• Reflection

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 5/12/2017 7:00:00 AM




    Typically my boys are very caring, loving brothers.  But occasionally, probably more often than I want to admit, it is like UFC toddler style in our house.  The two year old picks up a car that apparently the four year old wanted.  Then IT IS ON.  What follows is an epic, good versus evil, battle, hitting, scratching, biting... typically the four year old ends up crying while the two year old basks in the glory of victory.  At the end of each of these sessions I would ask the four year old, “What happened? Why did you get in a fight?” and he would always reply, “I don’t know, he just hit me.” He fails to remember, or mention, that he swung the fist punch.  Learning to reflect after a situation, really truly reflect, is hard.  We often focus only on what the other person did.  I think this is why it is so hard to move past a conflict. We get trapped in thinking about how the other person did us wrong and we lose sight that all interaction is an integrated experience and life is about give and take.

    Teaching students how to honestly reflect was one of the hardest components of teaching in classroom for students with Emotional Disturbances. CPI teaches us to use the COPING model as a way to help staff and students come to terms with the reality of a situation.  There are other tools to help with guiding someone through the art of reflection like PENT’s, “Thinking About My Behavior” and “Understanding How Feeling Affected My Behavior”.  PBIS World has a page dedicated to helping you find forms you can use that fit your style, like Wayne-Westland School District's grade level “Think Sheets” (KG, 1st, 3-5th grade)  I used to use this Reframing worksheet with my middle school ED Intervention class.  Reflection does not always have to follow a behavior incident either, being able to reflect on where you are in your life and your body is an important skill to learn as well.  Daily use of forms like the Emotions Worksheet are useful to understand how your everyday emotions have an impact on you.  

    A strategy I have put in place with dealing with my boys is implementing the 90-second rule.  I am going to talk more about this next year but if you can’t wait, check it out. It may, legitimately, change your life.  Now, I wait 90 seconds, prompt my son to take three deep breaths, and I ask him questions like, “What happened right before you hit him?  How did your body feel? How could you let him know the car was special and you were not done with it?”  I guide him through questions that will get him to the realization that he has ownership in the conflict… and I give him an ice pack, that two year old is brutal.  

    I am also, intentionally, providing times with limited distractions, where we all have to acknowledge our thoughts and then let them go. I incorporate Mindfulness exercises, tech free times, quiet time, into our daily life.  And while my boys are often fast and furious, they also have moments of profound clarity and calm.  Life is about balance, the wild and the tame, you cannot get that balance without a good dose of reflection.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Learn to Love the Blur

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 4/28/2017 7:00:00 AM

    Love the Blur


    I love to take pictures of my boys. In the four short years I have been a parent, I have taken thousands of pictures, and I have found a few consistent themes: they are adorable (biased); they smile a lot; and they do not sit still for long.  For every one adorable picture I get, there are probably thirteen that are blurry and unrecognizable.  At first I deleted the blurry pictures, focusing only on the pictures that instantly captured the calm, but in a moment of clarity I realized that my life is not calm; it is not static, nor is it always focused.   My boys go. They go fast and loud, and I love it.  I am always in awe of how often they change what they are doing.  They seem to bounce from one object to another, sometimes the younger one, now 23 months, looks like a pinball in the kitchen.  He carries one thing around for a few minutes until he finds something better, and makes the trade.  I find Hot Wheels in my kitchen drawer and spatulas in the toy box.  Whatever he has in his hands gets dropped when he finds something better.  In the picture here he is holding a dustpan.  Why he wanted to run around with a dustpan is lost to me but, for those few minutes, that was his prize possession... until it wasn’t.   In a world full of ADHD it is easy to worry that maybe my kids are overly hyper.  Seeing normative behaviors always helps to calm my worries and reminds me that the blur is developmentally appropriate.  Day 2 Day Parenting is a great site that helps parents sort the chaos of parenting and make sense of what is happening in the home.  In their article, Toddler Attention Span: How Long Should They Be Able to Focus?, they say from the months of 20-24 children are easily distracted and can usually focus for around three to six minutes.  Four year olds about eight to ten minutes.  They also point out, “If you have unrealistic expectations for your toddler’s attention span, it can often lead to temper tantrums and other upsetting behavior. Keep in mind that whether or not your child likes the actual activity, or is sick, tired, or hungry can affect his/her attention span.” Toddler Attention Span: How Long Should They Be Able to Focus?)  

