Category: Classroom Environment

Focus On!

Conducting the Parent Conference: This course provides teachers and administrators with persuasive and effective strategies for conferencing with parents, including uncooperative or difficult parents. The 7-step interview will move parents toward becoming committed participants in the educational process and/or solutions for helping their child overcome … Continue reading Focus On!

Wanna Change the World?

-contributed by Steve Dahl, M.Ed
In recent years there has been a quiet movement of compassion-driven educators, social workers, administrators, counselors – and students themselves – who have sought out better methods of “doing school” that work for all learners. Perhaps you’ve heard of “trauma-informed” schools, or the “ACE Study”? Perhaps you’ve even heard about CE Credits Online’s course, Creating Compassionate Schools, which features the strategies used in Washington State and Massachusetts.

If not, chances are that you will as many other states work to improve learning conditions for all learners, including those impacted by childhood or adolescent trauma.

To learn more, read about what is working as described in the following article from New York Times contributor, David Bornstein.



Schools That Separate the Child

From the Trauma

By David Bornstein

November 13, 2013 11:45 amNovember 13, 2013 11:45 am145Comments

Fixes looks at solutions to social problems and why they work.

Recently, I reported on the damaging effects that prolonged stress can have on young children who lack adequate protection from adults. Over the past 15 years, researchers have learned that highly stressful — and potentially traumatic — childhood experiences are more prevalent than previously understood. Now scientists are shedding light on the mechanisms by which they change the brain and body. These insights have far-reaching implications for schools, where it’s still standard practice to punish children for misbehavior that they often do not know how to control. This is comparable to punishing a child for having a seizure; it adds to the suffering and makes matters worse.

What good are the best teachers or schools if the most vulnerable kids feel so unsafe that they are unavailable to learn?

Thankfully, some places are getting smarter. “The hot spots in education are Massachusetts and Washington State,” explains Jane Stevens, a health and science journalist who edits ACES Too High, an excellent website containing a wealth of information about “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs) and the effects of stress and trauma on children. “Educators understand that the behavior of children who act out is not willful or defiant, but is in fact a normal response to toxic stress. And the way to help children is to create an environment in which they feel safe and can build resilience.”

This is not a small issue in education. A great many students come to school with emotional and behavioral difficulties that pose serious barriers to their learning. In a study (pdf) of 2,100 elementary students in 10 schools in Spokane, Wash., for example, researchers from Washington State University found that more than 20 percent had two or more ACEs (experiences that include having been homeless, witnessing domestic violence or having a parent who uses drugs or is incarcerated). Compared with children with no known stresses, these kids are two to four times more likely to have problems with attendance, behavior, academics and health. As the number of ACEs increase, the students fare considerably worse on all counts.

To read the rest of the article, go to:

Got Toxic Stress?

What is your community’s story of “toxic stress”? Looking for tools to support educators who are committed to responding compassionately to the needs of students, families and community contending with adversity or trauma?

Watch the following trailer for a documentary being released soon by film-maker Jamie Redford (Robert Redford’s son) that describes one community’s efforts to respond to toxic stress –  and ask yourself,

“What is my child’s teacher and school system doing to provide a research-based response to the toxic stress levels experienced by the youth in our community’s schools?”

CE Credits Online has several courses, including Creating Compassionate Schools,  that would be excellent for districts looking to increase capacity of professionals to:

  • Recognize “good stress” from “toxic stress”
  • Provide strategies to educators and students
  • Understand the nature of “adverse childhood experiences” (ACE’s) and their impacts on a learner’s brain
  • Brain-based approaches that help all professionals in the school system understand the complexity of a child
  • Provide a cycle of inquiry that asks, “What happened to this child?” and “How can I help?” instead of, “What’s wrong with this child?”

Please let us know if you would like to collaborate on providing a response to toxic stress and ACE’s experienced by learners in your community schools.

California (Nightmare) Dreamin’

Do you know  the degree at which major childhood trauma occurs in the State of California? Do you know what constitutes “childhood trauma”? Have you ever heard of the “ACE Study”? Do you have any sense of what your own “ACE Score” might be as an adult?

To get answers to these vital questions-  read the following as reported on Nov 5, 2014 on the ACEs Too High news site  by Jane Ellen Stevens:

Most Californians have experienced childhood trauma; early adversity a direct link to adult onset of chronic disease, depression, violence

Nearly two-thirds of California adults have experienced at least one type of major childhood trauma, such as physical, verbal or sexual abuse, or living with a family member who abuses alcohol or is depressed, according to a report released today.

