Q & A
WHAT IS AN ADVERSITY TEAM?
An adversity team is a building-based team created to support teachers and students in moments of unpredictable adversity. Sounds “official” right? In layman’s terms, members of this team are on call to offer assistance in moments of intensified stress. As many of us know firsthand it can be nearly impossible to support a kiddo who is in a state of heightened stress response while equally supporting an entire class or group of students; but research shows that in these moments when a student is drastically escalating and functioning in the fight-flight-freeze mode a calm, safe, familiar environment is crucial to any de-escalation or regulation techniques. Historically the kiddo who lashes out and begins to explode is sent, or escorted, to “the office” which as we all know is often not a particularly calming environment. This is where the adversity team comes in. When a student has escalated and crossed the point of no return a member of the adversity team can be summoned to assist the classroom teacher. The adversity team members’ overall goal is to regulate, relate, and repair and return the student to class as swiftly as possible.
WHO IS ON AN ADVERSITY TEAM?
Ideally an adversity team is composed of building-based professionals who can be “on call” to support teachers and students in moments of high need. This team might include principals, administrative staff, school social workers, guidance counsellors, behavior interventionists, special education teachers, instructional coaches, and other more “mobile” staff (as a former special education teacher I know how unnerving it can be to be referred to as “support staff” hence the use of the word “mobile”). It is important that members of this team can respond quickly and provide students support that is aligned with trauma-informed care and brain-based strategies.
WHAT ARE THE THREE PHASES OF ADVERSITY SUPPORT?
The three phases of adversity support are regulate, relate, and repair. The initial phase, regulate may be achieved by supporting the student in stress with breathing exercises, taking the student for a walk, or accompanying the student to the amygdala reset room. Once the student is regulated the adversity team member can move into the relate phase, which allows the student to share their side of the story. The final phase is known as the repair phase, this is where the student and the teacher, whom they were with when the adversity team was called, work together to repair their relationship and problem solve proactive strategies for the future. (For resources aligned specifically to these three phases please see below.)
THIS SOUNDS GOOD IN THEORY BUT HOW DOES A CLASSROOM OR SPECIALS TEACHER FIND THE TIME TO REPAIR WITH STUDENTS INDIVIDUALLY?
Here lies the beauty of adversity teams, during the repair phase a member of the adversity team will step in for the teacher so that they may meet individually with their student. This team member may be the original member that responded to the call or it may be another team member so that the original member can support the repair phase as well or return to their respective duties. As noted by Mary Ellen Fecser, “Ultimately, the most powerful reward is the relationship between adult and the student.” (2015, p. 24). Therefore it is crucial that the repair phase occur with the initial teacher.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE REPAIR PHASE?
The adversity team has two main goals: supporting students in a respectful and caring manner and helping students to return to the classroom with a regulated brain state as quickly and appropriately as possible. Since we know routine and predictability is comforting to the brain we want to return to “business as usual” as seamlessly as possible. That being said, it is crucial that we follow through with any plans made during the repair phase. We also want to be thinking about how we as teachers can directly teach our students preventative and proactive skills to ward of future outbursts. There will undoubtedly be times when your student will need the adversity team’s support in the future however our long-term goal is to reduce the amount times the team is called and increase the time between these calls. It is also important that we contact families following the support of the adversity team, ideally this contact would be made by the teacher and team member who supported the student. Remember that we are all part of the same team and after the same goal: for their student to be successful. Feel free to share proactive strategies that family might be able to reinforce at home. When we are all on the same page pretty remarkable things can happen, trust me!
WHAT DOES AN ADVERSITY TEAM RESPONSE LOOK LIKE?
Once the adversity team has been called one or more team members will immediately respond and meet the student and teacher needing support wherever they may be. Upon arrival, the adversity team member immediately establishes a connection of communication with the student and begins offering the child support by means of de-escalating and self-regulation strategies (see below for specific strategies). If needed the member of the adversity team can accompany the student to an amygdala reset room (link to other page?). Once the student has regulated and returned to their prefrontal cortex the adversity team member can facilitate a discussion (see below for specific strategies) where the student is encouraged to share their perception of the events that transpired. After the student has shared and is continuing to show a calm brain state the adversity team member will accompany the student back to class. At this time the adversity team member, or a different team member, will step in for the teacher in their classroom so that they may engage in the repair phase with their student. Following the repair phase the teacher and student will return to the classroom. At a later time during the same day the teacher will contact the students’ family to share the day’s events.
WHY SHOULD MY SCHOOL, DISTRICT, AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS, ETC. HAVE AN ADVERSITY TEAM?
