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This podcast is produced by Benchmark Education.

Kevin Carlson:

In your school, who is looking out for the mental health and wellbeing of students, teachers and the rest of the community? In this episode, you'll learn about trauma informed care in education. I'm Kevin Carlson and this is Teachers Talk Shop

Steve Fiedeldey:

All the teachers out there, my heart goes out to them. They're struggling and they feel like what they're doing is not good enough. And I think that we can start there by just all allowing ourselves the grace to understand that we're doing the best we can with what we've got right now. So I think that grace goes a long way.

Kevin Carlson:

That is Steve Fiedeldy, founder of Fiedeldey Consulting LLC, which works with schools to help support the social-emotional well-being of students. He is a restorative practitioner who has a diverse background in education, and many years of experience in teaching, support services, and educational leadership. Author and educator Patty McGee spoke with Steve recently about Trauma Informed Care.

Patty McGee:

I invited Steve Fiedeldy to come on and and talk with us about mental health and the ways that we can support the mental health and well-being of students, educators, the whole school community. So it is a very serious topic today, but one that is so important that we talk about. What's really special about this conversation is although we are going to spend a little time in this discussion around trauma, we're also going to walk away with practical tools that help us work through it all. So Steve, director of special services in a town, in a school in New Jersey and a friend and just an all-around amazing human being, especially with what he brings into this world that helps us all stay as mentally healthy as we possibly can. So thank you for being here with me today.

Steve Fiedeldey:

Thanks for having me. So no pressure with that lead up, right? All of the trauma of COVID. And here's Steve and he'll tell us how to take care of ourselves.

Patty McGee:

You about, right? Well, you are leading really important work right now. You have the answers that so many of us are seeking. I don't think that we've ever truly, as a country, been in a situation where we, as a as a country of schools have all had the same need to deal with something that we've all experienced. I'm honestly trying to think of a time, and so many of us educators are coming up short. We are feeling trauma ourselves. We're feeling emotions that are running through us, and we know that our students have and will as well. And we're kind of at a loss. So having ideas from somebody with your experience will be really, really helpful for everyone. So as we get started, can we first define basically the word trauma and also the phrase of trauma informed care? And what that means educationally.

Steve Fiedeldey:

Yeah, so when when I think of trauma and so many people define it differently, it's really when there's an interruption in joy, and that definition comes from my background and work as a restorative practitioner and a student of restorative practices. So whenever we have that interruption, there's trauma going on, right? It's disrupting. There's shame. There's something that's breaking up our pleasantries. And if we could ever come up with an agreement for trauma informed care, I'd be really surprised. I think that's part of the reason I got into this work was because as formerly as a school psychologist and then as a director, I was really frustrated. I was going to all of these trainings for trauma informed care, and none of them really seemed to be hitting the mark. So I think what's most important when we look at trauma informed care is understanding how dynamic trauma is right now and how many multiple factors and systems are creating trauma. And it's not singular, and I think that's where we go wrong as we look for a singular solution, a singular workshop. And instead, that's what led me to go out and create this trauma informed framework that the trauma is on a continuum, and it needs to be sustainable and sustained efforts in our districts. And. I think I think all the teachers out there and the power professionals and support staff. My heart goes out to them. I supported them and saw it as an educational leader and then also as a consultant. And they're struggling and they feel like what they're doing is not good enough. And I think that we can start there by just allowing ourselves the grace to understand that we're doing the best we can with what we've got right now. So I think that grace goes a long way.

Patty McGee:

Absolutely. Grace and self-compassion because we have never done something like this before and we were not prepared to encounter what we've encountered. So I appreciate all of your backgrounds. But I also have a question for you: what really brought you to this work around trauma and specifically in schools?

