Thursday, May 2, 2019

This Blog is 10 Years Old!


Ten years ago I began a blog to try to capture my professional experiences and learnings. Looking back through my blog tonight, I realized how much things have changed. Although I have not often gotten to writing on this blog in the last few years I still feel the need to keep it up.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Safe schools are not created through adult control... (Book Excerpt)

"A whole school uptake of restorative practices requires more than adults learning skills and finding a script for a restorative conference that makes sense to them. For may, it requires a paradigm shift, from thinking that to have a safe school, the adults must exert power over students, to thinking that by working with students, we can create, as Brenda Morrison says, 'safe and just school communities, grounded in the premise that human beings are relational and thrive in contexts of social engagement over control' (Morrison, 2007).

One has to think differently, and from that thinking, act in ways that may be very different from the past. For some, the idea that an adult may be an 'affected party' to harm, or that it is in the best interest of the adult to sit across from a student, more or less as an equal, and talk things through, is indeed a paradigm shift. For some, the thought that staff might benefit from restorative principles, not just the student, might be a new idea. For some, starting an intervention with the thought, 'I want to work with this student, even though the student has just called me a very mean name' is a tall order. Indeed, it may be unfathomable."

Source: Restorative Practices and Special Needs (2015) by Nick Burnett and Margaret Thorsborne

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Efficiently ranking students in order to assign them to their proper place in society... (Book Excerpt)

"For Thorndike, the purpose of schools was not to educate all students to the same level, but to sort them, according to their innate levels of talent. It is deeply ironic that one of the most influential people in the history of education believed that education could do little to change a student's abilities and was therefore limited to identifying those students born with a superior brain - and those born with an inferior one.

Like so many other students, I felt the full weight of Thorndikian rankings on my aspirations for the future. In high school I took a standardized college aptitude test that is widely used as an admissions criteria by most American universities. Thorndike would have loved the test because not only does it report your ranking, the test uses this ranking to predict how you will perform at different colleges, should you choose to attend. I've tried to forget everything about my test results, but memory traces still endure like the painful residue of a traumatic experience. My score placed me in the area that Galton would have termed "Mediocrity," and the test informed me that, based on this score, the probability of me getting a B or higher at Weber State University, an open enrollment school in Ogden, Utah, was a disheartening 40 percent. But that was still better than the odds of getting a B or higher at my top choice, Brigham Young University: a mere 20 percent.

I remember reading these predictions and feeling pretty hopeless about my life. After all, these percentages, arranged in tidy columns, were endowed with the sober authority of mathematics: I felt like this single test had weighed my entire worth as a person and found me wanting. I initially thought I might one day be an engineer or a neurologist, but no - what a silly fantasy that was. Instead, the test solemnly announced that I better get used to being average.

Today, Thorndike's rank-obsessed educational labyrinth traps everyone within its walls - and not just students. Teachers are evaluated at the end of each school year by administrators, and the resulting rankings are used to determine promotions, penalties, and tenure. Schools and universities are themselves ranked by various publications, such as U.S. News and World Report, who give great weight to the average test scores and GPA of the students, and these rankings determine where potential students will apply and what they're willing to pay. Business base their hiring decisions on applicant's grades and the ranking of their alma mater; these businesses are themselves sometime ranked based on how many of their employees have advanced degrees and attended famous colleges. The educational system of entire countries are ranked based on their national performance on international standardized test such as the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) exam.

Our twenty-first-century education system operates exactly as Thorndike intended: from our earliest grades, we are sorted according to how we perform on a standardized educational curriculum designed for the average student, with rewards and opportunities doled out to those who exceed average, and constraints and condescension heaped upon those who lag behind. Contemporary pundits, politicians, and activists continually suggest that our education system is broken, when in reality, the opposite is true. Over the past century, we have perfected our educational system so that it runs like a well-oiled Tayloist machine, squeezing out every possible drop of efficiency in the service of the goal its architecture was originally designed to fulfill: efficiently ranking students in order to assign them to their proper place in society."