    In their article, What is a Normal Attention Span?, the authors provide a simple easy way of assessing attention span, “using a child’s age as a general starting point for the number of minutes a child can attend to a single assigned task…so 5 minutes for a 5 year old, 7 minutes for a 7 year old, etc.”

    The knowledge that my boys are designed to only focus for a few minutes has helped to ease my mind.  I have embraced their wildness and proudly post pictures showing their energy and action, the blur.  

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • As I was going to St Ives

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 4/14/2017 7:00:00 AM


    For the last couple of weeks I have had a particularly annoying riddle stuck in my head; “As I was going to St. Ives,

    I met a man with seven wives, Each wife had seven sacks, Each sack had seven cats, Each cat had seven kits: Kits, cats, sacks, and wives, How many were there going to St. Ives?”  I have always had a certain hatred of word problems and this particular one drives me crazy.   The fast, easy answer is one.  “As I was going to St. Ives…” but the fact of the matter is they never say the other people were not going to St. Ives as well.  I was literally doing the math by writing it with my finger in the steam on the shower door.  In my madness for closure to the incessant repetition in my head I searched Wikipedia and found this infuriating fact;

    “All potential answers to this riddle are based on its ambiguity because the riddle only tells us the group has been "met" on the journey to St. Ives and gives no further information about its intentions, only those of the narrator. As such, the 'correct' answer could be stated as "at least one, the person asking the question plus anyone who happens to be travelling in the same direction as him or her".[4]

    If the group that the narrator meets is assumed not to be travelling to St. Ives the answer could be one person going to St. Ives: the narrator. This is the most common assumption,[1] as the purpose of the riddle was most likely to trick the listener into making long winded calculations only to be surprised by the simplicity of the answer.[5]

    If it is not accepted that there is a 'trick' answer, then there are numerous mathematical answers, the most common of which is 2802: 1 man, 7 wives, 49 sacks, 343 cats, and 2401 kits, plus the narrator. If the narrator met the group as they were also travelling to St. Ives and were overtaken by the narrator[1] the answer in this case is all are going to St. Ives. The ambiguity that leads to this answer may be a less strict modern use of the word 'met' where it replaces the more accurate 'passed' or 'overtook'; "to meet someone on the road" may have been commonly used for those going in opposite directions on narrow roads as in the first edition of The Highway Code.[6]”  ...so no closure there.   Hoping that the new knowledge, as frustrating as it was, would satiate my need to think about the riddle during my morning shower I moved on with my life.  Until the next day when I jumped in the shower and immediately thought, “As I was going to St. Ives…”  Rather than having a nervous breakdown I decided to rationally think about the problem.  By this point I knew all about St. Ives and the riddle from all of my research, The earliest known published version of it comes from a manuscript dated to around 1730 (but it differs in referring to "nine" rather than "seven" wives).[1] The modern form was first printed around 1825.[1]  There are a number of places called St Ives in England and elsewhere. It is generally thought that the rhyme refers to St Ives, Cornwall, when it was a busy fishing port and had many cats to stop the rats and mice destroying the fishing gear, although some people argue it was St Ives, Cambridgeshire as this is an ancient market town and therefore an equally plausible destination.[2][3]” (Wikipedia)  All fascinating, but apparently not what I needed to know to get it out of my head.  My next question to myself was, “why do I only think about it in the shower?”  After I was out of the shower I did not think about it again until the next day… in the shower.  I found this to be interesting. I was questioning philosophical reasons about why I care about going to St. IVes, was it that St. Ives was a fishing town and the shower has water? Do I feel that I have to juggle lots of aspects of my life like a man with seven wives?  Could you imagine having seven wives?!?  As I was contemplating all of this I reached for my bottle of apricot scrub… “St. Ives Apricot Scrub” to be exact. The bottle says, “St. Ives.” St. Ives!!! All of the craziness, the math, the research, the pondering was because the bottle says “St. Ives” on it.  If you are not familiar with the term, “face palm” do a google image search now, because that describes how I felt at that moment.