The report – “Hidden Crisis: Findings on Adverse Childhood Experiences in California” (HiddenCrisis_Report_1014) – also reveals the effects of those early adversities: a startling and large increased risk of the adult onset of chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer, mental illness and violence or being a victim of violence.

Ten types of childhood trauma were measured. They include physical, sexual and verbal abuse, and physical and emotional neglect. Five family dysfunctions were also measured: a family member diagnosed with mental illness, addicted to alcohol or other drug, or who has been incarcerated; witnessing a mother being abused, an losing a parent to separation, divorce or other reason.

Each type of trauma counts as an ACE (adverse childhood experience) score of one. The more ACEs a person has, the higher the risk of facing physical, mental and social problems.

As the article states, the level of ACE’s is staggering, impacts individuals for a lifetime, and requires a response from all levels of society that ultimately loses human capital, resources, and funding due to the lack of coherent response to this “hidden crisis.”  If you read the report being released TODAY you might be more informed about what you could be doing to help prevent this from remaining a hidden crisis in our society, our neighborhoods, our families, and in our schools.

Regardless of what state you work/teach/live in – if you are an educator and are interested in exploring what professional development options exist for you and your colleagues intent on ending the hidden crisis, or nightmare, in your context – please don’t hesitate to contact us at CE Credits Online. We are here to help and this is demonstrated by the number of online courses already developed and available to you.

We’d also love to hear from educators who have taken any of our courses that provide strategies to support children/adolescents impacted by childhood trauma – and discuss ways which we might partner to design entire systems that help ensure that each child’s needs are understood and met every day.

  • Steve Dahl (M.Ed) Director of Curriculum Development

Got Your ACE Score Yet?

An ACE Score? What with all the new test names out there (e.g., SBAC, PARCC) – did I miss this new test that is coming out?

The answer is no, it’s not “a test” you missed. But it is something that might be even more significant than any “test score” could ever be.

As many professionals are learning, a number of significant findings around the prevalence of and adverse impacts resulting from child abuse and neglect have emerged from a research project known as the “ACE Study .”   The ACE Study provides adults a way to compute, or “score,”  the degree to which their own childhood may have been adversely impacted by childhood trauma and neglect. It is a very simple set of questions to which you respond. The implications of the scores, however, are enormous.

For most people it takes 1-2 minutes.

To learn what your “ACE Score” is, go to: 

Got Your ACE Score?

What’s Your ACE Score? (and, at the end, What’s Your Resilience Score?)

There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study. Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one. So a person who’s been physically abused, with one alcoholic parent, and a mother who was beaten up has an ACE score of three.

To read more about the ACE Study, go to “ACES 101” section of the ACES Too High web-based newsletter:


It is becoming increasingly important to find ways to connect with students in meaningful ways. Research studies support the idea that the teacher-student relationship is central factor in assisting students to overcome adversity, feel a sense of school connectedness, and be willing to persevere in the face of adversity when it occurs.


But if we don’t have any sense of what our diverse learning population has actually endured – that is problematic. What might be just as problematic is that often we – as adults/professionals – have not had a way of determining how significant events in our own childhood may have (or still are) impacting us.


A great first step to understanding the adversity facing our learners is to reflect on our own resiliency within the context of an ACE Score that reflects to varying degrees the adversities we’ve faced.  Knowing your own ACE Score is a step in that direction.


Do you know your ACE Score?


Steve Dahl (M.Ed) Director of Curriculum Development


Compassionate Schools From Coast to Coast

Compassionate Schools From Coast to Coast

Unless you live in Massachusetts you likely don’t know of the very intentional steps that state has taken to increase capacity across a number of systems to support adult service providers implementing a “trauma informed” approach to education.  What exactly is a “trauma-informed” approach to education?

In Massachusetts, the term “trauma-informed” or “trauma-sensitive” means:

Trauma Sensitive Schools may have:

  • Comprehensive professional development for teachers and other staff
  • A team of school/district personnel to assess individual student cases
  • Expanded counseling services
  • Referrals to outside support services
  • Parent and family workshops on the effects of trauma
  • Conflict resolution training for both teachers and students
  • Consultation with local hospitals, mental health facilities, women’s shelters, and other community based organizations
  • School/district administrative support for establishing a trauma sensitive environment
  • Academic instruction techniques for teaching traumatized students
  • Development or revision of school policies to be more trauma sensitive

In Washington State, a very similar approach has been undertaken which differs primarily in semantics. The Compassionate Schools Initiative has a number of resources available to educators which mirror (and even reference) those available in Massachusetts. To learn more about the WA State Compassionate Schools Initiative and resources, go to:

To watch a video overview of the thinking behind this model in Washington State, go to:

Clearly, the need for this approach is evident throughout the country as schools work to meet the increasingly complex needs experienced by children who have themselves experienced trauma, abuse and neglect. If you are an educator looking for high quality resources that will assist you in learning more about the Compassionate Schools Initiative or how to create “trauma-informed schools” – please consider the course that CE Credits Online has designed and offered for this very purpose for the past 2 years.

