It’s About T.I.M.E. (Trauma-Informed Movement in Education) is a training program, based on ChildTrauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education, that equips educators with tools to understand and help students who are experiencing the negative impacts of trauma. The two-year program builds on the foundation created by established support systems within Long Beach Unified Schools and brings the trauma-informed approach to educators through formal training at the beginning of the school year and onsite support throughout the following two years.

Nathan Swaringen, LCSW, It’s About T.I.M.E. Lead Consultant shares his experiences partnering with Lakewood High School this past academic school year.

As our somewhat post-COVID world returns to something that feels more familiar, it can be easy to breathe a sigh of relief and view the stressors and pain of the past couple years through the rearview mirror. For many, that is an accurate reality; things are back to “normal” for them. But for others, the wounds of a pandemic are still very raw, unhealed, and even worsening. There are predictable ripple-effects to massive, persistent, inescapable stressors, both to the individuals, but also to communities and systems.

The education system has been hit very hard by the pandemic. Staff and students have endured two plus years of physical and emotional burnout and feelings of frustration, resentment, and hopelessness. A large area of focus for It’s About T.I.M.E. consultants during the pandemic has been supporting staff. With adults getting a taste of what sustained, overwhelming stress is like, there lies a teaching opportunity. Modeling connection, patience, grace, empathy, and support for the adults helps them (us) return to a state of regulation. A regulated brain is necessary for motivation, focus, learning, and management of emotions. By intentionally supporting school staff in countless ways, from being a shoulder to cry on, to helping clean a classroom, to giving the teacher respite by leading a class of unruly students in a brain break, the consultant is modeling for the adult, vicariously, what the students need. It benefits both.

Explicit instruction, once a teacher or school staff member feels supported and cared for, has been valuable as well. Guiding an educator in implementing policies that create safety, connection, and regulation amongst the students is the goal. Helping the adults understand and remember why students struggle, and what they need to thrive is vital. Our lens drives our responses. It’s About T.I.M.E. consultants help teachers build a community of learning…a village…a family. Remember, connectedness is the most powerful and effective antidote to distress and trauma. When staff feel safe and connected, they can pass that onto the students.

The need for this lens has been unmistakably apparent. Students returned to in-person instruction this last fall extremely dysregulated, many from living in unsafe conditions, others from forgetting or never knowing what school structure is like, and others feeling hopelessly behind and lost academically. Predictably, student behavior has been an enormous challenge. Apathy, conflict, defiance, anxiety, depression, and even suicide have been more prevalent than ever.

Opening the eyes of staff to the healing power of brief, simple interactions have been impactful and effective when seen in action. Many examples come to mind, but one stands out, illustrating the methods of helping staff reach an angry, disrespectful, unmotivated student struggling with substance use on campus. Why is he like this? (why the pain, NOT why the behavior). We know this child has dealt with a lifetime of rejection, abandonment, and disgust at who he is by those who were supposed to love and nurture him. The world has hurt him, so he aims to hurt the world, and himself. After properly conceptualizing the case through a lens of pain and self-medication rather than willful defiance, came the prescriptive interactions. “But how do we reach him and get through to him?” The answer is to stop trying to reach him and get through to him. Instead, we must be with him. If our focus is on fixing, changing, or convincing, how can we appreciate the brief moments being with the young man in front of us? We can’t because we’re too busy looking for the person we hope him to one day be. When we are intentional about this shift in our way of being, we feel different, and he feels different in our presence. If rejection is the source of his pain, and his pain is the source of his dysfunction, we must provide the antidote:  the sense that we like him just the way he is. A small team of adults has committed to this shift, and it shows. We’ve stopped trying to convince him to do more work. We’ve even stopped trying to get him to open up about what’s bothering him to let us help him. We’ve simply shifted to taking delight in his presence, a mutual relationship amongst equals, not between the wounded and the healer.

Is the student “fixed”? Nope, because our goal isn’t fixing, it is supporting by being with. But there is a noticeable change in this student’s demeanor, a palatable hope in his eyes, smile and mischievous grins, that he is cared for and that he belongs. He carries less pain in his heart.

This past school year, we have supported those who have needed it the most and helped them through to the other side with hope and reassurance that we all will be okay.

Nathan Swaringen, LCSW, has worked as a Clinical Therapist at The Guidance Center for more than 10 years. In this role, Swaringen helped guide children and families toward positive and productive futures through mental health treatment. In 2016, Swaringen developed and launched our trauma-informed pilot program based on ChildTrauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education, called It’s About T.I.M.E. He is passionate about working with school staff to create nurturing environments where all students can thrive. Swaringen earned a Master of Social Work from University of Southern California, and Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from California State University, Fullerton.