Has anyone ever stopped and asked, “Why are we sending the kids who cannot self-regulate and who are on a constant emotional rollercoaster to a place that can be unfamiliar, embarrassing, and lonely?” Better yet think of that student who is always interrupting your instruction or directions, you know the one I am talking about, think about the ways in which you respond to these outbursts. Many teachers might try redirection and then when that fails for the umpteenth time tells the student to “take a break in the calming spot,” which in all honesty is isolating and unproductive. We may not use dunce caps anymore but we still send kids to the corner. All hope is not lost because many educators, neuroscientist, and psychologists have asked these very questions and have found solutions. Enter the need for an adversity team. Through research based strategies and techniques we can not only de-escalate a stressful situation but can then turn this situation into an opportunity for growth. Not only does this approach promote a sense of peace and calmness but it does so in a manner that is brain based and trauma-informed. In an educational system that places a high value on quantitative data let’s take a peek at what the numbers tell us…
Four years after implementing a trauma-informed approach Lincoln High School, in Walla Walla, WA, suspension rates dropped by 90% and expulsion rates dropped by 100%. Yes you read that correctly, there are no expulsions happening at Lincoln High (1, see references below).
Arnone Elementary, of Brockton MA, reported a 40% decrease in suspension rates (2).
An 84% decrease in suspension rates was reported by Otis Orchards Elementary during January to April of 2012 and the same period the following year, 2013 (3).
El Dorado Elementary, of San Francisco, CA, saw a decrease of 74% in office referrals and an 89% decrease in suspension rates (4).
From 2012 to 2015 Bemiss Elementary, of Spokane, WA, reported a decrease in suspension rates of 63% (5).
RESOURCES & STRATEGIES
Focused breathing allows critical oxygenated blood to flow directly to the brain.
Take three deep belly breaths, noticing how your stomach rises and falls with each breath.
As you breathe deeply trace the outer edges of your outstretched fingers. Inhale as you trace up a finger and exhale as you trace down.
EMOTIONAL FREEDOM TECHNIQUES (TAPPING)
Founded in energy psychology this strategy helps students return to a calm brain state.
WALKING TOWARDS REGULATION
Take a walk through the halls of you school.it's as simple as that!
Start by walking in silence and after a few minutes of movement try asking some supporting questions. Do not push for an answer, they may need more time.
Allow the student to direct your walking path but stay in the building.
RESOURCES & STRATEGIES
Use these questions to guide your discussion.
How can I help?
What do you need?
What can we do to make this better?
These statements help students feel that they are heard.
That must have made you feel really angry.
What a frustrating situation to be in!
It must make you feel angry to have someone do that.
Yeah, I can see how that might make you feel really sad.
What a tough spot.I hear you.
This activity allows students to express themselves in a manner outside of themselves.
Pick out three different colored pencils, markers, or crayons.
Using one coloring material color in the blob that represents how you feel when you are at school.
Using a second coloring material color in the blob that represents how you were feeling today at school.
Using a third coloring materials color in the blob that represents how you are feeling now.
Encourage your student to share which blobs they colored in and why.
Feel free to vary your questions based on your kiddo's needs.
RESOURCES & STRATEGIES
DUAL THOUGHT SHEETS
Answer the questions below together or individually and then share your answers.
What is our challenge?
What led up to this challenge?
How did we handle this together and/or apart?
Could we have prevented this problem?
What are two adjustments we will make next time?
This document can be used to identify what sets us off. Try filling this out side by side (i.e. the teacher fills one out & the student fills one out.
PROBLEM SOLVING QUESTIONS
Use these questions to facilitate a conversation focused on proactive strategies and resources.
What are your resources?
What feels difficult?
What could be the best possible outcome?
What is the worst thing that could happen?
What is a first step on improving this situation?
Stevens, J. E. (2015, May 31). Resilience practices overcome students’ ACEs in trauma informed high schools, say the data. Retrieved from https://acestoohigh.com/2015/05/31/resilience-practices-overcome-students-aces-in-trauma-informed-high-school-say-the-data/.
Stevens, J. E. (2013, March 20). The secret to fixing school discipline problems? Change the behavior of adults. Retrieved from https://acestoohigh.com/2013/03/20/secret-to-fixing-school-discipline/#more-2057.
Stevens, J. E. (2013, August 20). There’s no such thing as a bad kid in these Spokane, WA, trauma-informed elementary schools. Retrieved from https://acestoohigh.com/2013/08/20/spokaneschools/.
Stevens, J. E. (2014, January 28). San Francisco’s El Dorado Elementary uses trauma-informed & restorative practices; suspensions drop 89%. Retrieved from https://acestoohigh.com/2014/01/28/hearts-el-dorado-elementary/.
Rowe, C. (2018, May 4). ‘You are more than your mistakes’: Teachers get at roots of bad behavior. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/news/you-are-more-than-your-mistakes-teachers-get-at-roots-of-bad-behavior/.
Desautels, L. (2016, March 31). Contagious emotions and responding to stress [Blog]. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/contagious-emotions-responding-to-stress-lori-desautels.
Desautels, L. (2017). Discipline with the brain in mind [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from: https://moodle.butler.edu/mod/resource/view.php?id=480437.