Consistency And Predictability

Consistency from the educator = predictability for the student = feelings of safety at school.

Defining Safety

Trauma Responsive Environments attend to the physical, psychological, and emotional safety of all.

RESPOND AND RE-ESTABLISH

Protection from violence and threats of violence from peers, staff, and any other members of the school community.

PHYSICAL SAFETY 
THREATS TO PHYSICAL SAFETY

Any physical aggression or threats of harm, sexual actions, and profane and hurtful words that lead to fights.

Teachers must respond to each occurrence with firm non-acceptance, model and teach appropriate ways of interpersonal communication and interaction. With sexual misconduct, students must know they will be believed and the actions will be investigated. In all cases, close with restorative practices.

RESPOND AND RE-ESTABLISH

Protection from derogatory statements that negatively affect one’s sense of self and belonging.

PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY
THREATS TO PSYCHOLOGICAL SAFETY

Behavioral expectations or corrections that communicate negative messages about the student’s personhood and sense of belonging within their school community

Establish and positively reinforce practices and behavioral expectations that honor student’s individuality, value their presence.  Disciplinary interactions should include instruction that will help them to successfully navigate a similar situation, as students are reassured that they are valued and wanted members of the school community.

RESPOND AND RE-ESTABLISH

Feeling protected, supported, and enabled to take learning risks, make mistakes, and fail without feeling like a failure.​​

EMOTIONAL SAFETY
THREATS TO EMOTIONAL SAFETY

Students’ answers, ideas, work, or contributions being criticized, laughed at, or demeaned; leading them to fear making mistakes or, ultimately, any contribution. Any actions that lead to students believing that their input is not valued.

Establish and reinforce classroom expectations that honor the intellectual contributions of every student, and values mistakes as evidence of learning and as opportunities for innovation.

 

Students' Needs for Safety

For children and youth growing up in unstable and unsafe homes and/or communities, providing for their own safety can become the central issue that organizes almost all other aspects of their lives. For these students, the school day is filled with the following emotional challenges. 

Continually assessing past or potentially active threats while in or on their way to school

Hypervigilant

Attention is consumed by thoughts of undesirable things that have happened or of what may be encountered after school

Preoccupied

Watching out for which peers or teachers that may be a physical, psychological, or emotional threat

On Alert

Easily enter a heightened state of arousal that makes it hard to return to the calm necessary for optimal functioning at school

Triggered

Feeling on edge and easily agitated by seemingly mundane input

Irritable

Emotionally disconnecting with people and circumstances as a way to cope with feelings or avoid potential triggers

Withdrawn

These emotional states crowd out the mental and emotional calm that is necessary to navigate ABRUPT TRANSITIONS and

CHANGES IN THE EXPECTED ROUTINE. Hence, CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT PRACTICES must be well-planned and carried-out, with as few gaps and changes in routine, as possible, while students are continually kept abreast of what to expect. This creates safety for all students and especially for those whose sense of safety has been compromised.

 

Consistency & Predictability

The need for consistency and predictability for students impacted by trauma cannot be overstated. Consistency and predictability are imperatives to the experience of a safe environment. Consistent routines and expectations are particularly helpful for traumatized children who need a school environment which counters the lack of predictability and safety in their lives outside of school. Below are some detailed aspects of consistency and predictability with strategies for a school experience that is safe for all students to be able to learn, grow and thrive. 

 

Consistent and predictable rituals, routines, and procedures help students:

  • prepare for each part of the day

  • know what to expect

  • aid in smooth transitions

  • provide reminders for upcoming events

  • calm students

 

Consistency helps create trust that the adults can provide safety. For students to experience consistency and predictability, rituals, routines, and procedures must be clearly planned and executed with consistency and predictability. Most educators get the first part correct, beginning the year with strong plans and clear rules, but then quickly become inconsistent and unpredictable in their implementation.

