Thursday, January 21, 2021

Connecting Educators With Their Students Webinar

 Join OPMP team member, Darby Munroe, for her free webinar on connecting educators with their students during the COVID crisis.  The webinar will be Thursday, January 28th @ 6 PM EST.  

Register in advance for this meeting:

Webinar Registration

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Education During COVID-19

Did you miss our webinar, "Education During COVID-19" hosted by PhD student and trauma educator, Darby Munroe? Check out the recording on the OPMP YouTube channel.

About Darby...

Darby Munroe is a current PhD student at Nova Southeastern University in the Conflict Resolution and Analysis program.  She has several graduate degrees in education that focus on at risk youth, and how childhood trauma affects learning and behavior.  She is a certified teacher, and has worked at many alternative schools, including volunteering in juvenile justice facilities.  

After making it through her own high conflict divorce, she wanted to make the process less stressful and less traumatic for other families in similar circumstances, so she became a certified mediator, parenting coordinator, and parenting educator.  Her main goal in doing this is to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences, and help parents and professionals really do what is in children's best interests, based on scientific research.

See more about Darby here.

Boosting SEL Wellness During a Pandemic

If you missed the webinar on Boosting SEL Wellness in a Pandemic hosted by Ondine Gross,  please go to our You Tube Channel check out the replay here.  

See more information about author, Ondine Gross, on her website.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Boosting Social Emotional Wellness in a Pandemic


Join us for a free webinar: Boosting Social Emotional Wellness in a Pandemic on Wed. Nov. 18 at 7:00 PM, EST.  School psychologist and author of Restore the Respect: How to Mediate School Conflicts & Keep Students Learning, Ondine Gross, will provide helpful strategies for K-12 educators and families on understanding our emotional reactions to the pandemic and ways to help ourselves and others.

Register in advance for this meeting:

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Peer Mediation and Circles Build Resiliency and Reduce Present and Future Conflict

This is the fourth article in the Trauma Informed series written by Darby Munroe, Ph.D. student from Nova Southeastern University.
Peer mediation and circles build resiliency and reduce present and future conflict

So far, we have talked about ACEs, how learning, behavior and school conflict are tied to ACEs, how using a trauma informed approach can prevent and reduce ACEs and school conflict, and how peer mediators and educators can use a trauma informed approach.  In this article, we will discuss how peer mediation and restorative justice circles build resiliency and reduce present and future conflict.

Resilience is being able to quickly recover from difficulties.  Students who are resilient will have less effects of ACEs and trauma, like fear, flight, flight or freeze.  Relationships and connection help build resilience, and also help prevent and reduce school conflict.  Peer mediation and restorative justice circles are additional ways educators and schools can foster relationships between students, connect with them, and increase their resiliency.

Peer mediation and circles can prevent and reduce conflict

Traditional school behavioral and disciplinary models are hierarchical, where adults are in power (a power over model) and they try to control students through plans or punishments adults decide on.  This does not help solve the student’s problems or address the underlying issues that caused the student to go into fight, flight or freeze mode.  Peer mediation and restorative justice circles level the playing field, giving students power and a voice (a power with model), and avenues for solving problems together, which can address underlying fear issues.

In peer mediation, youth (the peers) are trained as mediators, to be an unbiased party that helps other students come up with solutions to a problem together.  An example for peer mediation could be to address the situation of two students getting into a verbal argument over a seat in the classroom.  The trained peer mediator would help them to navigate the problem, first by identifying it, and listening to each side of the story.  Why was each student interested in that particular seat? What could potential solutions be? Students have the power to resolve their own conflicts and come up with solutions that work for everyone involved.

If this same situation was addressed in a classroom circle (in a classroom that already had well established circles that met on a regular or daily basis), the entire class would sit in a circle and be involved.  The teacher, or whoever was facilitating the circle, could ask questions for students to answer about how the fight caused harm, and how that harm could be repaired.  Students could share how it made them feel to witness the argument.  All of the students would have an opportunity to work towards a solution. 

In both of these examples, the students have power with one another, and are empowered to solve problems together.  In the traditional school models, if students had gotten into a verbal argument, the teacher would have sent the students to the office for a referral, in order to diminish the distraction happening in the classroom.  The students would have been punished with a detention or a note or call hoe to parents.  The students’ reactions could have escalated even more in the midst of all of this, cause harsher procedures from the school.  Schools can choose to teach and model conflict resolution and problem-solving skills, or they can continue fear-based approaches that send students into fight, flight or freeze mode.
How to practice a peer mediation session

If schools or educators are interested in learning about, receiving training or certification in peer mediation, they should check out the Online Peer Mediation Platform (OPMP).  There are online simulations where teachers and students can watch videos, learn basic skills and get some practice in peer mediation.  In addition to resources and trainings, OPMP also offers regular webinars and twitter chats on peer mediation and related conflict resolution topics.

