We sat down with Lisa Shepard, the founder of Honey’s Way, and a keynote speaker at our upcoming Summer Institute for Educators of Behavior Disorder Students to talk about the challenges and opportunities she sees facing educators working with students who experience behavior issues. Read what she has to say, and register to join us in Grand Prairie on July 30th for the Summer Institute!
Q: What challenges do educators who work with behavior challenged students face in our schools and how can a better understanding of trauma-informed responses help them navigate these challenges in the classroom?
A: The role and sometimes expectations of our educators today are much different than any of us knew in the past. There are a variety of adversities that children and adolescents face – poverty, violence, and abuse and neglect – and there is now a growing epidemic of opioid addiction. Children are not equipped to handle adult problems and as a result sometimes act out their anxiety and frustration. This behavior appears to be disrespectful, aggressive, or withdrawn completely, however, for the children coming from homes who have the listed issues above, they are reacting to their environment that again feels threatening. Of course, this is confusing to someone whose primary purpose is providing those children with education. Teachers are also overwhelmed with duties, systems and expectations from parents, administration etc. Having to deal with students who systematically display troubling behavior can be tiring and difficult. As a result, educators sometimes resort to reacting to the child’s behavior vs. responding to the need of the child in the moment. Understanding how the brain works in children who suffer trauma allows for the educator to depersonalize the behavior and look to the need.
Q: How do you believe our schools can improve in serving students with mental health issues?
A: I believe schools are trying to do their best with what they have. I have worked in schools that have been willing and able to add certified mental health staff who can work with the child to address the behavioral obstacles and teach the student better problem solving skills. This type of atmosphere can be very helpful. Additionally, we need to recognize that mental health is as important, if not more important, than physical health. During the school year children spend more time at school than at home during the week. It becomes their community center, and we maybe should look at that. Schools can look at having mental health workers (social workers, therapists, etc) onsite to assist the school counselors who can also be overwhelmed with duties and responsibilities. I have worked in school districts that have one school counselor for 2 or 3 schools. There is no way to meet the overwhelming needs with that ratio.
Q: What is your biggest message to teachers who do not feel confident about their ability to help students with emotional and behavioral issues?
A: Uri Bronfenbrenner, who was in part responsible for the creation and development of Head Start, said, “Every child needs one adult to be irrationally crazy about him or her.” Troubled students need confident, caring and compassionate teachers. They want to be held accountable, but also understood. They want to be pushed, but through encouragement. They can be eager learners if they feel safe. Be open to understanding that a disrespectful child may actually be asking for help in the only way he/she knows and be open to looking past the behavior. We need to try to change the paradigm of thinking that children who act out are bad and deserve punishment. Be the teacher that is the champion for the student you believe to be suffering. Be open to learning the signs of a traumatized kid.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Teachers are over worked, underpaid and, in my opinion, underappreciated. It must be tiring for them to have “experts” come in and talk to them about these topics as they are always asked to do things differently. However the issues we see with kids now are so very different from the things we dealt with before. The school can be a haven and safe base for disenfranchised kids rather than of a cauldron of unrest. Bullying in schools is a constant and complicated issue. While every school discourages this behavior it continues nonetheless. In my practice I see kids from age 7-18. Everyone has a story of bullying that was not addressed sufficiently by the school. The kids are anxious, depressed, scared and worried all the time. Their behavior changes and their grades slip and they are terrified everyday. For some this turns into aggressive and violent behavior, for others they withdraw and are silent. The violent kids get the attention and detention etc. The quiet kids get ignored. And in most cases the bullies win. And that is not ok.
Join us this month at the 7th Annual Summer Institute for Educators of Behavior Disorder Students in Grand Prairie, Texas to hear Lisa speak in person. Learn more and register online.