Steve Fiedeldey:

And so I think there are so many layers, I think kind of like there are different systems in place. There are different aspects of getting involved in this work around trauma that that came together. I think it started in the Whycoff schools with my school psychology internship, and they had lost the student to suicide a few years prior. And my supervisor said, whatever you do, do whatever you can to make sure this doesn't happen again. So my work around trauma really started around the analysis of suicide and suicide prevention and the importance to have our community, community members, both educators and families trained around how to prevent suicide. What are the indicators? And then later that work was more upstream. It's like, OK, we've got a grasp on how we can screen for and support people who are suicidal. But we also know that untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide. So how do we look at depression? So that pushed me more towards universally screening for depression in schools, and it was around the same time that I was getting interested in that, that I ended up at the International Institute for Restorative Practices, and Lee Rusch did our four day training and he planted the seed that just just kept giving and through that incredible community, identified that as a precursor to all that work and a buffer is really that this power of human connection and care. And how do we set up our classroom communities? And it's not rocket science on how we go about doing that, but it is intentional. And when we have connection, those are buffers for adverse childhood experiences, they're buffers for depression, they're buffers for suicidal ideation. So that was kind of like the flow of of how I ended up getting all the way to restorative practices and doing a look back and being like, Wow, all of these things are not standalone. They are all interconnected. And I think that's the way that we attack the beast of trauma that we're going through right now is from different angles and different perspectives.

Patty McGee:

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. Interesting journey, Steve. And one that started with a student and now is helping so many other students because of that one life. And wow, way to make something out of that. That will bring mental health into the forefront of our conversations and also have a better understanding of what that looks like when you can use the words the power of human connection and care and how that can show up in these hard times. And what that can do for educators and for students. Something else I just want to bring up for a second is in our conversations, inside conversations when we talk about trauma. One of the important parts of knowing about trauma is that it's not just in your mind, right? It's not just your mind that's affected, even though that should be sufficient. It's also in your body. It's actually something that your body houses. Could you talk a little bit more about that and kind of the need then to work this through and use these trauma informed care practices?

Steve Fiedeldey:

Yeah. So as we go through through trauma, what's happening is there are changes that are going on in our brain. And really the key takeaway there is that our memories aren't being stored and they're not being processed and they're not being integrated in the way they normally are when we were in a calm, centered body. They're fragmented. So part of processing trauma is going back through that narrative, that trauma narrative. We're going through it and reliving it and experiencing it and retelling it in a common safe body and in the common safe space. And when we're able to do that over time, we're able to reintegrate it into our personal narrative of our life. And I think that's probably whereas educators, many of us are missing that opportunity. At the beginning of this school year, I was working with a group in Passaic, New Jersey, and one of the participants said there were many tears because we were opening up about all things trauma. And she said, "I am so thankful I came to this workshop. I can't imagine what all the educators out there are doing in our district who are going to come in without having had this time and space." So an understanding. How that's fragmented in terms of our processing as educational leaders, we need to provide international space for our staff to process that trauma and then come back to be able to better care for and support our students.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break. Where to start with trauma informed care? Stay with us.

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Patty McGee:

Where do districts start?

Steve Fiedeldey:

Here's the irony behind all of this, right, when we talk about trauma and we look at trauma historically, we look at the trauma, both of enslaved people, we look at the trauma of indigenous people. And it's ironic that this work of restorative practice is born of indigenous people. So we talk about this and this irony. We're using indigenous practices to undo the trauma that we look at in terms of these different systems that have continued to oppress over time, as well as the trauma of COVID 19 as well. So when we talk about starting, really what I think for is that we need to do is we need to create a safe space to explain and to talk and to listen. And we do that through an intentional, restorative practice called listening circles. The beauty of listening circles is that you get together in a circle. They're small about six to eight people and the facilitator even participates and you go through about three or four questions. And the questions are geared towards looking at the past, looking at the present and looking at the future. And the beauty of that kind of goes back to this construct. We're talking about about trauma, about people getting stuck. It allows us to move forward and be forward looking by the time it's done and we talk about what's been hardest for us, what we need moving forward.

Steve Fiedeldey:

But having that shared experience, we can't, as educational leaders, expect our staff to come in. And by the time this is out, it's probably going to have already happened for some. But to expect it to be business as usual because it's not. And we need that time to humanize and to connect with each other because I know how to better support my staff when we have those listening circle opportunities to understand the struggles, to understand different people's perspectives as co-workers and there's arguments in the office. You might get a better understanding of why that's going on when you understand how people have been impacted by this. And the beauty with listening circles is that not only do staff get to unpack themselves, but they then get a tool that they can turn and use in their classrooms and better understand their students. Because if we don't understand the students emotionally what's going on in their minds and in their hearts, then how can we move forward with educating them without understanding what these past two years have been like for them?