Source: The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness (2016) by Todd Rose

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Before Learning and Cognition Can Occur (Book Excerpt)

"Children and adolescents who carry trauma and adversity into the classroom also bring 'pain based behaviors' with them. These behaviors are misunderstood and oftentimes dismissed as intentional acts of disobedience and defiance. When we use zero tolerance and punitive measures to correct these pain-based behaviors, we are elevating the child's stress response and creating increased fear, aggression, or dissociative behaviors where the child or adolescent simply shuts down. This can become a negative cycle, and we are missing the mark. These students are starving for regulation and relationship. 

The attachment and neuroscience research is clear: The practices of attachment, attunement, and regulation must be in place and active before learning and cognition can occur. Educational neuroscience offers a framework for exploring brain development, dampening down the stress response, and implementing strategies that engage and build brain architecture from the bottom up. It is in our schools that regulation and relationships can develop because educators spend time with students each day. But unless we are mentored and trained in the brain science of adversity and trauma, we will continue to cycle in negative patterns, escalating conflict and aggression along the way, while also elevating survival responses within the brain's architecture."

Source: Eyes are Never Quiet: Listening Beneath the Behaviors of Our Most Troubled Students (2019) by Lori L. Desautels, Ph.D. and Michael McKnight, M.A.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Safe and Caring Schools: How do we create an unconscious sense of safety?

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This past week I attended an in-service program connected to new leadership quality standards that will take effect in Alberta in September 2019. One of the topics explored in the training was that of creating "Safe and Caring Schools". There was a brief discussion and activity related to defining "safety" and looking at the components that make up holistic safety. The focus of the discussion and activity seemed to be to tied to understanding and reducing bullying in schools even though it was under the broader category of "Inclusive Learning Environments". 

It seems to me that there is a missed opportunity in all of this to understand Inclusive Learning Environments as ones that are more than just devoid of bullying. 


Stuart Shanker, withing the Self-Reg framework, speaks often often of the metaphor of the "Triune Brain" to aid in understanding the responsive "state" our brain and central nervous system are functioning in at any given time. Our brains are continually subconsciously filtering internal and external information and setting off physiological responses to that information. When threat is perceived, our systems will automatically and unconsciously go into a state of fight, flight or freeze. This is an evolutionary reaction designed to ensure our safety. The challenge in today's world is that these are unconscious reactions and end up being in response to both perceived and real threats.  

This connects to the "window of tolerance" idea that is often talked about in trauma-informed materials. There is a growing understanding that we each have a unique window of tolerance in which we are "regulated" and able to adapt and respond to the challenges that we encounter. We move out of the window of tolerance, into a state of hyper or hypo-arousal when we are no longer feeling "safe". 


If we have developed regulatory capacities, there are conscious things we can do to try to keep ourselves within our window of tolerance. More and more, we are seeing students who have not developed these regulatory capacities. We are coming to understand that we learn to regulate by being regulated; That it is a process that begins at birth and if we have experienced regulating relationships and environments, we move toward self-regulation and our window of tolerance is larger.  If we have not been regulated, our systems are often operating in a state of fear and our window of tolerance is very small. 

To expand a student's (or adult's) window of tolerance, they need safe and regulating relationships and environments. Most importantly though, is that the sense of safety they feel has to operate on an unconscious level as our brains continually evaluate safety on the unconscious level. This leads to what we were discussing this past week around thinking through what safety really is as it is through creating safety that we will expand the window of tolerance. 