How to practice a circle

There are different forms of a circle, based on the reason for the circle.  Some teachers hold daily or weekly circles in their classrooms.  These are relationships building and preventative.  Other circles could be scheduled in advance, in response to a conflict, and may require preparation and individual work in advance.  To get students used to a circle, make sure to have a talking piece (any object students can hold when it is their turn to talk).  Start with fun questions, ice breaker questions, and get to know you questions.  As the talking piece is passed around the room, each student gets to share if they want to.  Students may find that have more in common with each other than they could have imagined!

A great place to start for introduction to circles is the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding.  They offer virtual circles (watch for these on social media, like Facebook), as well as trainings, retreats and conferences.  The International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) is also a leader in the field when it comes to trainings and certifications. 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Peer mediators and educators can implement trauma informed approaches

This is the third article in the Trauma Informed series written by Darby Munroe, Ph.D. student from Nova Southeastern University.

Trauma informed approaches to learning can be implemented on a school wide level.  The previous article mentioned trauma informed accommodations teachers could use in the classroom to prevent and reduce school conflict.  Here, more accommodations for teachers and students will be mentioned.
Trauma informed approaches to regular school and classroom activities
The graphic below depicts additional accommodations schools can use to help prevent and reduce conflict.  This particular graphic show coping strategies for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  Many think that PTSD is something that only military veterans can get, but other people, including students, can also experience it and its symptoms.  Many of the symptoms of PTSD are related to the reactions of fight, flight and freeze (discussed in previous article). 
Spending time with people is an important way to foster connection and relationship.  Humans are wired for connection and need community to thrive.  Mindfulness can help calm the body and focus the brain.  Apps like Calm and Headspace both have free accounts for teachers to use.  Exercise and movement can help regulate and calm the body.  Walking, yoga, stretching, dancing can all be done in class.  PE, recess, bodyweight exercises and interval training can be done in short amounts of time and still provide feel good hormones to the body and brain.  Journaling is a wonderful way for students to get their distracting thoughts out of their heads before activities where they need to concentrate.  Teachers can have specific notebooks for journaling, that are kept in a locked filing cabinet, to protect student privacy.  Many schools and school districts are starting to providing a mental health counselor on each campus for students to see during the school day, usually during an elective.  This helps students get the mental health care they need, especially if they don’t have transportation to an office off campus.  Lifestyle changes can also help regulate the nervous system.  Going back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, making sure basic needs are met can provide students with overall healthier life experiences.  Better sleep, which may include less homework, good nutritious food, feeling safe and welcome, and being a part of a community are good lifestyle goals that can be create within classrooms.
Peer mediators are students who are trained to help facilitate conflicts at school, under the supervision of school faculty.  Some schools have dedicated peer mediation programs, as course electives or after school activities and clubs.  Other schools may view peer mediation and restorative circles as a response to disciplinary issues, instead of preventative practices.  The teachers and students who facilitate peer mediations can also implement some of the trauma informed accommodations that have been mentioned.  Another accommodation that could be used by peer mediators is online peer mediation.  If there are students who have been in a conflict together, it might be uncomfortable, and even triggering or traumatic, for them to be in the same room together for a mediation (or circle).  By doing the peer mediation online, students would not have to be in the same room, eliminating potential triggers.  This would help the students to feel safer, and allow them to access their pre-frontal cortex, so they can participate fully, instead of being stuck in fear mode, or in fight, flight or freeze mode.
How to connect and network with other peer mediators and peace educators
This list of accommodations on how to make schools and peer mediation trauma informed is not all encompassing.  An excellent way to learn more is for teachers to network with other professionals who are already practicing trauma informed approaches and peer mediation, and learn from them and alongside them.  For in person networking, teachers can see if their school has already implemented and supports these programs.  They can look for these programs and trainings in their own school districts.  They can attend conferences and trainings on trauma informed education, peer mediation, and restorative justice. 
There are even more opportunities to network with like-minded professionals online!  Teachers might already be on popular social networking platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.  They should be careful to keep their personal accounts private and establish a professional account for their professional activity.  Facebook has many groups teachers can join on trauma informed education and restorative justice in education.  Instagram has great graphics and pictures for people to follow.  Twitter utilizes hashtags for teachers to find topics and people to follow.  It is one of the easiest platforms for professional to connect on, and peers are quick to respond to questions.  Sometimes there are twitter chats discussing a specific topic or a book.  LinkedIn is much more professional, but functions similarly to Facebook.  All utilize hashtags, and if active on all of them, cross posting will be noticeable.  It is not necessary to network on all of these platforms. Pick one and be intentional about building a network around trauma informed education, peer mediation, and restorative justice in education.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Trauma Informed Series: What kind of learning, behavior or school conflict issues are tied to ACEs?

This is the second article in the Trauma Informed series written by Darby Munroe, Ph.D. student from Nova Southeastern University.  

Learning, Behavior, and School Conflict issues can be tied to ACEs

Adverse Childhood Experiences can cause learning, behavioral, and school-based conflict issues.  Using ACEs as a lens, and not a label, can help administrators, teachers, and peer mediators a filter through which to see common school problems in a different way.  Knowing how the trauma of ACEs can affect the brain should be a starting point for instruction, classroom management, and school wide disciplinary procedures.