Patty McGee:

Yeah, absolutely. So you're saying that districts can start by first creating listening circle experiences for staff, no matter what their role is in the school, and then in turn, they can bring those practices into the classroom.

Steve Fiedeldey:

Yeah, and the beauty of listening circles too is, you know, when my goal as a facilitator and a professional developer and a professional learner is to give educators things they can turn around and use right away, not into the too- intellectualized piece of it. But it's tightly scripted and there is safety in the script of listening circles that we utilize. So you don't have to be a clinician or a counselor or social worker. Anyone can follow these pieces because we're not having a debate. We're not having a discussion. I'm not supporting you by needing to know what to tell you. I am just supporting you by sitting here and bearing witness to your lived experience.

Patty McGee:

Yes. And I also want to say this has got many folds, but let's just say two-fold here. One, we are giving teachers the experience with a practice that they can bring into their classroom. But two, we're also helping them process trauma so they are more able to be in the classroom having had some healing themselves.

Steve Fiedeldey:

Yeah, without a doubt.

Patty McGee:

Well, that's just a win win all around.

Steve Fiedeldey:

It is.

Patty McGee:

So restorative practices and listening circles is one idea that you have. Can you share another idea that you have for teachers or for district staff to be able to bring into the classroom, perhaps experience themselves first and then bring to students?

Steve Fiedeldey:

Yeah, I think part of the beauty in processing trauma is that, again, it is not necessarily new techniques, but looking at old techniques and a new lens. So even just something as simple as check in and check out, something that most good classroom teachers are already doing. They're at the door connecting with their students. They know exactly who's been at what sporting event, who's on what team or has what hobby. But to be intentional about that at the beginning and end of class. But what's different is that in this time of trauma, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front of students when we have those check in and check outs to go to lead with open-ended questions. That's a great start. The more we have a tightly phrased question, the more we're leading our students to an answer. So things like "What's a crossroads that you're at?" is beautiful because it allows people to go in a variety of different directions or describe a triumph or a challenge. Totally open ended. You know, not what was your favorite book that you read this summer? Because when we leave it open-ended, kids will take us and they'll be willing to share. But as the educational leader, we need to be confident enough to let go of some of that control that I know I had as a first time teacher teaching at Montclair State as an adjunct that first semester, I wanted to hold on to control because I was so insecure. But we need to be vulnerable and let go of control.

Steve Fiedeldey:

And when we model for the students that it's a safe place, it's as simple as leading with that in our classes and inviting students into that space. And when I was working with South Orange Maplewood School District, I was working with a teacher and--this is springtime, and she was struggling to get the kids' microphones on. And part of that work, and when your check ins and check outs and some of you in the country right now are probably virtual, it's finding finding that brave leader within your classroom and perhaps having a conversation ahead of time if you're struggling to get cameras on our mics on and we went from a classroom where students hadn't heard each other all year. So the fact that they had their cameras on. And so you kind of got to go with that behavioral momentum piece, but you find your ally, you get them to buy in, you get them to turn their mic on their camera on and and the teacher was crying by the end of the session like visible tears. And he was so proud of his students, and his students were so happy. And you know, in your heart of hearts that they are happy to see each other because you can't sit at a screen for four six hours a day looking at squares of names on it?

Patty McGee:

Yeah, absolutely. So in these restorative practices, you suggest listening circles, you suggest check ins and check outs, and the way that you describe those check ins and check outs are more open ended possibilities. Check ins and check outs. They also sound, for lack of a better word, really human. We're not just about the academics here, but we're checking in with each of you and checking out with each of you as humans. And that is just that recognition alone invites everyone to be more involved in the classroom, no matter what it is.

