styles, and energy levels. While excitement and engagement are integral to the learning process, moments of stress, anxiety, or overstimulation can also arise; having a dedicated space where students an retreat to find peace and regain their calmness is essential. This is where ‘Calming Corners’ come into play, not just as a physical space but as a transformative approach to classroom management and student well-being. ‘Calming Corners’ serve as dedicated spaces where students can take a moment away from the day’s demands, offering a retreat to regain composure and recenter their thoughts and emotions. 

    The Benefits of Calming Corners

    Children process a vast amount of sensory information daily. For some, this can be overwhelming, leading to sensory overload and emotional outbursts. Calming Corners provides a sensory-friendly area that helps students filter out the chaos and focus on regaining their emotional balance. The sensory benefits are countless but include: 

    • Visual Calm: Soft lighting and muted colors can reduce visual stimulation.  
    • Auditory Relief: Quiet spaces or the use of headphones can dampen the overwhelming noise of a busy classroom.  
    • Tactile Engagement: Access to stress balls or soft textures can offer comfort and grounding.  
    • Mindfulness Activities: ‘Time-in’ time is a great opportunity for students to do some breathing or movement to return to the center.  
    • Proprioceptive Input: Cozy furniture or weighted blankets can provide pressure that is calming to many children.  

    Designing an Effective Calming Corner

    Creating the perfect calming corner for your classroom doesn’t require a large budget or an expansive space. One of the best starting points to planning out a Calming Corner for your students is to include them in the process! Consider adding questions about what helps them feel peaceful, what type of objects help them focus, what colors make them feel calm, etc., during your next Circle Meeting. This involvement fosters a sense of ownership and ensures that the space resonates with the unique needs of the class. Here are some additional ideas and tools to help get you started:  

    • Selecting the Right Location: Choose a quiet, low-traffic area within the classroom. Ideally, the calming corner should be easily accessible but not in the midst of the main learning space. 
    • Creating a Cozy & Private Atmosphere: Use soft cushions, blankets of different weights and texture, and rugs to make the space inviting. Consider incorporating elements of nature, such as plants or nature-themed artwork, to evoke a sense of tranquility. Using bookshelves or room dividers is helpful to provide a sense of seclusion without complete isolation.  
    • Incorporating Sensory Tools – Provide a variety of sensory tools that support the students’ sensory systems.  
      • Visual: lava lamps, liquid timers, or calming jars  
      • Tactile: such as stress balls, fidget spinners, playdough or textured items.  
      • Auditory: headphones with calming music or nature sounds or noise canceling head phones 
      • Olfactory: a diffuser with calming scents such as lavender, peppermint candies to smell or eat, essential oil-infused rice bins or pillows 
      • These tools can engage different senses and help students channel excess energy or tension. 
    • Encourage Emotional Literacy – Introduce mindfulness activities, such as guided breathing exercises, calming music, or feelings charts. These visuals help children to identify and articulate their emotions while also providing them with step-by-step guides of how to practice these new skills. All of these resources can aid in relaxation and promote mindfulness. 
    • Personalization and Student Involvement – Incorporate art supplies to encourage expression through drawing or coloring, offering books about feelings can offer both comfort and learning. 
    • Maintain the Space – Keeping the area tidy and inviting on a regular basis will ensure it stays organized, warm, and inviting. Regularly rotating out the tools and resources will help to maintain the student’s interest. 

    Calming Corners are more than just a space; they are a testament to the evolving understanding of children’s emotional needs in an educational setting. In the ever-evolving education landscape, incorporating calming corners represents a thoughtful and proactive approach to student well-being. By acknowledging the diverse emotional needs of students and providing them with a dedicated space to navigate their feelings, educators can create a more holistic and supportive learning environment. As the saying goes, stressed brains can’t learn, and in the calm corners of our classrooms, students can find the balance needed to thrive academically and emotionally. 

