Squishy balls, modeling dough, a soft, fuzzy scarf — what might initially appear to be a child’s toy chest is actually a carefully curated toolkit to help educators manage stress. And after the state approved a contract with a local consulting firm last week, 2,500 of those kits — along with training on delivering trauma-informed practices for educators — are available for free to teachers across the state.
Gov. Chris Sununu and the N.H. Executive Council recently approved a $815,400 contract between the N.H. Department of Education and a Peterborough-based professional development consultancy, according to a news release the department issued last week.
HEREthisNOW was founded by Hancock resident Emily Daniels, who developed The Regulated Classroom program to provide educators with strategies and tools to foster safe learning environments. By cultivating social-emotional awareness in the classroom and understanding how stress affects human behavior, educators are able to better connect and engage with students, Daniels said in an interview Wednesday.
Daniels — who previously worked for 10 years as a school counselor, including four years at ConVal High School — developed the program as she saw educators seeking concrete steps to take to reduce stress in the classroom.
The collaboration comes as the NHDOE is looking to support teachers at a time when student behavior has become challenging due to the pandemic, according to the release.
The department was looking at programs across the country to help the students and educators navigate the disruption to learning the pandemic has caused, Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut told The Sentinel Friday. But The Regulated Classroom stood out because of its tailored support for educators, its readiness for a quick rollout, and Daniels’ experience with the New Hampshire education system.
“We’re thankful that the governor’s council approved the contract so that we can expedite these resources out to our educators to support them as best we can,” he said.
What is trauma?
“In essence, trauma is about our sense of safety,” said Bethann Clauss, executive director of Maps Counseling in Keene.
There are two kinds of trauma: “capital-T trauma,” which stems from a singular, life-threatening event that impacts a particular area of a person’s function, Clauss said. “Lowercase-T trauma,” is what many people have been experiencing due to the pandemic and is more complex and chronic, she said.
The COVID-19 health crisis has stolen a sense of safety as people question whether it’s safe to go out, to gather, to be physically near one another and connect, Clauss said.
And people respond to trauma differently: There are over-sensitized reactions, which can include running away, fighting and creating conflict. And at the other end of the spectrum, some people are desensitized by trauma, shutting down and withdrawing from others.
“When we talk about trauma-informed care, it’s around tuning into, what are you feeling?” Clauss said. “What do you need? How do we generate that sense of safety and connection again and your own sense of safety within your body?”
Last summer, Clauss worked with Daniels to bring The Regulated Classroom materials into more local classrooms through an ongoing partnership with Dartmouth Trauma Intervention Research Center.
What is The Regulated Classroom?
Even before the pandemic, Daniels said she studied the role stress played in students’ and educators’ abilities to be rational, compassionate and reasonable.
In 2016, she was heading up a substance-misuse task force at ConVal when she attended a conference under Bessel van der Kolk, a trauma researcher and author. There, she learned about trauma-informed practices, which recognize that stress can affect a person’s development, Daniels said.
“[The conference] shifted my entire perspective, both personally and professionally, about what influences human behavior and human experience and human development,” she said.
A year later, Daniels founded HEREthisNOW, a consultancy aimed at providing teachers with trauma-informed practices to help navigate stress.
In early 2020 — just before the pandemic — she published her book, “The Regulated Classroom.”
The Regulated Classroom’s approach is based on the principles of Polyvagal Theory, which proposes that cognitive and emotional intelligence stem from the body’s physical state. The activities and practices used in the approach focus on the parts of the brain responsible for stress management, Daniels said, and can be broken down into four pillars: connectors and affirmations, which focus on emotional wellbeing; and activators and settlers, which focus on regulating the nervous system.
Trauma-informed care in the classroom
Being regulated means feeling safe — not just physically, but emotionally too, Daniels said.
“For the better part of 20 years we’ve been hyper-focused on academics and assessments,” Daniels said. “And when you’re just trying to jam content down kids’ throats 24/7 and assessing them on where they are in their learning, you’re actually generating an environment where they don’t feel safe — they feel evaluated, they feel judged to a certain degree, they may feel shame.”
And it’s not just students, Daniels said. Anyone can be dysregulated, especially teachers who have been navigating unpredictable learning environments.
“Teachers are the most important factor or variable in a classroom and most important variable in student achievement,” Daniels said. “Teachers who are stressed out are not able to show up as their best self.”
Kristen King, a special education paraprofessional at Franklin Elementary School in Keene, said she’s participated in training and workshops with Daniels since 2017. In those sessions, King learned different strategies for working with dysregulated students, such as ensuring students have a calming space they can retreat to when they need a moment, or regularly sharing affirmations with them.
And by using what she’s learned to regulate her own mind, body and emotions, King says she’s been able to more effectively work with her students.
It’s a sentiment shared by Shannon Fuller, president of the Keene Paraprofessionals Association.
“It has, at least personally, given me the insight to be able to take [a] pause instead of reacting in any type of situation that’s elevated,” Fuller said. “… It’s nice to be able to regulate yourself so it doesn’t make [the situation] worse instead of better.”
Melissa Mucha, a school adjustment counselor at Franklin Elementary School who previously worked with Daniels at ConVal, said that she’s used what she’s learned from The Regulated Classroom to help regulate not only herself, but her students and their parents.
Though it may not be a part of any formal curriculum, teaching students practical ways to recognize and manage stress — whether it be with a rhythmic moving mediation practice like Qigong or the ever-favorite dance party — is an important step in helping young people build happy and healthy lives, Mucha said.
“I think those of us who are working inside school walls know very clearly something is happening and something needs to change in terms of how we connect with our students,” she said. “… if we cannot teach them how to feel safe and build trust and how to recognize their own selves, we’re in trouble.”
How can educators get free toolkits, training?
New Hampshire educators — including public- and charter- school teachers, paraeducators, homeschoolers, and volunteers who directly support students — are eligible for the free training and stress-management toolkits.
With the access code NHFREE, New Hampshire educators can access a one-hour webinar on TheRegulatedClassroom.com.
They can also register for multi-day training events in the Monadnock Region and the Greater Nashua area with the discount code NHFREE-EVENT. Additional trainings will be held in other parts of the state as well, and will be posted to TheRegulatedClassroom.com as they become available, according to Kristen Bernier, chief marketing/communications officer for HEREthisNOW.
In order to receive the discount, educators must enter a New Hampshire address when registering, so teachers who live out of state should use their school’s address.
After signing up for the on-demand video or one of the training sessions, educators will receive their toolkit.
Molly Bolan can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @BolanMolly.