    Now you might be wondering what this has to do with anything.  One of my favorite statements about B-RtI, Behavioral Response to Intervention, is “Do the cheapest, easiest thing first”.  I have no idea where I first heard it but I love it because it is a gross over simplification of the concept of RtI/MTSS, which can be a little overwhelming.  The idea is sometimes the solution is so obvious, so simple, we do not even think of it. My husband does this with me, if I am super cranky he asks if I am hungry, and usually I am.  Nothing deep, nothing life altering, just hangry. In the classroom setting, if the students can’t hear you, talk louder, if a student can’t see you move her closer to you. If you are cold put on a jacket… I could do this all day.  The idea is don’t overthink everything.  KISS.  Clearly, based on the St. Ives incident, this is something I need to work on.  

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • When Looking Away Doesn't Work Anymore

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 3/17/2017 7:00:00 AM

    I try to think of trauma as something far away. Something that happens in large cities, dark corners, on the news, not here.  For me, the hard part of learning about trauma is accepting that it happens. It happens close to us, it happens to us.   I would much rather just close my eyes and pretend it is not there.  But it is here and now there is research that shows it is more common than we thought.A whopping two thirds of the 17,000 people in the ACE Study had an ACE score of at least one — 87 percent of those had more than one. Eighteen states have done their own ACE surveys; their results are similar to the CDC’s ACE Study.” (ACEs too High)  

    What is ACEs?  If you have not heard of the Adverse Childhood Experiences consider this a very brief introduction to something that will change the way you look at people.  ACEs are ten questions that measure exposure to trauma as a child. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members- a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one.” (ACEs too High)  

    Vincent Felitti, MD, is the Co-founder of the ACE study and provides an indepth look into the study in an hour long interview put on by PESI.  It is well worth the time if you are interested.  Dr. Felitti along with Kaiser Permanente and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (C.Y.W.) discovered that high ACE numbers relate to risk of many concerns such as, alcoholism, drug use, STDs, smoking,  (CDC) along with a long list of health issues.   With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; suicide, 1,220 percent.”  (ACEs too High)

    The Center for Youth Wellness is a groundbreaking group that is focusing on changing outcomes for kids and have many ideas and resources to share.  Through her work  Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, CEO San Francisco ACEs study, has taken Dr. Felitti’s work and transformed it into direct change for children. Her Ted Talk, “How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime”, will change the way you think.  It is too important not to learn about, too important to look away and ignore.  If you are not ready to delve into the world of ACEs consider this article instead,   “10 Things About Childhood Trauma Every Teacher Needs to Knowa simple, easy read, with things you can easily do to improve the lives of children.

    Here are the highlights, but the articles has a lot more to say:

    1. Kids who have experienced trauma aren’t trying to push your buttons.
    2. Kids who have been through trauma worry about what’s going to happen next.
    3. Even if the situation doesn’t seem that bad to you, it’s how the child feels that matters.
    4. Trauma isn’t always associated with violence.
    5. You don’t need to know exactly what caused the trauma to be able to help.
    6. Kids who experience trauma need to feel they’re good at something and can influence the world.
    7. There’s a direct connection between stress and learning.
    8. Self-regulation can be a major challenge for students suffering from trauma.
    9. It’s OK to ask kids point-blank what you can do to help them make it through the day.
    10. You can support kids with trauma even when they’re outside your classroom.

     Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Ways to Say No

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 3/3/2017 7:00:00 AM

    Saying “No” is a necessary skill that we all need to master, and saying “No” in a way that does not offend others or make us feel guilty is an art.  I work with many well meaning professionals who consistently over-commit themselves because they have not learned the power of “No”.  We must always remember to take care of ourselves first.  If you search, “how to say no” you will find several books and articles, because apparently this is something with which many people struggle.  One simple, clear article summed up the process nicely, “7 Secrets to Saying No (And Not Feeling Guilty About It)”  I think that is the hardest part; most people don’t care if you say you are too busy or can’t get to it, they understand. The problem is us, the guilt we put on ourselves. In the article, author Jennifer King Linley states, “The goal is to convey two things: I can’t accommodate that request and I still value this relationship.”  

    The best part is, she tells us how to get there:

    1. Start Small: If you are a people-pleaser by nature, practice in low-stakes settings, suggests psychologist Melissa McCreery. Set a goal that you are going to say no three times a day.  E.G., “No, I don’t want to apply for your store credit card.“  Like any skill, it gets easier with practice, she says.
    2. Have a Go-to Phrase: A rehearsed script can head off panic when you are put on the spot. “Thank you so much for thinking of me. I’m sorry, but I have other commitments then, so I’m not available” will dispatch many of the requests thrown your way.

