By Kate Barnes, 6-12 Math Teacher at Caldwell USD 360
My trauma-informed journey started during the last school year. I finally gave in to my principal’s requests to fill out the Kansas Teacher of the Year application. I hated to think about being away from my classroom and my students for that many days. As a nominee, I had the privilege and honor of visiting PreK-12 classrooms in Andover, Augusta, Derby, Flinthills, Goddard, Haysville, Maize, Mulvane, Remington, and Wichita. All of my visits have transformed my teaching (and life) in ways I never imagined it would. This was the best professional development I ever experienced and my students benefited even though I had to spend many days out of the classroom.
One of my most memorable visits was to Derby Hills Elementary in Derby, KS. To be honest, prior to visiting Derby Hills, I really only knew about trauma informed as something that was starting to show up as a hashtag on twitter, and I had seen clips of an Oprah Winfrey interview where she called trauma informed care “game-changing.” The principal of Derby Hills Elementary, James Moffett, did a 45 minute presentation to our KTOY team giving an overview of trauma informed and the practices his staff was implementing. From that moment, I was hooked on learning more about trauma informed practices and ACEs. I gladly volunteered three days of my summer to attend a trauma-informed resilience training at ESSDACK when my district offered it to our staff. Little did I know I was going to be considered a resilience coach after this training, but thankfully, I met the amazing Jim Sporleder, James Moffett, Katie Perez, and Rebecca Lewis-Pankratz to start this newbie on the path of becoming trauma informed. It wasn’t just “game-changing”, it reignited my passion for teaching that had steadily been beaten down by high-stakes testing and constant school funding issues in the state of Kansas.
After visiting Derby Hills Elementary and gaining a vast amount of knowledge at the resilience training, I decided I would try having a peace corner in my 6-12 math classroom. I used pictures from that visit and looked at Pinterest to get ideas. I initially bought a screen divider and a dorm chair. I later added a tapestry to put on the wall, a mermaid pillow, and sensory toys like calm bottles. My hesitation was always that this maybe was something that my students would think they were too cool or too old for such a strategy. Turns out my high school students have used it far more than the middle school students!
I distinctly remembered Rebecca teaching us during one of her sessions that it takes 5-7 minutes for a student to become regulated. She also mentioned that drinking water helps flush cortisol (the stress hormone). I have witnessed these strategies work for students from all walks of life and different kinds of toxic stress or trauma. Trauma informed practices work for ALL kids, not just “that” kid from “that” family.
If you try a peace corner, you will face skepticism. That’s okay and perfectly normal. My colleagues have expressed the same concerns that I heard discussed at the resilience conference. However, I have not had students lined up for the peace corner simply to get out of doing work. Students are still expected to complete work and they do. I usually don’t even have to go back to invite students back to class. I have turned around and they were back taking notes without me having to say a word to them. I’ve only had one instance that a student didn’t exit after 5-7 minutes and she was in need of extra supports for circumstances that had nothing to do with the classroom. I still have the same high expectations and accountability I always have. I am excited that our counselor and at-risk coordinator are already making plans for calm rooms because of the success of the peace corner with the older students. Many of our elementary teachers are trying peace corners in their classes. I know I don’t nearly have all the answers, but I would be glad to help anyone that is considering trying a student with your students.