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Smiling Teacher

Professional Development for Schools

These half-day and full-day sessions are grounded in theory to help participants understand the "why" and then provide practical interventions that are easy to apply and provide the conditions for sustainable change in student behaviour.


Understanding, Teaching and Intervening with Challenging Students

With over 40 years of experience working in schools, it had become clear that there are no easy answers for teaching and working with students who have challenging behaviours. Rather than asking, “What can we do to fix this student?” we must, instead develop an understanding of why the behaviour occurs and then create an environment that helps the student to manage the demands of the school environment. This understanding comes to us through the neuroscience of development; research on the effect of adverse childhood experiences (complex trauma) on development, learning and behaviour, and is grounded in a paradigm that considers three keys to human development: maturation, vulnerability and attachment. Using this knowledge, it becomes apparent that some of our “tried and true” interventions are not only not effective, but they can, at times, make things worse for our students. This presentation will focus on interventions that can make a difference in classroom and a school and create the optimal conditions for learning and behaving.

Trauma and the Brain – how it affects behaviour and learning

We have students in our schools who have great difficulty behaving. Sometimes they have meltdowns that come “out of the blue”. These students are unpredictable and as a result also have difficulty with social interactions. It seems to take very little to provoke them into acting in ways that hurt other students. Some of these students also have academic difficulties. We have long sought reasons for such behaviour and learning difficulties. In Part I of this two part series, I will review what the neuroscience of complex trauma tells us about these students. We will delve into how the brain is directly affected by adverse childhood experiences. We will then look at the source of most adverse childhood experiences: experiencing too much separation, and how this too affects their behaviour.

Making Sense of Aggression

How can we help children become less aggressive? In this presentation, we will take a new look at this age-old problem. Using the innovative working model of Dr. Gordon Neufeld, we will explore aggression’s deep instinctive roots and then reveal why conventional approaches to the problem are so ineffective. We will see that the key to making sense of aggression is to get past the violating behaviour in order to focus on the emotional experience of the child. Once we understand more clearly what is missing in the child’s processing or functioning, we will look at how best to intervene with the aggression dynamic in ways that respect the developmental processes of the children in our care. We will use Neufeld’s theoretical framework along with what current brain research is revealing, to promote effective intervention practices in schools.

The Teen Brain – a Construction Zone

Teens can be very frustrating at the best of times. When they experience extra difficulties, such as learning disabilities, syndromes, and general developmental delays there are additional layers of complexity. These factors can make teaching them very challenging. This presentation will review current brain research on the developing teen brain and then discuss factors affecting students with special needs, be they learning or behavioural. Then we will look at specific practices and strategies that can be used, especially at the beginning of the year, that can maximize our ability to help these students to learn and behave so that they can reach their full potential.

Bullying - understanding what is really going on and how best to intervene.

We all want bullies to stop hurting other children. A lot of resources have been poured into anti-bullying programmes but sadly, not much has changed as a result. Most prevailing approaches to this problem assume that bullying is either a learned behaviour or the result of a failure to acquire social skills and the interventions suggested are based on these assumptions This presentation will dissect the bully syndrome to reveal its deep instinctive roots in the dynamics of attachment and vulnerability. Once we understand what is really going on inside the bully we will be in a better position to put into place interventions that can make a real difference. There are no easy answers to this age-old problem, but there are better ways to make sure that everyone can feel safe at school.

The Explosive Student: why it happens and what to do

Schools are struggling with students who have frequent, intense explosions. In order to more effectively intervene, we must first understand the origins of this challenging behaviour whether the student is in Kindergarten, Elementary or High School. This presentation will reveal the underlying emotion, which is frustration, and then explain why certain students have a hard time managing their frustration. We will delve into the neuroscience surrounding this emotion. Finally, we will look at ways of intervening that allow us to avoid certain pitfalls and that have proven to be effective.

Trauma Informed and Trauma Responsive Interventions

Once we understand how profoundly complex trauma and adverse childhood experiences, especially facing separation too much to bear, affect certain students then we will consider how best to intervene. We will look at why some interventions, while successful with other students, are rarely successful with these students. We will examine why some interventions should be avoided, especially as these students, once traumatised, are more likely to be re-traumatised. Then we will look at interventions that are more likely to be effective. While not a quick fix, these suggested ways of intervening are being used successfully in both Elementary and Secondary schools.

Pre-requisite: Trauma and the Brain:

Making Sense of Anxiety: the Interaction between Alarm, Vulnerability and Attachment

Our world is not an easy place to live. More and more children and adolescents are being affected in various ways – reacting not only to the alarming world around them, but often to their own internal alarm. Understanding the roots of anxiety helps us to make sense of the child’s experience and informs how we respond as parents, teachers and caregivers. From a developmental perspective, the dynamics of alarm and attachment are inherent to anxiety and its related challenges: sleep problems, learning difficulties, attention deficits, aggression, and depression – to name a few. Once we have a better understanding of these dynamics, we have a better vision for how to free our children to learn, to grow, to quiet the alarm and to find rest.

The Intervention Continuum: A Developmental and Trauma Friendly Response

The Targeted Intervention Continuum is designed to help schools to create an environment, both in the classroom and in the school, that will provide options for those students who have difficulty managing their behaviour. We will start by describing basic classroom practices and organization that will help all students to engage productively during class time.

Then we will look at interventions that some students may need more of or in a more targeted manner so that they can function in the classroom and attend to their learning.

Finally, we will describe additional interventions that can be used outside of the classroom to support the few who are our most challenging students, to help prevent outbursts and disruptive behaviour in the classroom. The aim is always to return the student to their regular learning environment as quickly as possible.

During this presentation we will share recordings and support documents to help you with implementing these strategies. All documents and recordings can be used by those who have attended this session to share at their School Boards.

Understanding Oppositional Children from a Developmental Perspective and how Best to Intervene

Children are naturally inclined to resist and oppose when feeling pressed upon. This can make life very difficult for teachers. During this presentation we will explore the nature of opposition from a developmental perspective. Saying “No” is actually an essential step in the development of full autonomy. Called Counterwill by Otto Rank, this basic instinct allows us to make a space for the development of our true personality. However, it must be tempered by maturation and/or attachment. When we look more closely at the histories of oppositional children, we note that they lack both maturity and close attachments. Once this dynamic is fully understood, then ways of intervening that are tailored to respect its essence are more likely to be successful in preventing behavioural “situations”. 

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