• Michelle Bickhaus

Relationships are Fundamental


Carlo Rovelli is a theoretical physicist, philosopher and writer. He is one of the founders of the loop quantum gravity theory.

Heavy, right? Wait ‘til you hear about it!

I’ve been reading his book, Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. I learned about the book during his conversation, All Reality Is Interaction, with Krista Tippett on her podcast, On Being.

If you’re wondering why I’m talking about quantum anything in this piece, your wondering makes sense. Physics and Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms? What kind of connection can there be?

It makes beautiful and perfect sense. There is this amazing connection.

We are relational, down to the smallest particles of matter. If our protons and neutrons were hanging out together, nothing would happen; they need those even-smaller electrons. Relational elements are integral to our lives at the subatomic level.

By the very nature of our design, we exist relationally. Therefore, all reality, really, is interaction.

What happens when those interactions break down? What happens when one part of the intended relationship is damaged?

Just ask anyone who works with kids who’ve been subjected to Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. We know that these youngsters do not react to the classroom in the expected manner. We know that they revert to manipulative behaviors, anger, tantrums, running, sleeping, withdrawing, and countless other irrational responses. We know that they do not respond in kind to our smiles, warmth, encouragement, and sensational lesson presentations.

We know that they confuse and perplex us.

If we simplify the problem, we can say that the brain development of these children has been altered. We have to set to work to reorder the wiring of their brains.

And the simplest way to think of these kids is to consider a baby and the way parents/caregivers co-regulate babies by holding the baby while swaying, patting, rocking, singing, speaking softly, etc. The nervous system of a baby is undeveloped and we have to teach babies that they are safe, by meeting their needs and showing them how to regulate. It’s such a seemingly-natural process, that we take for granted the complex processes that are going on.

Now we are working with bigger babies, if you will.

In a sense, these 7-year olds, or 17-year olds, or whatever age you are working with, have never learned to self-regulate, because nobody taught them how, through lullabies and rocking. We have to find ways to replicate those nursery experiences. We have to find ways to provide these experiences in the classroom. We must work intentionally to build relationships with, perhaps, the most difficult segment of our school population.

Hopefully these youngsters have been, or will be, identified and provided with counseling and therapy. But if we’re to hope for success in the classroom, we teachers and classroom personnel must provide these experiences. There’s no getting around it.

And it doesn’t need to be difficult.

The first step is to recognize that we must be deliberate in our establishment of relationships.

Then, we must remain vigilant in fostering these relationships. It may sound too simplified, but just one caring adult can make the difference between a lifetime of dysfunctional relationships (which leads to a host of health and criminal justice problems), and an ability to develop healthy relationships, which sets the child up for success.

One adult.

You.

In a classroom full of students who’ve had a healthy upbringing, relationships develop organically. Students are open with their teachers, and teachers enjoy the bonds that are forged. But if you’re working with a child, or children, who’ve encountered a number of ACEs, you’ll have to be intentional about developing relationships. We can’t leave these relationships to chance, because, in most cases, it just won’t happen.

How do we do this? Your behavior with your students will be key in the evolution of relationships, but we must always remember the important caveat: sometimes a particular child will be beyond your best efforts.

One of Chaddock’s gifted teachers, Angie Kite, explains, “It involves honesty, trust, communication, acceptance, and unconditional love.”

On our campus we employ The Attitude: Playful, Loving, Accepting, Curious, and Empathic (PLACE). Kite says, “The message should always be the same: You are important to me, I care about you, I am here for you, and I want to hear what you have to say.” “They need us to be that one person in their life that no matter what, we are there and will accept them for who they are.”

(It occurs to me that it’s a mindfulness experience in and of itself: we are in the moment and we eliminate judgements. Being able to focus on just that student in any given moment is what sets the experience apart.)

Another of our gifted teachers, Amy Voss, describes, “Getting ready for reading isn’t as simple as asking this group to get out their books and turn to a certain page. Reading group actually begins as students enter the classroom. I meet each student at the door, and give hugs. Some arrive at the door seeking the hug. Some arrive asking for the hug. Some ‘forget’ the hug and come back for it.” She continues, “It means holding reading group in a cozy group setting (gathering around the end of my desk), in which the students feel safe enough to take academic risks.”

You can see how it is similar to a mother caring for her small child at home: hugs, coziness, and books. You’ll notice, in the accompanying video demonstration of Ms. Voss’ reading group, how snuggly some of the children are.

Ms. Voss also shares, “The most important part of my job is meeting each child where they are on any given day, and giving them what they need to be successful. It takes a lot of rapport-building and learning to read and interpret their body language and verbal cues.” She demonstrates the keen attunement needed to work with this population.

You probably are getting the idea that there is no precise recipe for relationship-building; it’s true. But there is a list of necessary ingredients:

Be intentional.

Utilize The Attitude.

Don’t give up.

You ARE making a difference. Do not dare give up.

#TraumaInformedSchools #ChaddockSchool #MichelleBickhaus #Attachment #SpecialEducation #relationshipsintheclassroom #relationships

 © 2017 Teaching Troubled Hearts, Chaddock Quincy, IL