    Empathy in Schools: The Brain Science and Its Crucial Role in Building Belonging

    Empathy, often described as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is not just a soft skill. It’s deeply rooted in our brain’s architecture and plays a pivotal role in trauma-informed, resilience-focused schools. Let’s dive into the fascinating world of empathy and its importance in the classroom.

    The Brain Science Behind Empathy

    “I feel your pain” is more than just a figure of speech. We can feel the pain of others in a modified form. Brain scans have demonstrated the existence of mechanism inside of the brain that allows individuals who are observers to unconsciously experience activations inside of their brain that mimic the same activations in the brain of the person they are observing. For example, someone watches another person receive an allergy shot in the back of the arm. When the observer watches the patient get poked by the needle on the arm, the same motor and sensory areas of the observer’s brain are activated that are activated in the person receiving the poke – just to a lesser degree. This makes it possible to empathize with another person but not become overwhelmed by their personal distress.  Brain cells called mirror neurons are responsible for this phenomenon and the result is empathy. Empathy helps create connections between individuals and fuels the feeling of compassion for another person. Just like the needle example, the same thing happens when individuals observe others’ facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language.

    Empathy in Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Schools

    Trauma can profoundly impact a child’s ability to learn and socialize. Schools that recognize this and adopt a trauma-informed approach aim to create a safe environment where students feel understood and supported.

    Empathy in the classroom is the cornerstone of such environments. When educators approach students with empathy, they:

    • Recognize and validate students’ feelings and experiences.
    • Create a classroom culture where students feel a sense of connection. 
    • Foster trust and safety in the classroom.
    • Promote resilience by helping students gain awareness of and navigate their emotions.
    • Helps balance students as they observe and interact with regulated educators. 

    The Circle of Courage and Empathy

    The Circle of Courage, a model of youth empowerment, identifies four universal growth needs of all children: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity. Empathy plays a crucial role in fostering a sense of belonging. When students feel understood and cared for, they’re more likely to engage, participate, and thrive.

    Strategies for Building Empathy in the Classroom

    1. Model Empathetic Behavior: Children learn by observing. Teachers should demonstrate empathy in their interactions.

    2. Storytelling: Reading books or sharing stories that showcase different perspectives can help students understand and appreciate diverse experiences.

    3. Role-Playing: This allows students to step into another’s shoes, fostering cognitive empathy.

    4. Active Listening Exercises: Teach students to listen without interruption, encouraging them to understand others deeply.

    5. Encourage Group Work: Collaborative projects can help students appreciate different viewpoints and work together harmoniously.

    6. Discuss Emotions: Create a classroom environment where discussing feelings is encouraged and normalized.

    Empathy is not just a moral virtue but a neurological process deeply embedded in our brains. In the realm of education, it’s a powerful tool that can transform classrooms into safe, nurturing, and empowering spaces. By understanding its importance and actively fostering it, we can pave the way for more compassionate and resilient future generations.


    Jankowiak-Siuda K, Rymarczyk K, Grabowska A. (2011). How we empathize with others: a neurobiological perspective. Medical Sciences Monitor. 17(1), R18-24. 

    Riess, H. (2017). The science of empathy. Journal of Patient Experiences, 4(2), 74-77. 

    How to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School | Foster Connections

    Foster Connections

    Students who feel connected to their school are also more likely to have better academic achievement, better school attendance, and stay in school longer.

    How can you connect to your students?

    One of the best ways to connect with your students is having classroom meetings. These meetings not only allows you to connect with students, but also allows the students to connect with each other and build community within the classroom.
    How can you implement a classroom meeting?
    Step 1: Form a shape (circle, square). Teacher and students discuss, decide, and practice:

    • Floor or chairs
    • Where, how do you get there?
    • Who do you sit by?
    • What does it look like?
    • What does it sound like?
    Step 2: Introduce a talking piece. This talking piece helps regulate communication between students. Whoever has this piece is allowed to talk. Talking pieces may be a toy, a stick, a stone, or another small object.

