Much has been learned in the past five years at six different schools, ranging from preschools and elementary schools to alternative education high schools. The most important lesson learned is how developing a trauma-informed lens takes time (pun intended). It’s About T.I.M.E. isn’t an intervention or curriculum. It is a vehicle to create a culture shift as to how children are seen and treated. This new understanding has to be championed by leaders at each school.
Two years is the amount of time needed to lay a foundation of a rather large paradigm shift, both at the individual and policy levels. Backed by sound research and data in developmental neuroscience, It’s About T.I.M.E. challenges some deeply held perceptions and traditions of how education, children and discipline should be addressed. Change, especially that which challenges our values and beliefs, can be difficult to embrace. However, once the foundation is set, progress grows quickly.
This brings us to the second lesson learned: facilitating change requires a tremendous investment in building the relationship between T.I.M.E. consultants and the adults at the schools. Teaching is a very tough job, as is the work of counselors and administrators. Adding anything new to their plates, let alone suggesting they should approach some things vastly different, is going to backfire without a foundation of trust, respect, and compassion. Theodore Roosevelt said it best; “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
We must slow down and take a step back, fighting the urge to lecture or change minds until we know that we have established a relationship. There isn’t a guidebook for building these relationships. They come from hanging out, talking, getting to know one another, eating together or offering help in the classroom. But don’t mistake these actions as mere frivolous means to an end. Building these relationships aren’t the precursor to the intervention; they ARE the intervention. We’re modeling the very relationships we hope to see.
The final lesson learned is to expand upon our explanation of the term “trauma-informed.” The term is accurate in that it provides a more clear understanding of what trauma is, how it impairs functioning and what we can do to provide healing. But the term is shorthand for a much broader understanding of human functioning. “Trauma” isn’t just when something terrible happens to someone. “Trauma” is what happens inside of someone when ANY event, or series of events, is overly stressful thus recalibrating the stress response system of the body. By that definition, most people have an accumulation of “mild traumas” It’s the degree to which they produce impairment that differs.
When we understand that anyone can have a recalibrated nervous system, we can begin to look at human behavior differently. Under varying degrees of stress, we all can become more irrational, irritable, impulsive, unmotivated or tuned out. If we see these problems as the result of an overly stressed brain, whether due to a lifetime of intense adversity, or to some situational inconveniences such as missing lunch or being stuck in traffic, we can respond to them with understanding and compassion—focusing on regulation, rather than contempt and control.
A trauma-informed lens isn’t limited to helping only those who have experienced trauma. All humans benefit when their stress is met with comfort rather than ire. It allows us to understand the world in a totally new and different way. It’s About T.I.M.E. helps more than just students who have endured obvious trauma. It changes the way we treat all our students, our colleagues, our friends, strangers, our own families and even ourselves.
August 2021 marks the 6 year anniversary of It’s About T.I.M.E. (Trauma-Informed Movement in Education), a first-of-its-kind for Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) training program, based on ChildTrauma Academy’s Neurosequential Model in Education, that equips educators with tools to understand and help students who are experiencing negative impacts of trauma. The approach looks at how children’s behavior, brain development and functioning, and traumatic experiences are all connected. This provides educators with a different lens in which to view and respond to challenging behaviors in ways that promote healing and academic success.
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.