 

Investing in consistency and predictability will substantially reduce the likelihood that students will become dysregulated because they are anxious and uncertain about what comes next. Predictable schedules make it easier for students to internalize the progression and to shift from one task/activity to the next. For example, posted schedules inform students of what is coming up and what they’ve already done. It also serves as a visual aid to reference when students have questions about the day. Consistency and predictability also make for easier responses to unexpected changes in the day by allowing you to clearly state the aspect of the planned schedule being replaced with the change in the schedule for that day.

 

Consistency and predictability are created through:

  • daily or class-specific schedules and agendas posted in the same place in every classroom

  • clearly defined and posted behavior expectations

  • clearly defined sequence of actions for transitions

  • consistently used calls to attention and non-verbal signals for behavioral expectations

  • preparation warnings and countdowns to transitions

 

Trauma Responsive Classroom Management

There are two crucial aspects of Trauma Responsive classroom management:

  1. Understanding the developmental consequences of trauma and how it shows up in their behavior.

  2. Using this understanding to re-frame how we interpret students’ behaviors.

 

The graphic below from Child Trends' summarizes the multitiered effects of trauma on children. You can read more from Child Trends here >>> read more  

Adapted from How to Implement Trauma-informed Care to Build Resilience to Childhood Trauma by Child Trends.

Traumatized students’ hypervigilant focus and hyperarousal reduce their ability to:

  • retain information about behavioral expectations

  • give attention to internalizing the daily schedule, routines and procedures

  • retain and recall the academic material


To ensure that children’s brains and bodies promote learning, children need to trust that their schools and classrooms are safe spaces. This can actually reduce their hypervigilant focus on identifying threats and direct their attention to learning.

Well-planned classroom management procedures help students who are coping with trauma feel safe by meeting their need to:

  • receive multiple messages and frequent reassurances that they are safe in school

  • lower their pre-programmed hypervigilance used to detect threats

  • come down to a level of internal calm that enables their energy to be focused within the learning areas of their brain

 

Trauma responsive classroom management is the combination of actions taken to intentionally create an academically, socially, and emotionally supportive environment by intentionally organizing the space; decorating the space with signs posting rules, procedures, and schedules; well-planned regulating routines and daily activities; preventing and correcting behavior; and modulating the emotional transactions among students.

 

Expectations, Procedures, Rules, ...

An understanding of the effects of trauma on children and a commitment to supporting all students should be reflected in everything that takes place in the classroom. This includes the development of school and classroom behavioral expectations, procedures, rules, as well as systems of rewards and consequences.

 

Behavioral Expectations 

Your three to five classroom rules should be developed in a way that lets students know, very precisely and concisely, what is expected of them. They should be related to experiencing success in the classroom and should be connected to a clear rationale for why each is important. Instead of rules based on what you don’t want students to do, the stated behavioral expectations should be focused on what you want students to do.

 

Review your written expectations for the following guiding practices and edit, as needed.

  • Positively stated in terms of the behaviors you want to see 

    • “Stay silently focused on the assigned task during independent work time” is better than "no talking during independent work time.”

 

  • Stated in terms of clearly observable behavior 

    • “Gather all needed materials at the start of class” is better than “be responsible.”

 

  • Stated in brief, child-friendly language 

    • “Use kind words” is better than “be considerate of others.”

Procedures

Procedures involve the behavioral actions and routines for how you want students to engage with you, with each other, and with space and materials in the classroom as they engage in the many tasks and activities that occur during the school day.  

  

Praise and Rewards

Students will be motivated to adhere to expectations on an ongoing basis when you acknowledge and/or praise them regularly for exhibiting the expected behavior and even for their effort in trying to exhibit the expected behavior when they are not completely successful. It is important to praise effort! Acknowledging that a person is seen and that their efforts are valued can aid in combating some of the effects of trauma by fostering a sense of connectedness and belonging, supporting self-efficacy, confidence and the development of intrinsic motivation. Until all students are intrinsically motivated, you can encourage this growth through rewards.   