    3. Take a Pause: Some decisions are easy. Yes: Watching a friend’s kid during a family emergency. No: Pet-sitting the neighbor’s corn snake. On the fence? “It’s OK to say you’ll get back to someone and take 24 hours,” says etiquette coach Maralee McKee.

    4. Try “Yes, No, Yes.” Negotiation expert Sheila Heen recommends sandwiching the No: Yes to the relationship (Tim is such a fun kid!); No to the request (I’m sorry we can’t host him all weekend while you’re away); and then Yes to something that you can offer instead (e.g., “I’m happy to give him a ride to hockey on Sunday, if that helps”).

    5. Say “I Don’t,” Not “I Can’t.” It’s a simple shift, but it suggests that your refusal is based on your strongly held position and is nothing personal. E.G., “I have a policy that I don’t lend money to friends.”

    6. Keep It Brief. “Long answers give the asker more loopholes to come back at you,” says social psychologist Susan Newman. “Your brother can say, ‘If you can’t help me move on Saturday because of your hair appointment, let’s do it Sunday!’” After you’ve said No—this is crucial—don’t start waffling. (e.g., “Are you OK about this? Ask me again if you can’t find anyone else”).

    7. Don’t White-Lie. We often think that we’re protecting people’s feelings by concocting an excuse. (“I would love to come to your party, but my in-laws are in town”).  “There’s no need to be that specific. And because you lied, you now do have something to feel guilty about,” says Heen.  Plus, you set yourself up to have to lie again. (“How was that visit?”) It’s likely, in our Instagram age, that you’ll be busted anyway.

    Like all good skills it takes practice, if you want someone to try saying “no” to, give me a call.  I can be your guinea pig.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Technology Takeover

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 2/17/2017 7:00:00 AM


    Sometimes I feel like technology has taken over my life.  Beeps, whistles, and vibrates constantly pull my attention from the world around me.  Calling me into the infinite abyss, that is my phone.  I have decided that I am actively going to try and limit my use of technology when I am with people, especially my family.  I try hard to have “cell phone free Sundays” and we always have technology free dinners.  While I actively try to decrease my use of technology I also firmly believe it can be used for good and help in many areas of our lives.  It is the best tool for adaptive technology I have ever found.  It tells me when I need to be places and how long it will take me to get there, it gives me recipes, music, movies, and answers burning questions like, “why do octopus have three hearts?”  I believe a healthy life is all about balance and technology can be instrumental in supporting healthy choices.  

    One great thing is that most people have access to cell phones and are comfortable using them.  There have been apps created that support teachers, parents, and students.  Some apps I have used are ClassDojo, and Time Timer.  There are many apps designed to help collect data that I have used over the years as well.  One application I found especially interesting was the use of cell phone apps to support people with anxiety and depression. An article by Amanda MacMillan shares experts’ opinions on whether or not  several mentioned apps can really help people. In her article, “These 13 Apps Can Help Reduce Depression and Anxiety” she brings up an excellent point,  “More than 20 percent of Americans have significant symptoms of depression or anxiety each year, according to the study, but only about 20 percent of people with a mental-health problem get adequate treatment.”  The idea of apps supporting mental health is currently being studied and while it is not going to replace formal treatment is does show some promise.

    “Now, a new study suggests that a free suite of mobile apps may also provide relief from depression and anxiety symptoms. The 13 mini-apps, collectively known as IntelliCare, were designed by Northwestern clinicians and based on validated psychology techniques currently used by therapists. They are free of charge and available on GooglePlay; iOS versions will be available soon.”  

    I have not tested these apps and cannot say that they work or not, but it does make me question how I use my technology.  If I give my son my cell phone to play with while we are waiting in line at the store, I make sure to turn on the Starfall app rather than an arcade style game.   He is learning and I get a few minutes of guilt free quiet.   I try to use my cell phone to increase my awareness of the world I am in, to learn and better myself, rather than just mindlessly scrolling through political Facebook posts.  Technology is a great thing, but like any tool, it takes the dedication of the user to make sure it is a benefit rather than a hindrance.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • If Only Kids Came with an Instruction Manual

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 2/3/2017 7:00:00 AM

    I was excited to receive an air compressor for Christmas! No longer would I have to pay to put air in my tires, usually when it was pouring down rain or in subzero temperatures. It wasn’t at all what I had imagined it would look like, though. It kind of reminded me of BB-8, the droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Fortunately there was a manual that explained how to use this exciting new addition to my tool collection. As I sat down to read the manual for my new air compressor, at the end of the first week  after Christmas Break, I thought to myself, “If only kids came with an instruction manual!”