    Step 3: Practice using various topics to create proactive classroom meetings:

    • Get to Know You and Greetings
    • Who Am I
    • Compliments and Appreciations
    Below is a video of education professionals like yourself explaining the topics they talk about at their classroom meetings:

    10 Steps Book Cover

    For more implementation on how to foster connections in the classroom, check out Starr’s 
    10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School!

    Rupert Gallery

    The Growing Miscellany of Intriguing Relics

    In the early 1950s, what is now considered a treasured landmark on the campus of Starr was initially met as a peculiar gift. The story began when a Detroit attorney contacted Uncle Floyd. His client, Mrs. Emelie H. Brueckner, was interested in a bequest to Starr Commonwealth to build an art center. Starr was more interested in a cottage for his growing campus. However, as Keith J. Fennimore wrote in his history of Floyd Starr, Faith Made Visible, when hearing that the funds would be lost should Starr decline the offer of an art building, “Starr’s interest in the arts increased remarkably.” Many years later, and after building a collection from across the globe, visitors to the Brueckner Museum will find it only natural to have such a compelling building on campus. After all, beauty is a silent teacher.

    The latest exhibit displayed in the museum is thanks to Kimberly Rupert, whose family was stationed in China, among other places, throughout the 1940s and 50s. This collection, which includes items of ivory, jade, furniture, and more arrived in America when the Ruperts were driven out of China in the midst of the Communist Revolution of 1946-49. In honor and memory of her parents, this exhibit will be known as “The Rupert Gallery”, with a plaque commemorating Claude and Sara Rupert. Given the impact of the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76, particularly the destruction of pre-Communist art, Spring Arbor University’s visiting Chinese professors who visited the Rupert home frequently remarked on the uniqueness of the collection.

    Claude and Sara Rupert loved the Chinese people, and delighted in the opportunity to enjoy their art and culture and to share those items and memories with family and friends. We hope that experience may extend to those who have occasion to visit the Rupert Gallery of the Brueckner Museum for years to come. Starr Commonwealth Board of Trustees member and great grandson of Floyd Starr, Randy Neumann, has always held Brueckner Museum dear to the legacy of Starr, and welcomes the latest contribution. “My great-grandfather was very interested in the East,” recalls Neumann. “This gift is a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to the culture, craftsmanship, and beauty of China. I am grateful for the Rupert’s addition, which will touch the lives of many hurting children.”

    Kenneth Ponds Named Vice President of Oneness and Special Advisor to the President

    To further Starr Commonwealth’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion, Kenneth Ponds has been named to the newly created position of vice president of oneness and special advisor to the president.

    As an executive member of the cabinet and advisor, Ponds will provide expertise and guidance to the organization on topics and issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in all forms, furthering Starr’s core belief in the oneness of humankind. He will assist Starr Commonwealth in efforts to achieve its mission and vision on an organizational level as well as in its offerings and services.
    “For years, Starr has recognized that experiences of racism, toxic hierarchy, and oppression are experiences of individual, collective, and intergenerational trauma,” said Starr President & CEO Elizabeth Carey. “While we increased our efforts in this critical work, in the wake of recent social injustice and violence over the past few years, we knew we had to do more.

    “From his professional experience to his heart and passion, I am confident Ken is the perfect person to spearhead our recommitment and guide the entire organization ever closer to achieving true oneness of humankind.”

    Ponds previously served as campus chaplain for 40 years, and has since played a key role in Starr Commonwealth’s Glasswing Racial Healing program. Glasswing has been a cornerstone of Starr’s equity, diversity, and inclusion work since 1996, and has helped communities across North America “embrace the value of diversity with dignity.” Ponds will continue his contributions to Glasswing from an executive level as advisor, counselor, and mentor for staff.

