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.

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!

Trauma Informed Care in a School Setting

It sounds so easy: take care of the student’s needs before trying to educate them…

Practicing trauma informed care in a school setting is challenging. Some students have had years of being unsuccessful in school due to lifelong chronic stress and lack of support. It takes a lot of time, energy and manpower to build resiliency in these students.

Integration of trauma informed care into our schools has had many ups and downs. In the two years I have led this work in an elementary school and now in a middle school, I have had many fruitful discussions with staff who have voiced their criticism:

  • “All the Principal does is ‘talk’ to them and send them back to class.”
  • “He/She can’t do the work.”
  • “The kids don’t respect me.”
  • “There are no consequences for student behavior.”

One of the most challenging hurdles to overcome is convincing teachers that our traditional consequences for student behavior were not always logical consequences. At the same time, implementing a system of logical or natural consequences in a large school is difficult. In a school of over 1,000 students, 46 teachers and over 30 support staff, how do you ensure every employee has the proper mindset? We turned to Starr Commonwealth.

Starr brought their expertise and training to our district to provide every staff member with professional development around trauma informed care. Most of this training was providing the understanding of how trauma and chronic stress affects brain development. With this newfound knowledge, we first focused on our student system of support, which included our discipline process and our tier 2 and tier 3 support.

Once those systems were built through a trauma informed lens, we began focusing on how to increase teacher capacity to:

  • Build relationships with the students.
  • Be curious about the behavior.
  • Understand that student behavior is not personal.
  • Understand that being trauma informed does not mean letting students “get away” with unacceptable behavior.

The students used to be removed from the class so someone could reset them. However, in order to keep the students in the classrooms, the teachers were now the ones who needed to build relationships with the students. For so long, social workers, counselors, behavior specialists and administrators dealt with students who were not ready to learn, both academically and behaviorally. We turned that around by allowing the teachers to reset students while support staff watched their classrooms, requiring “circles” in the classroom to build relationships and community as well as strengthening teacher tier 1 behavior strategies while insisting on effective tier 1 instruction.

Our tier 2 and tier 3 strategies also needed developing. We created a system allowing teachers to refer students to our SST (Student Support Team) when they are still struggling in the classroom. The system of support is based on the Circle of Courage®, which is a model of positive youth development based on the universal principle that to be emotionally healthy, all youth need a sense of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. The first step with this team is to review the student referral, behavior, attendance and grades. From this review, the team determines which part of the circle needs repair. The SST discusses the student behavior and suggests strategies for teachers and support staff based on student need. After two four-week cycles of interventions, the student is moved to tier 3 and a cohesive behavior plan for those students is written.

Practicing trauma informed care is more than just not suspending students, or not taking them out of class; it is increasing teacher capacity to build resiliency in our students. To have a trauma informed classroom is the opposite of letting students get away with bad behavior – it is about providing them with the tools and reflection time to correct their behavior and regulate their mind and body. It is about providing routines, predictability and structure in their world that is often built on chaos and unpredictability. It is about providing them love and support in a world that can be full of criticism and hopelessness. It is about providing them a safe and comfortable environment that they can rely on. The more we expect of our students, the more they will thrive. Structure and high expectations builds the self-worth and confidence that many students with chronic stress desperately desire and need.

For some students, school may be the only setting in which they have a voice. Early on we must let our students know that in school we have high expectations – and a safe, predictable, orderly environment.

Self-Care & Creativity in the Trauma-Informed Workplace

Self-care in relationship to trauma work is an essential practice for professionals in this helping field. Without attention and connection to our own self-care, the demanding toll of aiding and supporting others in pain and distress can often leave us vulnerable to compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and burnout. In relationship to this necessity for provider self-care, this post will focus on considerations about one’s workplace environment and the role creativity can have as a trauma-informed practice.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, (2009), who is author of “Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others,” identified 16 Trauma Exposure Responses that can manifest within trauma workers “as a result of exposure to the suffering of other living beings or the planet,” (p. 41). These responses can range from, but are not limited to, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, experiencing pervasive exhaustion, an increasing incapability for empathy, and struggling with states of guilt, numbing, anger, and fear (Lipsky, 2009).

Experiencing minimized creativity in our work is also identified as a trauma-exposure response and also worth paying attention to. Using our sense of creativity in the work we do as trauma specialists is a critical, as it helps us be open to and see new ideas or solutions that can empower problem solving, growth and different ways to view situations, tasks and challenging issues with clients, co-workers and ourselves. In addition, when trauma exposure limits our ability to embrace the fresh air that creative thinking can breathe into our work, our efforts to help others may eventually feel immobilized without meaning, hope or new possibility. We also may become apathetic to working within systems, strategies and approaches that do not nurture professional growth, invite opportunities for change, or best serve the client’s needs and trauma recovery.

To support the value of creativity within the workplace, as well as offer one way to foster a healthy safeguard to decreasing the effects of trauma exposure and stress, here are some suggestions to consider implementing into your work practice and setting:

    Be mindful of the physical environment around your workspace and/or agency and how you could invite more joy, fun and creativity through the use of color, scents, sound, lighting and other sensory-based incentives. Some examples are adding a favorite, comforting piece of art, nature inspired items, plugging in a lavender air freshener, or a cheerful lamp to brighten the space.
  • Create a box or basket that includes easy, go-to comfort care items that help you engage in playfulness, relaxation, and re-energizing.
  • Establish a mandala coloring area in your staff break room or kitchen with colored pencils, gel pens or markers that you and your co-workers can use for a creative break. Print Mandalas is an online site where a variety of mandala coloring pages can be printed for free.
  • Include creativity into your agency’s staff meetings by beginning with a meaningful poem, song, story or image that relates to the organization’s values and mission. Invite staff members to take turns being responsible for this activity.
  • Support your co-workers and staff through making artsy notes of gratitude, affirmation or inspiring quotes on sticky notes and index cards to leave in workspaces or mailboxes. Use stickers, a magazine photo collage, and simple art materials to leave an expression of your appreciation, support or just for a creative hello. You could even institute an agency-wide event dedicated to this practice! Connection and encouragement from those we work with helps foster emotional resiliency and better manage work stress. Recognizing the challenges, achievements and commitment to our work in this tangible, creative form reminds us that our efforts do make a difference and have purpose.

Lipsky, L. V. N. (2009). Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday
Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Treating Trauma: Self-care for Providers
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Self Care for Providers
SAMHSA’s Homelessness Resource Center

Self Care and Trauma Work
Office on Violence Against Women, National Sexual Violence Resource Center and National Sexual Assault Coalition Resource Sharing Project

Transforming Compassion Fatigue into Compassion Satisfaction
12 Top Self Care Tips

Why Schools Need to Be Trauma Informed

Do educators and schools have an informed role to play in the lives of students struggling with unprocessed traumatic memories other
than providing cognitive learning experiences? Although schools are not mental health facilities and teachers are not therapists, teaching today’s students requires alternative strategies and skills compared to what worked a generation ago.

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