    Wouldn’t it be so much easier if we could open the instructional manual to find out if it is OK to leave your kids with a sitter while you return to work? Or should I do this for them or should they be doing it for themselves? It’s so hard to make these tough decisions and many parents spend too much of their time feeling guilty or they worry that they may make a wrong decision. How do you balance between giving kids the love and nurturing they need without tipping over into becoming a helicopter parent, hovering over your child all of the time?

    I remember reading “High Risk: Children Without a Conscience” by Dr. Ken Magid when I was in graduate school. Thanks to Dr. Magid’s research, we know the negative results when children do not have a nurturing and loving caregiver in their lives. That doesn’t mean that working moms should feel fearful or guilty. It just means that we know more about what happens when children suffer from severe neglect or multiple placements during their early developmental years. The good news is that we have learned more since Dr. Magid published his book in 1987.

    Medical science has advanced to the point that we can now take MRIs to see how the brain develops. We can see actual evidence, not only the effects of severe neglect, but also of the amazing way that the brain can create neural pathways and networks. From birth to age 3 children’s brains have the most “plasticity.” Mental pictures of Tupperware or Saran Wrap to pop into our heads when we hear the word plasticity. However, brain plasticity, refers to the brain's ability to change.  Gray matter can actually shrink or thicken; neural connections can be created and refined or weakened and pruned. The brain is most flexible during children’s early life, but this plasticity or flexibility (for better or worse), continues throughout their lives. The good news is that even if a child has not received the stimulation, nurturing and bonding that they should, when provided with these the brain will respond by thickening its gray matter and creating new neural connections! This means that there is hope for those “High Risk” children that Dr. Magid wrote about.

    Research has taught us that children begin to respond to their caregiver’s interactions, or lack of interactions, during infancy. Paying attention to children’s attitudes and behaviors help caregivers to be able to tell when children need to be encouraged to interact and play or whether they need to be comforted or calmed down. With a loving caregiver who helps to regulate the child’s moods, the child learns how to regulate their moods themselves. It comes back to the old Axim, “Everything in balance.” This is an important skill for children to learn. However, there is hope for those that have not learned. Sunshine Circles and Conscious Discipline provide us with manuals for how to help children learn how to regulate their own emotions and how to build healthy relationships and connections with others.

    Research into trauma has provided us with a new way of looking at children, too. By using the lens of trauma to view the child, instead of assuming the CHILD is the problem, we ask how WE can change to help the child. Considering how someone who is experiencing a high degree of stress might view a situation or environment, we can make changes to help decrease the stressful environment by lowering the lights or providing more space or to reduce the stress in a situation by allowing the child to have more time to become calm or “regulated” or encouraging them to take deep breathes.

    Boundaries are another area that often looks gray. Building healthy boundaries can be difficult for adults, let alone children. Relationships with healthy boundaries are empowering and respectful. Being able to interact with others without losing your own sense of who you are or overwhelming others is a sign that the boundaries in the relationship are healthy. The children’s book, “Personal Space Camp” by Julia Cook is a great resource for kids who need help understanding boundaries. Kids learn about boundaries between their own personal space and the personal space of others with concrete activities, such as using a hula hoop to give them an understanding of how much personal space we typically need.

    Even though there isn’t a manual for kids, there is a lot of new research, resources, strategies and tools for us to use.

    Safe Place Breathing Icons from Conscious Discipline

    Healing Trauma by Changing Minds

    The Positive Classroom

    National Right to Learn Campaign: Restorative Practices

    National Child Traumatic Stress Network Empirically Supported Treatments and Promising Practices