    “It’s an honor to have this wonderful opportunity to help Starr continue its journey of equity,” Ponds said. “This has always been a core belief for Starr, and along with the opportunity to help young people in their spiritual journey is what attracted me to Starr Commonwealth.

    “This commitment to connection—with the ultimate goal of love that Floyd Starr envisioned over 100 years ago—is one that lives close to my heart. I am honored to help Starr and its partners continue to grow and making love visible in the lives of those we serve.”

    Important Details for Virtual Conference Attendees

    We are excited to have you join us for Starr’s first-ever virtual conference on July 20-22!

    We appreciate your commitment to learning new, trauma-informed and resilience-focused tools and approaches to supporting the children, families, and communities you serve. These are difficult times. Please know that your support for the children you serve IS making a difference! Your presence at this 3-day event will equip you with new tools to enhance this support, and we hope you find both the content and experience empowering and educational.

    1. Go to
    2. In the upper right-hand corner of the screen, enter your email address and password and select the green arrow button to log in. Forgot your password? Click here to reset it.
    3. Once logged in, click on your “Dashboard” then click on “2020 Trauma and Resilience Virtual Conference”.

    How to prepare for the conference

    To ensure an optimal experience, we recommend preparing the following prior to the first day of the conference:

    1. Access to a computer/laptop with a strong and consistent internet connection.
    2. Access to Each session will be streamed at using Vimeo’s streaming video platform. To test your access to Vimeo, you can sign up for a free course (Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools, Children of Trauma and Resilience) at and confirm you can see the course videos for the course at https://learn.starr.orgMore information on accessing your online content is available here.

    IMPORTANT: The Starr team will be unable to troubleshoot any individual issues that arise regarding connectivity issues during the conference. If you have any questions or concerns prior to the conference, please contact

    In addition, please ensure you have a comfortable space to settle into and move around in throughout each day. Much like a traditional conference experience, we will be building in breaks between sessions, but alongside that, make sure you have:

    • Access to a quiet, interruption-free environment (or as quiet of an environment as possible – for those with kids and pets, we understand this is easier said than done!)
    • The ability to sit and stand (whatever is most comfortable for you!), while still seeing your computer or TV screen (if you have the ability to cast/project to it)
    • Healthy snacks and beverages on hand, to keep your energy up.

    In fact, approach this like you are creating your own comfort corner, and we trust your virtual experience will be a great one!

    focus article by dr Caelan soma about universal needs

    ADHD? ODD? It Could Be Trauma

    Symptoms and responses following trauma or during chronic exposure to stress can look like many other disorders. Two of the most common diagnoses in the school setting for children of all ages are Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). It is very common for trauma to be mistaken as ADHD or ODD, even by the most well respected and experienced educators. The differential diagnosis isn’t easy, but it is helpful to understand how and why this common mistake is made.

    The differential diagnoses between trauma, ADHD, and ODD present significant challenges. First, there are several overlapping symptoms of PTSD, ADHD, and ODD. The diagnoses are not mutually exclusive, and there are currently significant assessment limitations.

    This reality is terrifying and convicting for many educators. Often, it is the classroom teacher who first suggests the idea that a child may have ADHD, and this suggestion typically results from the child not “fitting into the box” of behavior expected of students in traditional learning environments. Uninformed educators, social workers, parents, and even medical professionals can quickly turn this suggestion into a misdiagnosis if they are not asking the right questions. In the end, a child who has experienced trauma and needs therapy may instead receive medication to treat a condition they do not have.


    When children present salient symptoms that PTSD and ADHD share, begin to ask yourself: “Is it PTSD or ADHD? Both?” Unfortunately, this question is not an easy one to answer.


    Learn more about overlapping symptomology in the eLearning course Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis:

    To learn more about overlapping symptomology, or to make better decisions when diagnosing mental and behavioral health disorders, consider these offerings from Starr Commonwealth.