Relational rewards are the most effective and sustainable rewards, and they strengthen the quality of the classroom climate.

  • Ideas for Relational Rewards:

    • Teacher joins students in a game during recess

    • Whole-class board game time

    • Teacher Book Read-In: teacher reads aloud from a favorite excitement-filled book

    • Lunch Bunch: whole class lunch party with music

    • Art and Music Afternoon: 20 minutes of free use of art supplies while music plays or they can create their own music

    • Pajama Day: students are allowed to wear appropriate pajamas to school

    • Good notes or calls home

    • Mentor Helper: individuals are selected (ex. most improved behavior) to help out in a lower grade level classroom

    • Individual lunch with the teacher

    • Individual special helper

Your rewards should be laid out in three different behavior management plans:

  1. Whole-class behavior management plan, which should provide you and your students with how individuals and the whole class will be rewarded for following expected behaviors;

  2. Table/group behavior management plan, which should contain the additional behavioral expectations for group work and instructions on how groups will be rewarded for following expected behaviors; and

  3. Supportive behavior management plan, which should provide a plan for you and individual students who need additional support, in their attempts to display expected classroom behaviors.

 

Consequences 

Consequences should only be administered after using supportive teaching strategies, such as proximity, eye contact, re-direction, and stating the replacement behavior. Remember, the goal is to increase the student(s) ability to self-regulate in order to be able to exhibit expected classroom behaviors. The most helpful thing you can do when students don’t follow expectations and procedures is talk with them to understand why they have behaved in a particular way. If a person doesn’t understand why something has gone wrong, they will have little ability to correct it. So, this communication allows you to work on improving the student’s behavior while strengthening your relationship with the student. 

 

Cautions and Considerations

  • Do not attempt to enforce a consequence while the student(s) is emotionally agitated/upset.

 

  • If you find that you are handing out many consequences to one student, to several students, or to the whole class, you need to return to teaching your rules and procedures. 

 
 

A Different Experience 

SAFE
ZONE

Students experiencing traumatic stressors need support in transitioning from being consumed by the problems outside of school to being cognitively present in the classroom, ready to learn. When schools can create the type of space in which students are able to experience some sense of control, see that their efforts produce results, and can plan for the future, there is an increase in children’s ability to cope with ongoing exposure to toxic stressors and trauma. Educators and schools must be intentional about establishing environments that are distinctly different from the stressful lives students may be experiencing outside of the school building and beyond the school day.

When The School

Is A Risk Factor

Limited capacity to avoid/prevent student confrontations

Inflexible behavioral routines and demands for conformity

Overcrowding that adds to feelings of emotional agitation and distress

Negative expectations for some students

Inconsistent and punitive discipline

Poor quality instruction

Disconnection from teachers, parents, and community

Left unsupported to experience academic failure

Rejection by peers and lack of belonging and commitment to school

Applying visible social consequences for school failure

When The School Reclaims

Youth Placed-At-Risk

Awareness and prevention of student confrontations

Empowerment of student voice and agency

Adequate, well-maintained space that contributes to feeling relaxed and calm

High expectations and high support for all students

Positive, proactive, and restorative discipline

Engaging and rigorous instruction

Teachers, parents, and community members engaged

Varied opportunities to demonstrate and experience mastery

Acceptance by peers and sense of belonging and ownership

Private corrections to ensure maintenance of student dignity

 

Planned Transitions

Transitioning from one activity or from one space to another are times when students often need additional support meeting behavioral expectations. All and any transitions throughout the school day should be clear, predictable, and prioritize physical safety.

 

To create in-class and room-to-room transitions that are well-controlled, purposeful, and time-limited, students must be explicitly taught and given opportunities to practice detailed expectations about each transition routine before they can be expected to complete the transition on their own.