Steve Fiedeldey:

And it's amazing the things that will percolate in such a short period of time. This isn't something where you need to invest like a month of training to yield results like that classroom. I was there for thirty five minutes and we got everybody's camera on doing the same as educational leaders, being vulnerable with our staff and leading with that vulnerability and another classroom. I was working with the paraprofessional when we were doing our check in, which shared about the loss of a sister that she had during that time and the students didn't know and the teacher hadn't realized. And it brings us together because we're normalizing this. This shared human experience, which is just so incredibly difficult.

Patty McGee:

It really is. Can you also talk about another restorative practice that you've learned from--I can't remember who, so first start with that around compassionate witnessing.

Steve Fiedeldey:

Yeah. So Dr. Randall is all things amazing, and I shifted districts this past summer, and if she wasn't the instructor, I don't know if I would have stayed on. So compassionate witnessing is similar to listening circles in the sense that we are providing space and safety to unpack. And I think what's really interesting about it is that we all have trauma and this doesn't need to be specific to COVID 19. But really, what we're talking about is setting up a time and there's a specific structure to listening circles based off of the work of Keith Weingarten. But it's about a facilitator and a storyteller having, you know, four different rounds where the storyteller and the facilitator share their story. Then there's a discussion among the witnesses. So if you have a group of witnesses, they share all of those comments about connection and community and caring concern. And the storyteller can't say anything at that time. They just have to listen. And then the storyteller has the opportunity in the third round to respond to some of the comments and questions that were brought up. And then we have a meta discussion of what that's like. And it was so beautiful.

Steve Fiedeldey:

The power during my time as a student in this work, the sense of a tight knit community. There were like four of us witnessing each other's trauma, and there's just such a deep level of connection that's unlike any other graduate class I've taken. And it brings people together. And, you know, we're focusing on empathy. We're focusing on normalizing the human experience. But during that compassionate witnessing time, we don't make it about us. You know, we keep it all about the person who needs to share. So I wonder what that would look like in a school system where we could break into small groups and have those pockets of of time, once a month, once a semester, where staff can can unpack with a trusted group of colleagues. Because I think when I look back at my trauma informed framework, this collective community of care is so important because we're lessening the burden on a teacher to have the responsibility of the well-being of their entire class. And the same thing administratively, like we make mental health everyone's responsibility. It's a lighter load. But part of that is being brave enough and vulnerable enough to talk about it.

Patty McGee:

Sure is. Wow. This is a really important conversation around, I'm going to bring up your words again around the power of human connection and care and these practical ways of using listening circles, check ins and check outs and compassionate witnessing to help us process the trauma, the shared trauma that we've all experienced and then also individual trauma that we're all bringing with us into our sacred classroom space and school community. So thank you for all of this. I know that you'll also be writing a blog post. It might be up is listeners are hearing this and that will give even more insight into this topic and more of what you have at least touched on a little bit here as a wonderful companion to this conversation.

Kevin Carlson:

After the break. Some final thoughts from Steve Fidelity. Stay with us!

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Patty McGee:

So, Steve, thanks so much for sharing this with us and also being somebody with the courage to look square in the eye of the hardest parts right now for educators and for students, and to give us ways that we can work through these really hard parts.

Steve Fiedeldey:

Yeah, I think in closing, I think one of the best compliments I had over this past year was working with the district and we had worked together for, oh, I don't know, maybe like six days. And one of the teachers said, Steve, like we love when we get to come spend time with you, part of the time we spend with you, we love the most is being able to talk with each other. And I was like, No offense taken! Like, that is the head fake that I wanted to instill through all of this professional learning and intentionally building in time the need to connect with and support each other and identify as humans in this shared human experience so we can better take care of each others and in turn, better take care of our students.

Kevin Carlson:

Thank you, Steve Fiedeldey. Thank you, Patty McGee, and thank you for listening to Teachers Talk Shop. If you would like to hear more from Steve, check out his blog post. Redefining Trauma-Informed Care. To find it, go to Benchmark Education.com, visit the professional learning area, and look under the professional development resources. There you will find the Benchmark Blog. The post is full of great information, useful tips and links to other helpful resources. Enjoy! For Benchmark Education, I'm Kevin Carlson.