    Trauma in Disguise: Introducing Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis

    Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis is available now. Below, Dr. Cae Soma explains the origins of this course.

    How can one benefit from taking Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Assessment and Differential Diagnosis (TIRFADD)?

    TIRFADD begins to explain to professionals how and why mental health disorder symptoms and reactions we see can be misinterpreted. We call this “trauma in disguise”, and make critical connections through symptoms and reactions displayed by the child. These behaviors look and sound like other mental health disorders. What TIRFADD teaches is centered around an overlap in symptomology. In addition, it’s not enough to say there’s an overlap—we need to know why this overlap exists. So, TIRFADD explains how the manifestation of trauma in the body, overtime, often appears as other disorders

    What’s most fascinating, and an issue we dive deeply into in the course, is that the onset ages of mental health disorders follow the exact course of what’s happening in the body for those experiencing trauma:


    More and more research has been done about how trauma looks like every other mental health disorder. It starts with anxiety disorders and moves up into behavior disorders, mood disorders, and at the high school level we begin to see all of the at-risk coping skills (substance abuse, gang involvement, self-harm). We have known for a long time, at the clinical level, that these kids don’t have true ADHD. It then shifted to educators, where well-intentioned teachers refer parents to ADHD screenings.

    Doctors have not been trained in either med school or residency about the overlapping symptoms of mental health disorders and trauma. So, of course, a well-intentioned physician is trained to diagnose mental health disorders. That child may fit the criteria of a mental health disorder, but physicians are not approaching with a trauma-informed lens. When this occurs, either the symptoms and behaviors get worse, or things don’t get better. When things do get better, it’s because there is a true ADHD. Unfortunately, usually that does not happen—usually things get worse.

    This course was created for any practitioner, or parent for that matter, who has found themselves in this difficult situation.

    How did the overlap between trauma and ADHD symptomology, and subsequently the need for this course, come to be?

    Beginning in 2005, there has been a proposal for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ( - American Psychiatric Association) to include a new diagnosis known as Developmental Trauma Disorder. Starr has been teaching about it, and support the proposal of that diagnosis. Put simply, it explains how a child grows and develops within the context of toxic stress and trauma, of course they’ll have these symptoms like ADHD, etc. This was the first place where our attention was caught with overlapping symptomology. They put into words what we had experienced with children. Unfortunately, it has yet to be adopted for the DSM. We teach about DTD because it would be a tremendous diagnosis. As opposed to PTSD, DTD would explain that symptoms and reactions have been compounded over a lifetime, not based on a single event. For now, and with the help of TIRFADD, physicians can use whatever diagnosis they may need to get the best service for kids, but with the understanding that what’s driving that diagnosis is probably trauma. In this course, we’re going to give you as much information as we can to be as aware as possible about the overlapping symptomology. It’s a difficult subject, as it’s not black and white. We can’t just follow the symptom and reaction – most likely you’ll get what you’re looking for.

    We must remain curious and explore the possibility of what role underlying trauma may be playing in our children’s behavior.

    Trauma and Resilience Summit Panel and Film Viewing

    As part of the Summit experience, Starr is excited to announce that a panel of experts will be assembled to provide their first-hand experience in healing trauma and building resilience in clinical, educational, and residential settings.

    A special introduction will be given by Starr Commonwealth President & CEO Elizabeth Carey, where she will share her perspective on the intersection of human services, healthcare, and education, in addition to the many opportunities for future partnership to continue to empower professionals,  heal trauma, and build resilience in all children – so all can flourish.

    Meet the Panelists

    Following our expert panel, we will be showing the film Resilience: the Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope, with a Q&A with Starr Director of Professional Training & Coaching Kathy Hart.

    This event is free and open to the public. We encourage all attendees to invite their colleagues to this important forum. If you know someone who is driven to heal, refer them to our RSVP page, and you'll receive a coupon code for 20% any eLearning product on our store when they attend.

    Register for the full summit