In November, It’s About T.I.M.E. (Trauma Informed Movement in Education) consultants Nathan Swaringen, LCSW and Stevie McBride, LMFT arrived in Denver, Colorado to attend Beyond Consequences Institute’s Trauma Informed School Conference. Educators, clinicians and researchers from around the world gathered together to share ideas and inspiration about how they can transform our schools and the lives of children who endure developmental adversity and trauma.
As two Southern California natives, we departed the plane on Monday afternoon and marveled at the beauty and biting cold (24 degrees) of Denver. Light snow dusted the ground from a recent flurry, but only blue skies shone that afternoon. Hungry after our flight and several hours late for lunch, we stopped for burgers on our way to the hotel. Bundled in winter clothing, yet still cold, Stevie and I did an exaggerated double-take, confirming with one another what we just witnessed: a local (no doubt) walking to his car wearing a t-shirt and shorts. The following two days were a much more reasonable 60-something degrees.
The conference began with Dr. Ross Greene as the keynote speaker, captivating the audience with a delivery not unlike a well-rehearsed news anchor or mega-church pastor. The inflection in his voice and the emphasis on certain words was quite impressive and unique for a conference speaker. His content had me muttering to Stevie, “Yes…exactly…that’s right.” He lectured on his Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS), urging the audience to reconsider traditional discipline, and shifting the focus from modifying behavior to addressing what is driving the behavior: a lack of skills in problem solving, frustration tolerance, or flexibility. “If your focus is on the behavior, you’re too late. The behavior is merely the signal identifying the intersection of lagging skill and unmet expectation,” said Dr. Green. Focusing on modifying behavior with rewards or consequences presupposes that unmet expectations are the result of the child not trying hard enough to meet them. “Does a child not earning a sticker really increase the likelihood of better behavior?” Dr. Greene asked rhetorically.
Speaking next was Dr. Bruce Perry, lecturing on his Neurosequential Model in Education (NME). As I am certified in NME, the material was a review for me, but ongoing education for Stevie, who is currently going through the certification process. The excitement came when Dr. Perry began presenting slides on NME research data from schools around the world. He referenced a school in Denver, that increased their academic proficiency from 17 percent to 46 percent after implementing NME. Then, he presented a graph with data depicting a decrease in suspensions from an alternative education high school in Long Beach, California at the top of the graph was “It’s About T.I.M.E.”
The presentation I enjoyed most was from Jim Sporleder, former principal of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington and star of the documentary, Papers Tigers. He spoke with so much passion about how and why he was able to transform a violent, trauma-riddled, outcast of a school into a place of love, understanding and resiliency. I enjoyed his talk because it was simple and passionate; traumatized students will heal and thrive if the adults commit to loving them unconditionally and disciplining them with regulation and relationship in mind.
Stevie and I attended many valuable lectures over our two days. We learned about practical sensory regulation techniques to use in the classroom, how to effectively implement discipline and accountability at a trauma informed school by focusing on regulation rather than modifying behavior, and the importance of a top-down framework for establishing a trauma-informed infrastructure at a school. The trauma-informed message and staff accountability must come from administration. If the trauma-informed consultant is the loudest voice for change, it’s an uphill battle. Even under ideal circumstances, we have learned how the battle is more of a marathon than a sprint. One presenter explained it like this: years 1-2 = pain, years 3-4 = gain, years 5+ = sustain. Stevie and I left with a lot to think about and bring back to It’s About T.I.M.E.
Finally, I asked Stevie to share his thoughts on the conference. Here’s what he wrote: “Throughout this trip, I noticed one common theme revolving around the conference and that theme was ‘passion.’ Yes, all the trauma-informed research was eye-opening, however, to see hundreds of people from all over the world wanting to see change in the way schools implement discipline was a powerful force within itself. That passion must start at the top and trickle down from the principal to the hearts of the teachers, recreational aides and to the custodial staff. There must be a community built around our students, instilling love and a passion they may have never felt before. I’ve realized that Nathan and I are only sparks to a fire that must consume the traditional ways of viewing and treating hurting students.”
Nathan and Stevie plan on attending the next TISC conference in the summer of 2020, hopefully, with a crew of LBUSD administrators and educators. Nathan believes the infectious passion will undoubtedly grab them as well.
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
It’s About T.I.M.E. partners with new schools like Barton Elementary each year, with the goal of reaching every school within LBUSD. A new opportunity to support this program and LBUSD students and schools has officially launched. You can help teachers build and strengthen relationships with students individually, so they feel seen, heard and valued by joining the Monthly Giving Hope & Healing Club. To learn more, visit: tgclb.org/hope-healing