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TIPE: The key to bringing positive education to traumatized students

Recent statistics in the US show that over 40% of students are affected by trauma. The Trauma Informed Positive Education (TIPE) model aims to connect and prepare trauma affected students to understand and apply positive education to their own lives in school and beyond.

A new project is recently being undertaken at the Centre of Positive Psychology and the Youth Research Centre at the University Melbourne. Research goals: How to bring Positive Education to students affected by trauma.

According to leading neuropsychology researcher Allan Schore’s work, students who have experienced trauma are less receptive to the more cognitive-based lessons (e.g., a student analyzing their own explanatory style) that are typical in positive education curriculum. This means that positive education lessons need to be adapted if they are going to be of benefit to trauma affected students.

In The Trauma Informed Positive Education (TIPE) model, the positive education lessons with trauma affected students follow a careful, developmentally-informed sequence. First, the lessons need to be based ‘in the body’ and focused on teaching students how to regulate their physical and emotional reactions (e.g., ‘body mapping’ techniques where students are taught to identify where they feel stress in the body and are then giving opportunities for students to map their own de-escalation before the lesson begins). As the teacher sees skills in regulation growing, the lessons can move forward to focus on building safe attachment and teaching students how to build their relational skills (e.g., building empathy and attunement to others through collaborative experiences such as circle time that provide an emotional intelligence lens). The third phase of teaching positive education to students can incorporate character strengths and more cognitive-based lessons.

During some field research for the program, Shelly, a teacher from a school located in a rural area of the state shared: “I’m here to teach the students who want to learn.” This particular school sits in a former manufacturing region where over one-third of the students are known to child-protection agencies. Researchers know that Shelly has an incredibly challenging job to do, and her students arrive to the classroom hypervigilant, dysregulated and unready to learn.

Not an easy task for educators sharing the same conditions in all kinds of environments and contexts around the world, yet the project is driven to challenge this reflection in the service of giving all children the opportunity to develop their character strengths, learn how to apply a growth mindset, and practice resilient thinking throughout the classroom curriculum.

“In classrooms like this, we have seen some positive education lessons go well–and go terribly awry! We feel for frustrated teachers who are searching for a way of working within positive education principles with students affected by trauma, only to see their carefully planned “mindfulness-minute” never really have a chance in the context of dysregulated students, poor classroom management, escalated emotions and exasperated teachers”, states on the IPEN article Can ALL students benefit from Positive Education? Positive Education for Struggling Students.

After working with TIPE and being coached through the first two terms of the school year, Shelly (her name was changed) came to understand that in order to best serve her students, she needed to improve their capacity to learn by developing their regulatory and relational capacities. Finally, mid-year, she felt courageous enough to introduce mindfulness to her fourth grade class.

The teacher also shared that due to her students building readiness to take on heavier cognitive lifting within their learning, they were able to better understand the reasoning behind positive primer activities before their academic lessons. By mid-year, the class compiled a ‘positive primer toolkit’ and now they vote on the brainbreaks that they need each day.

As a conclusion, researchers fervently advocate that positive education is for all students; but teachers working with challenging students need careful guidance about the neuroscientific developmental sequence required and offer TIPE as a way to support teacher practice and positively shift whole-of-school culture in schools that are challenged with trauma-affected students.

This article was originally written by Tom Brunzell , Hellen Stokes and Lea Waters. Published on The International Positive Education Network.