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The "Why" Behind the "What"

Updated: Feb 13

My first year teaching back in 2012 was one for the books. To be honest, I never really liked kids before starting that job.

However, my heart quickly changed when I began to co-teach a kindergarten class at a rural Title One school in Georgia. It didn't take long for me to realize that these children were lacking some of the basic necessities in life- things most of us take for granted. Some of my students came to school in the same uniform day after day with dirt under their fingernails. Some came hungry, not having eaten sine the day before when they ate their free lunch in the cafeteria. I realized that these kids had big hearts, but their hearts had holes from all the needs. The need for safety, support, connection, and a healthy environment to grow and thrive in.

Ask any educator in a Title One school what a classroom full of at-risk kids looks like and she will write you a book on ADHD, disruption, disrespect, angry outbursts, failure, and write-ups.

Childhood adversity looks a lot like these, too. And it's no coincidence. Research shows that disruptive classroom behaviors and the like can be summed up into one word: dysregulation. That is just a fancy word used to explain how lack of basic needs being met for safety and connection can have detrimental impacts on emotional and cognitive development. The five senses have to be utilized in order to grow, just like muscles. If children aren't held and soothed, nurtured, picked up when they cry, clothed when they are cold, or changed when wet, etc. the brain becomes hardwired for survival and fear.

The student who flipped his desk when you told him to look back at problem number 3? He's been evaluated for Oppositional Defiant Disorder and has an Individual Education Plan for ADHD. But, in my experience, there is a significant overlap between those presentations and a severe history of trauma and neglect. Thirty-two percent of children with behaviors such as these have a background jam-packed with trauma and neglect. He isn't trying to ruin your day, he's missing some foundational structures in his brain limiting his capacity to regulate his emotions due to consistently unmet needs.

Dr. Karyn Purvis suggests that there is hope. What is hurt in relationships can be healed in relationships. Kids can learn to trust, cope in healthy ways, and even change how they react to their environments. It all starts with understanding the "why" behind the "what". As educators, we are the primary caregiver from Monday-Friday. Compassionate schools create a safe place for students to not just survive the week, but to thrive. It's time to change the narrative from "What's wrong with you?" to "What happened to you?" What would it look like to have a classroom full of met needs? My guess is that those angry outbursts would be nonexistent.

It starts here.

Through informal and formal assessment of your organizational needs, I will shine light on the prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), the negative physical and emotional impacts they cause into adulthood, and some best practices and practical tools to fight ACEs and change unhealthy patterns into more productive ones. I challenge you as a parent, caregiver, educator, or mentor to open your heart as we explore the life-giving healing that can come to your children and students as you begin to view them through a trauma-informed lens.

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