What fight, flight, or freeze looks like in the classroom

The body can respond differently to trauma.  Reactions that were once were survival mechanisms can now happen in situations that are not always related to life and death.  Common reactions that can occur are fight, flight and freeze. The fight reaction, in a life or death situation, might look like standing up to an attacking wild animal, ready to physically battle it out in order to survive. The fight reaction might be the most well known in a classroom.  This may look like a defiant student who gets in physical fights, talks or yells back, is aggressive or argumentative, or hyperactive.  These are the students who get the most referrals, who get sent to the office the most, and who get in the most trouble.  However, the other two reactions also deserve to be noted.

The flight response, in a life or death situation, would look like running away from an attacking wild animal, in order to survive.  Teachers may recognize this in students who abscond from class, with or without a hall pass.  While some students might leave without permission, others may ask to go to the bathroom a lot, or to the office, in order to evade a lesson or activity.  There might be a student that is habitually late or truant, from one or two classes, or all of them.  Some students might be totally disengaged in class, listening to music, looking at their devices, talking to others, drawing, or even sleeping.  Some students might try to hide under hats or hoodies in order to feel safe.

The last reaction is the freeze response.  In a life or death situation, the freeze response would look like standing very still or playing dead until an attacking wild animal lost interest and walks away.  Opossums are famous for this.  In the classroom, this is going to look like the student that has checked out.  They might be there physically, but their mind is somewhere else.  The student could be in a dissociative state.  Think about students that have blank looks and stares, who aren’t responsive. 

Out of these three reactions students can have related to trauma and ACEs, teachers might be most familiar with the fight response because it causes the most distracting behavioral issues.  But flight and freeze are also problematic, especially from a learning perspective.  If students are triggered and stuck in any of these reaction states, it will be hard for them to learn.

The different parts of the brain and what they do

Humans have a triune brain, made up of three main parts, the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the pre-frontal cortex.  The base of the brain, or the reptilian brain (lizard brain), the brain stem, is called the hippocampus.  Lizards, small reptiles, have a small brain that is basically all brain stem.  Lizards are concerned with survival.  They eat and dodge harm.  The hippocampus in humans is also responsible for survival.  When a child, or someone of any age, experiences trauma, the hippocampus goes into survival mode.  This is where fight, flight, or freeze kick in, until the person starts to feel safe again.  If stuck in survival mode, the other areas of the brain might be inaccessible.  The brain stem cannot process and execute higher level functioning and thinking that are required for learning from and participating in a lesson.  It is however good at survival, but in a classroom that might translate into an unruly student that can’t be controlled by normal classroom commands.  If teachers and administrators can recognize a student is in fight, flight or freeze mode, they might be able to see regular tactics won’t work until the student feels safe.  The body is having a physical reaction to fear.

The amygdala is kind of in the middle of the brain.  It sends all sorts of signals out to the body, especially in stressful situations.  It is like the precursor to going into survival mode.  Imagine a child that experiences a lot of yelling and screaming at home.  That student might be extra sensitive to noise and tone of voice.  If a teacher raises his or her voice in order to get the classes attention, that student’s amygdala is going to start pumping hormones into the body, causing a fight, flight or freeze response.  The amygdala is super sensitive to threats, or even potential threats, like the teacher’s tone of voice, if that is something the student has had a scary, but unrelated, experience with in the past.

The pre-frontal cortex is the front portion of the brain (think about the area behind the forehead).  This is where all of the classroom activity learning happens.  This is where there is higher order thinking, use of words and vocabulary, the ability to problem solve and function.  If a student is not participating in class, can’t seem to explain why, or is in fight, flight or freeze mode, that student is not able to access and utilize the pre-frontal cortex.  Instead of administration and teachers looking at students who are stuck in fight, flight and freeze mode as problems, they could be looking for ways to help all children feel safe at school (not just physically safe).  If a child is shut down or being problematic, view the situation through an ACEs lens, and understand the child is operating out of a different part of the brain than what is required for optimal learning.

Physical and brain-based responses can cause conflict at school

Dr. Dan Siegel, a neuroscientist, developed the hand model of the brain to help people understand how the brain functions.  The wrist area represents the hippocampus.  Folding the thumb into the palm represents the amygdala.  The other four fingers folded over the thumb represent the pre-frontal cortex.  When the brain is operating as it should, it is called the wise mind.  However, when triggered, students might flip their lid.  Imagine all four fingers opened up, revealing the amygdala and hippocampus.  It is reminiscent of the little teapot song, where it loses its lid when it gets all steamed up, shouting. 

Knowing most fights are reactions to things happening in the brain, schools can use a brain-based approach towards handling conflict.  Learning about ACEs and using a trauma lens to understand how students are struggling can reshape school policies on discipline and consequences.  Peer mediation and restorative justice practices, when implemented properly and accepted and embraced on a school wide level, can be a large part of the solution to reduce and prevent conflict through reliance building relationships.