 

The following steps will ensure students are adequately supported before, during and after the transition: 

  1. Prompt students about the upcoming transition and behavioral expectations associated with it; help them to disengage from their current activity

  2. Provide a signal to obtain student attention when the transition is about to begin, and don’t begin until you have the attention of all students

  3. Provide pre-corrections for expectations for academic and social behavior

  4. Specify the time limit for the transition and support them by providing time checks (e.g., reminders of remaining time for them to complete the transition)

  5. Monitor for compliance and provide supportive non-shaming corrections

  6. Signal the end of the transition by beginning the next activity

  7. Provide performance feedback related to the success of the transition

 

Ask Yourself as You Plan:

  • What are my expectations during the transition?

    • Movement

    • Noise

    • Time constraints

  • How am I going to communicate my expectations?

  • Where might students struggle? How can I provide additional support?

  • How can I pre-correct and limit opportunities for off-task behavior?

 

Below is an example planned transition.

Monitoring Success

Ask a trusted colleague to observe one of your transitions and give them a copy of your plan. Have them time your transition and watch for the following:

  • How closely am I following my plan?

  • Are there areas when students need additional support?

  • Am I noticing and providing affirmations for following expectations?

  • Are there ways to shorten my transition without rushing students?

    • Shortening verbal prompts

    • Giving students tighter timeframes

 

First 5 Minutes of Class

3 to 17 minutes are wasted at the beginning of each class period, each school day. This totals to a substantial amount of missed instructional opportunities.

 

~Finding of Dr. Shirley Hord of Southwest Educational Development Laboratory in Texas

Instead of teacher direction or instructional design, too often student behavior is dictating the way class begins and proceeds. By developing and adhering to an engaging, consistent structure for how class starts, students will quickly become accustomed to the new procedures and expectations.

An Efficient and Engaging Transition Into Class

Greet the students at the door with an affirming statement and provide pre-corrections/ instructions

  • Before or as they are entering, tell students your specific behavioral expectations.

GREET

STRATEGICALLY

Engage students in a 2-minute activation of knowledge activity

  • Have an engaging, provocative task posted on the board and materials readily available. This may be a question that reviews important information on which students need to reflect or a thought prompt to introduce the lesson that will follow. Students can respond in their journals or on sticky notes to post on a chart. Activity may also be a fun game, crossword puzzle, or any activity that can be completed independently and silently, within 2 minutes.

ENGAGE 

IMMEDIATELY

Utilize an efficient system for attendance and homework collection, which frees you to:

  • Move through the class to check student well-being.

  • Continue to provide pre-correction/instructions and affirming statements about expected behaviors.

  • Check student progress on the activation of knowledge activity.

BE

EFFICIENT

Students review agenda or opening assignment posted on the board

  • Teacher notes new or continuation of previous learning goal for the day, and/or project-based outcome for the day.

  • Teacher begins first item on agenda or students begin opening assignment.

STUDENT

PREVIEW

Students who arrive tardy are greeted with a non-verbal gesture and instructed to quietly join the classroom instruction 

  • Students can leave tardy pass on teacher desk to be checked at a later time when teacher is also able to personally check in with student. 

INVITE &

ENGAGE ALL

To get these classroom expectations and procedures to become routine you will need to:

EXPLAIN
REHEARSE
REINFORCE

CITATIONS

Bluestein, J. (2001). Creating emotionally safe schools: a guide for educators and parents. Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications.]

Buck, G. H. (1999). Smoothing the rough edges of classroom transitions. Intervention in School and Clinic, 34(4), 224-235.

 

Collins, K. S. (2001). Children's perceptions of safety and exposure to violence. International Journal of Adolescence And Youth, 10(1-2), 31-49.

 

McIntosh, K., Herman, K., Sanford, A., McGraw, K., & Florence, K. (2004). Teaching transitions: Techniques for promoting success between lessons. Teaching Exceptional Children, 37(1), 32-38.

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