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  • How Trauma Changes Us

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 1/20/2017 7:15:00 AM

    Back when I was in college one of my required books was The Scared Child, Helping Kids Overcome Traumatic Events, by Barbara Brooks, Ph.D. and Paula Siegel.  It was a really easy, fast read, and it helped me build the foundation of understanding how difficult life can be for some of our students.  After reading it, I applied many of the ideas in both my personal and professional practice with kids.   The book was published in 1996, and since then Trauma has become a hot topic of professional study, especially research looking at how it physically changes the brain.  In the book, Trauma-Informed Care: How neuroscience influences practice (Explorations in Mental Health), by Amanda Evans and Patricia Coccoma, they take a complicated field and provide a more research oriented  approach while still remaining readable.   Another book that was wildly popular in education regarding Trauma was Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom, by Heather Forbes.  This book lends itself well to school-wide book studies and has a catalyst  for lot of change in education.  The last book I want to cite is The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook--What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing, by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz.  This was the book that got everyone talking back in my old district.  It opened eyes to the fact there was an unaddressed issue.   Each of these authors have a number of books they have written, and each one carries a powerful message that changes lives.  I have had the privilege of attending a three day training by Dr. Bruce Perry.  It reinforced the message I received from my early reading of The Scared Child and intensified it by leaps and bounds.   If you get the opportunity to attend any of the many trauma trainings, either by Bruce Perry, Heather Forbes, or our own SSJCSS Program Support, I highly suggest you go.  

    SSJCSS Program Support, Sue Farrar has attended many trainings on the topic and has a wealth of information to share on supporting students. She graciously volunteered to write an article to share regarding what she has learned.  I hope you find the topic as fascinating as I do.

    Building Relationships, Helping Kids to Feel Safe and Teaching Coping Skills
    By Sue Farrar, SSJCSS Program Support

    Traumatic events affect children, adults and school communities. Disasters, both natural and manmade, are the first things we think about when we think of traumatic events like tornadoes, fires, floods, and explosions.

    However, trauma can be caused by a wide variety of life events. The loss of a family member or friend through death, moving to a new and unfamiliar place, parental divorce, exposure to domestic violence or experiencing the rejection of someone highly valued are just a few of the many causes of trauma. Adoptive children may have experienced traumas that are both known and unknown to their adoptive parents.

    Trauma can, also, have an impact on children who were not directly impacted by an event. They can have the same reactions as those who directly experienced it. Traumatized children may have immediate reactions, delayed ones, both or no reactions. But children usually have more anxiety than adults realize. They may show signs of their distress, or they may hide it. Research on trauma has revealed that children who are traumatized may appear similar to children who exhibit characteristics of ADHD. They have a difficult time focusing their attention, following directions and completing tasks. Research on the brain shows that trauma can have a lasting physiological impact on the brain’s development.

    Children may have difficulty regulating their emotions. They may respond in an exaggerated way to what would appear to be normal circumstances and may truly not have the capacity to calm themselves down. New approaches are being shared on how to help children who have been traumatized. Community agencies, local mental health providers and school staff are learning how to provide trauma-informed care. Heather Forbes, L.C.S.W., has been providing training to educators in Indiana. She emphasizes that children who have been traumatized need to feel safe, and they need to be taught how to regulate themselves. She provides school personnel with practical approaches for supporting students that go beyond delivering consequences and focus on teaching and supporting students.

    There are other approaches that can be applied to school settings that support these children. Conscious Discipline focuses school-based relationships on helping children feel wanted. Whenever children build positive relationships with school personnel, they not only feel safer, but they begin to feel a part of the school, and their behavior improves.

    These new approaches offer alternatives to enable students to feel connected and successful, as well as enriching the professional repertoire of the school staff. Learning about the research on trauma-informed care, and implementing new approaches in a systematic way, can have a significant impact on everyone in the school community. To learn more about how to help children explore the links below:

    I-CART - Indiana Crisis Response Team

    Beyond Consequences- Forbes

    Child Trauma Academy - Perry

    Conscious Discipline… 

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • Retraining the Brain

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 1/6/2017 8:00:00 AM


    In the previous article, The danger of being called SMART, I shared articles on how we think and the faulty concept behind believing that someone is born “smart”.  The science of neuroplasticity is changing the way we see brain development all together.  The Science behind Retraining your Brain defines “Neuroplasticity as the brain’s ability to adapt, re-wire, and reorganize by creating new neural pathways. Neurons (nerve cells) can compensate as needed, either through consciously creating new habits, or in the case of injury and disease. This means that our environment and life’s circumstances literally change the structure of our brains!