To create safety, we need to understand what safety is. In SIVA (Supporting Individuals through Valued Attachments) we talk about holistic safety as encompassing four domains: Physical, Psychological, Social-Emotional, and Spiritual. This training presented four different domains: Physical, Psychological, Social and Academic. Combining the two lists, there seem to be five components we should be thinking about in creating safety: 
  • Physical Safety is about feeling safe in your body and safe in the world. We would need to consider biological functioning (basic biological needs met, regulation of sensory systems...etc.), a sense of safety in one's body (free from threat) and environmental safety (i.e. an environment that is free from threat).  
  • Psychological/Emotional Safety is about feeling safe with yourself and your emotions. This would include things like one's perception of self and others and one's sense of self-efficacy as well as one's comfort with a whole a range of emotions. 
  • Social Safety is about feeling safe with other people. This would include understanding of social norms in an environment, the predictability of the social environment, feeling socially connected, receptive and expressive communication abilities, skills in areas like conflict resolution, being able to read the social environment...etc. 
  • Moral/Spiritual Safety is about feeling safe with a guiding value system. This is where cultural, religious, gender and family diversity come into play. It's about feeling that others are responsive to your value system.  
  • Academic/Cognitive Safety is about feeling safe to participate in challenging learning experiences (i.e. feeling safe to take academic risks). This is about designing learning environments that include scaffolding, engaging learning activities, accounting for cognitive differences (organizing, sequencing, encoding, memory), and proper academic modifications and supports. 
The academic safety was particularly interesting to me at this point in my journey as I'm starting to carve out a focus for me Ed.D. that is connected to the need for multiple pathways to access learning. I am sure I will be coming back to this idea as it seems to bring some pieces together. If we want to support students in reaching their full potential, we need to consider how we make them available for learning, development, growth...etc. 

When I teach SIVA courses, we do an activity where we think about each of the domains of safety in reference to specific profiles of students. Within each domain we look at understanding that specific student (What do we know? What more do we need to know?), communicating acceptance relative to that person's ability and functioning level (including thinking about expectations to support forward development), and respectful supports that we can implement to ensure engagement and scaffold that person forward. It's important to think about this for individual students but this experience and discussion as me thinking about it on a universal level. What would that environment look like?  

Going back to bullying, I think so often we try to figure out what to do about bullying specifically but I liked where this activity and discussion seemed to be trying to go to in that it started by having us think about what holistically safe environments would look like. This speaks to universal design principles in that it's about creating the broader conditions to reduce bullying... but in so doing, there are also many other benefits to many other people. 


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

One Word 2019 - Clarity

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"Seeking clarity is seeking connection with the universe.
To connect is to understand; to be clear is to be enlightened."
- Annie Zalezsak -

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I feel like I slept my way into the beginnig of 2018. A car accident in November had left me with whiplash and a pretty significant concussion. My greatest hope as I began the year was that I would be able to return to work and normal life. I was in pain. I was tired. I couldn't focus or concentrate or do any of the things I loved (and even a lot of the things that I just needed to do). I was able to return to work the next week but it would be several months before I had my energy and focus back. 

I didn't pick a word for 2018 but, looking back now, I would say my word was "rebalancing". Being forced to rest and take care of myself eventually calmed my soul (although at first it was difficult). My son graduating and us beginning to figure out what his life looks like beyond school and me starting an Ed.D. program kept the word of "rebalancing" front and center in our lives even if it was never really on the conscious level. 

I found throughout the year I had to be intentional about what I engaged in as in the first months I was restricted by the concusion and pain and then later in the yeare I was restricted by figuring out how to fit these new pieces together. 

In the past this would have caused great stress and it would have felt like things were spinning out of control. Although there are still moments where that might feel like this, I have actually found that with each intentional decision I am finding greater peace... and greater clarity.

I feel like my words find me each year and this one just feels right. We will continue to try to find clarity with my son around what his adult life will look like. I will continue to be challenged by my Ed.D. courses and the need to be concise and clear. My job will continue to be one where I have to figure out priorities and when to engage or step back. In the middle of it all, I will continue to need to keep myself in the picture. 

So I move into 2019 with the intention to keep a focus on clarity front and center...