Defining the practice you need to know

By Brittni Kellom

No hoods allowed for even the bad hair days mixed in with a culture clash so big that students and teachers don't bother to know each other. 25-minute recess out of 7 1/2-hour days. "How many times have I told you?!" instead of "What do you need?" or "Where does it hurt?" Ready, Devin shoots out of her seat yelling because another student calls her dumb and said she was flunkin’. Before she storms out of the class, the teacher is ready for her breakout that will mean either Devin is put out or walks the halls instead of being in class. Both, reminders that she is too much and unwanted. Imagine if Devin and students like her felt understood and safe in their classes, more importantly safe in their bodies and even when they didn’t, the adults around them were armed with ways to help without the use of exclusionary practices.

Children with behavioral challenges are often seen and treated like the deviants of their school, yet these challenges are not the result of “badness” or pathology; they are symptoms of wanting help, representative of the frequency of childhood trauma or starved needs. Healing Centered Engagement (HCE) is a practice that leads with strength first--empowerment as the priority for the individual who has experienced trauma or a seemingly healthy life. It intentionally steers away from adversity as the identifier and with healing as the center, promotes resilience which is ultimately more sustainable because resilience is a prevention solution. The shift is moving away from the terminology: trauma informed and then when we begin to consider schools as healing spaces, the opportunity arises for a whole systems approach to decrease the effects of trauma exposure and increase protective factors.

Most young people have at least one traumatic experience before age 18 and with schools being the place where youth spend most of their time, it becomes mandatory that adults supporting students are equipped with skills to advocate in ways that foster a reciprocal relationship of belonging, respect, safety, and choice. A relationship that hinges on cultivating both courageous classrooms and courageous adults. The language, physical space, and learning of cultural competence, genuine empathy, vulnerability, and curiosity. A type of unschooling that begins to reshape our youth’s journey to more grounded and healthy lives when adversity occurs. This level of engagement assumes that all young people have the capacity to mend their identities while imagining a future self. Healing Centered Educational Engagement is an intentional approach that leads with real-time, practical, hands-on strategy. Sensory in nature, its effectiveness lies in the fact that we can only meet students where they are—and that is not a consolation but a great value point.

Devin, then, becomes a student that needs just one adult to be crazy about her. To understand that rules are not made based on strictness, necessity or an opportunity to toss around adult authority. Our student Devin is mended and grown by lots of curiosity, safety through routine, redirection expressed with the desired expectation, lunch dates with favorite staff combined with tasks and activities where she can physically experience creating success (and lots of hugs). These needs are neither exceptional or unlike those required for most humans. They are the perquisite needs for the adults in charge for shaping teaching and learning in classrooms. Healing Centered Educational Engagement triggers the framework for schools to evolve into places of high-level social impact offering person-centered restoration as a collective culture. This kind of engagement is a systematic shift that is just as much about training adults as it is young people.