Researchers at Oregon State University-Cascades are developing and testing a training program they hope will help preschool and child care providers to better deal with children who have been affected by trauma and adverse events.
Funded by a federal grant, the team led by Shannon Lipscomb, an associate professor of human development and family sciences, developed an online training course and provided one-on-one video-based coaching designed for early-childhood professionals to nurture resilience in preschool-age children.
Research has shown that children who experience adverse or traumatic events are affected well into their adult lives, and that those experiences have long-term implications for their development, well-being and physical health. Studies in school settings suggest many of the behavior issues that arise in the classroom may be linked to those early childhood experiences.
Research also suggests children build resilience to the effects of adverse events primarily through nurturing relationships, whether with family, community or teachers.
Lipscomb said that while many school districts are now implementing trauma-informed approaches for K-12 schools, that strategy hasn’t filtered down to younger children.
“Kids involved in child welfare and foster care, or otherwise affected by trauma, many of them are in some form of early education program before they go to school,” she said. “But teachers don’t have that training or support.”
To address that shortfall, the researchers developed the Roots of Resilience program under a four-year development grant from the U.S. Department of Education. They created a free online course that teachers could complete at their own pace in the evenings or weekends in anywhere from two weeks to three months.
The researchers also developed a video-based coaching program, which allows teachers to record videos of their classrooms and get feedback on their approach.
The video program loans iPads to teachers, who are then asked to use an app twice week to collect 10 minute videos which are automatically uploaded to the program’s servers. A team member then reviews the videos to find examples of where the teacher is already engaging in trauma-informed interactions with the students.
“Then they create a clip of three of those small moments and show a clip back to that teacher,” Lipscomb said. “Here’s what happened and here’s what was really great about it, and here’s why this kind of interaction benefits kids, and let’s have a discussion about that.”
It’s based on the Filming Interactions to Nurture Development program developed at the University of Oregon.
Lipscomb gave the example of a child who is having a hard time controlling himself during a structured activity time. The teacher is reading a story and a child act outs, maybe pushing other kids or blurting out something impulsively. A non-trauma-informed approach is to just correct the behavior.
“Kids impacted by trauma have a hard time sitting still,” she said. “They have a real hard time with self-regulation.”
Instead of reprimanding the student, Lipscomb explains, a teacher could respond calmly in a gentle voice: “It looks like you’re having a hard time sitting still.” Or if the child is pushing others: “I wonder if your peers are too close. Would you like to create more space for yourself?”
A trauma-informed lens calls for teachers to look at a challenging behavior as a signal for some need, and to address that need.
“It’s hard to know (what that need is),” she said. “But teachers are the experts in that. Let’s figure out a more appropriate way to get that need met.”
Melanie Graham, a Head Start teacher with NeighborImpact in Bend, went through the video-based coaching as part of her professional development requirements.
“I was a little skeptical and a little nervous at first because it’s a video recording and you have to watch yourself,” she said. “You get to see that you’re actually doing this stuff that helps kids, and it helps you understand deeper the way you’re helping them.”
So far the cost of the programs have been covered by the federal grant, with some support for local programs as well. As the grant expires, Lipscomb’s team is seeking new funding to continue the education process.
Some 50 teachers have now gone through either the online course or the video-based coaching and have provided the researchers with feedback on the effectiveness of the program. The researchers have now enrolled a second group of teachers who will be randomly selected to either get the training immediately or in four months. Then they will compare the two groups to see the impact on the quality of teacher interactions and to measure whether kids’ stress levels go down during the day.
The team will measure cortisol levels in the students’ saliva and run them through some games that measure their ability to self-regulate. That should provide hard data to show whether the program makes a difference.
The online course and video-based coaching programs are no longer recruiting new teachers, although the team is placing names on a waiting list for those interested in the training. In the meantime, early learning educators and child care providers can sign up for in-person workshops that cover some of the same material.
Those workshops are being funded by community groups working to address the impact of adverse childhood experiences, including TRACEs Central Oregon.
“Abuse and neglect are far more common than we’re aware of and have deep and broad impacts throughout our health care, education and economic systems,” said TRACEs Director Katie McClure. “The Roots of Resilience program equips early childhood educators with the skills they need to support the developing brains of our children when it’s easiest — and least expensive — to actually make changes.”
McClure pointed to research that shows the brain’s ability to change in response to experiences is highest in those preschool years. The longer it takes to intervene with children who have experienced adverse events, the more effort it takes to counteract the negative impact.
“Equipping these early educators,” she said, “means our kids will enter school socially and emotionally ready to learn and grow and engage.”
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