    An example of neuroplasticity has been found in London taxi drivers. A cab driver’s hippocampus — the part of the brain that holds spatial representation capacity — is measurably larger than that of a bus driver. By driving the same route every day, the bus drivers don’t need to exercise this part of the brain as much. The cabbies, on the other hand, rely on it constantly for navigation.

    Our brains are like muscles. Learning new things helps to slow age-related mental decline and even improves overall brain function, plus it tends to invigorate, inspire, and create positive self-esteem. Sensory and motor cortices improve when we exercise our body, since the brain/body connection is central to balanced health. There are other interesting discoveries like that memorization exercises help the auditory memory, and handwriting can strengthen motor capacities, while adding speed and fluency to reading. Any improvement in one area of cognition seems to enhance other faculties and bring about positive changes in other areas!”

    So there you go, now you don’t have any excuses.  If you were in a fixed mindset before, you can officially change.  Enjoy, now is a good time to start.   

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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  • The Danger of Being Called SMART

    Posted by Nikki Rankin on 12/9/2016 7:30:00 AM

    Mind Set Many years ago I was sitting in a training in California where we were learning about classroom management, specifically how to provide feedback.  I remember the presenter was standing in the middle of a room full of round tables. She said, “we don’t call kids smart, kids are not smart, kids learn how to make smart choices” and it blew my mind.  

    I grew up in a system where kids were “good” or they were “bad”, they were “smart” or they were “slow”.  We were catagorized in school into the groups of “accelerated learners” and the “others”.  I was typically with the “others” and figured it was because I was not born smart.  The “others” around me shared the same ideas, smart was something you were, not something you did.  

    In the training I was told that you can learn smart strategies to help you be successful, and it is not some magical talent you are born with.  I remember the room, the training, the presenter, because it was the moment I looked at my abilities differently.  I changed my internal dialog from, “You are not one of the smart kids,” to “You can learn anything if you figure out how.”  A door opened in my brain.

    I have been hesitant to write this article because I have been afraid I would not do it justice. That my words would not provide the right impact for getting people to understand how profound this moment was for me.  I found many articles on the idea of calling kids smart.  The Secret to Raising Smart Kids by C. Dweck shares the research behind the concept. The summary of her article states, “Many people assume that superior intelligence or ability is a key to success. But more than three decades of research shows that an overemphasis on intellect or talent—and the implication that such traits are innate and fixed—leaves people vulnerable to failure, fearful of challenges and unmotivated to learn. Teaching people to have a “growth mind-set,” which encourages a focus on “process” rather than on intelligence or talent, produces high achievers in school and in life. Parents and teachers can engender a growth mind-set in children by praising them for their persistence or strategies (rather than for their intelligence), by telling success stories that emphasize hard work and love of learning, and by teaching them about the brain as a learning machine.”  The Huffington Post’s article, Calling Your Kids “Smart” May Actually Hurt Them!  Provides the graphic shown of the two brains to help represent the difference between growth mindset and fixed mindsets.

    I still have moments of my life where I feel like people are going to realize I don’t have my act together, or I am not smart enough to figure out a problem.  When this happens my fear is that, like Charlie from Flowers for Algernon,  I will slip and revert back to my old fixed mindset.  The impostor syndrome feelings start to sneak in.  When this happens I try to stay positive, and remind myself that if something is hard it is okay.  “If it is not hard, it is not worth doing.”   My brain does not become stronger by doing easy tasks. We do not become stronger if we do not challenge ourselves.  

    The article, The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, is long but it is a great read, they give specific instruction on how to change mindsets and improve outcomes, “In the growth mind-set classes, students read and discussed an article entitled ‘You Can Grow Your Brain.’ They were taught that the brain is like a muscle that gets stronger with use and that learning prompts neurons in the brain to grow new connections. From such instruction, many students began to see themselves as agents of their own brain development. Students who had been disruptive or bored sat still and took note. One particularly unruly boy looked up during the discussion and said, ‘You mean I don't have to be dumb?” Dweck goes on to cite specific things we can say to children (and ourselves) to encourage growth mindsets, “Boy, this is hard—this is fun. Oh, sorry, that was too easy—no fun. Let's do something more challenging that you can learn from. Let's all talk about what we struggled with today and learned from. I'll go first. Mistakes are so interesting. Here's a wonderful mistake. Let's see what we can learn from it.”  Many of the choices I have made in my life have been wonderful mistakes.

    Stephanie Lawless  Stephanie Lawless, Assistant Director

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