Cultivate Safe, Supportive School Climates Committed to Inclusion and Retention

Positive, supportive student-teacher relationships represent a particularly important external resource for children with behavioral and emotional problems (Wang, Brinkworth, & Eccles, 2013). Trauma-sensitive schools emphasize safety, caring, clear expectations, and consistent rules, which help promote connectedness, positive engagement, and learning (Cole et al., 2013). Brockton, Massachusetts, and San Francisco schools dramatically lowered their suspension rates by 40% to 89% after starting school-wide trauma-informed programs (Stevens, 2014).

Since children's brains are highly malleable (Perry et al., 1995), positive experiences with patient, nurturing, and supportive school professionals present profound opportunities to alter the functional capacity of children exposed to trauma and elicit healthier interpersonal functioning over time. Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) (Greene & Ablon, 2006) and restorative practices (Costello, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 2010) are noteworthy nonpunitive, relationship-based approaches to address challenging student behavior that promote emotional regulation, empathy, and positive skills development. CPS, a neurobiology- and trauma-informed approach, views challenging behavior as a reflection of cognitive skills functioning in three key domains (flexibility/adaptability, frustration tolerance, and problem solving) and lays out a flexible framework in which to develop “lagging” skills through alliance with the student (Greene & Ablon, 2006). Important school pilot study data showed a reduction in students' challenging behavior, behavior-related referrals, and rates of teacher stress (Schaubman, Stetson, & Plog, 2011). School-based restorative practices pair high behavioral expectations and clear boundaries with a high level of support in a community-centered climate (Costello, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 2010). Restorative practices work to promote positive, mutually respectful relationships and offer informal and formal approaches (e.g., affective statements and questions, small conferences) to address harm to people or relationships, promote personal accountability for wrongdoing, and create safe spaces for dialog between affected parties to discuss difficulties, identify solutions, and help prevent future episodes (Costello, Wachtel, & Wachtel, 2010). Both approaches share the view that problematic behavior should signal the start of a conversation with a student rather than the end of one.

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