To watch a brief video inviting others to consider what it might mean to create a compassionate school in their region, go to this link:

Many lawmakers are joining the efforts already underway through grassroots efforts. These techniques are regarded as the “missing piece” by some which makes real reform possible, such as is reflected in the following comment by Boston Teacher Union leader:

The bill also had the “wholehearted support” of the Boston Teachers Union according to Angela Cristiani, political director for the union and a school psychologist. She said the safe and supportive schools’ provisions that address prevention in schools provided the “missing piece” in the gun violence reduction legislation. Cristiani described Boston as an early adopter of the safe and supportive schools framework and said the law makes “real reform” possible statewide and provides a model for states across the nation. The new law, she says, will provide the tools for schools to support children to achieve their full potential and to act when a child is having difficulties. When tragedies occur, Cristiani says people often reflect back to the time a child was in school and trouble signs were present but not acted upon.

To get a better sense of what is occurring in Massachusetts – read the following information posted recently where Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has recently signed provisions into law that will ensure the emphasis on this is not a fleeting fad:

As you can see, though separated by thousands of miles, educators and service provides of all descriptions are working to help create safe, supportive learning conditions for our learners. Many now recognize that access to educational buildings without access to personalized learning conditions within those buildings will only thwart a child’s development process and ultimately their individual achievement levels. Perhaps more importantly, without specific kinds of approaches that are outlined in detail through a compassionate schools approach, the needs of many children can go unnoticed or leave children very few options but to suffer in silence, or to act out through violence, in order to get their needs met.

In what ways might this be an important “missing piece” amidst so many other educational reform efforts in your school community?

  • Steve Dahl, M.Ed

ACEs Too High

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick today signed into law provisions to create conditions for “safe and supportive schools” intended to improve education outcomes for children statewide, and giving momentum to the state’s trauma-informed schools movement. They were included in The Reduction of Gun Violence bill (No. 4376). This groundbreaking advance was achieved when advocates seized the opportunity to add behavioral health in the schools to the options under consideration as state officials searched for ways to strengthen one of the nation’s more restrictive gun laws in the aftermath of the tragic shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo saw the connection between reducing gun violence and school achievement and was instrumental in the bill’s passage. When the original sponsor of a Safe and Support Schools Act, Katherine Clark, left the state legislature for the U.S. House of Representatives, some advocates were concerned the void…

View original post 963 more words

To Ohio – With Love from Washington (State)

Compassionate Schools

I am hoping there is room for another voice in Ohio’s effort to create a culture of compassionate action that transcends any of the professional or societal delineation of groups working in the same general direction….even if that voice is from Washington State.

For many, a shift in professional standards for school administrators (in particular) might be proverbial “back page” news. Think again, especially for those who recognize that in and across our school systems there has been little understanding of the connection between leading for “academic” reform results (ie, closing the achievement gap) and reforming the mindset and skillset of those charged with the task of leading their organizations and providing vision to service providers in their care.

As a central office administrator over the past 10 years in rural Washington State districts, I will sheepishly admit I found it comforting that the standards for leadership varied little from year to year. Continuity has its advantages. My comfort level with such status quo standards, however, became greatly diminished as I learned more (and more) about the nature of trauma on young learners, the ongoing and often cumulative effects of trauma on adolescent learners, that not all “help” is created equal, and the profound implications of the ACE Study for all educators – including administrators.

I wondered to myself, “How long will it be before the professional standards by which many school leaders are evaluated will reflect what we now know research tells us about the importance of understanding social and emotional learning?”

I now have my answer. Consider what has been posted in EdWeek’s online format (Sept 26, 2014):

A newly updated set of standards for school leaders—the first extensive review of the guidelines in six years—heavily emphasizes instructional leadership and focuses on the role of principals and other administrators in addressing factors outside of the classroom that impact student achievement.

The draft standards, known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards—or ISLLC—describe what principals, assistant principals, superintendents, and other district heads should know, and the critical competencies they should demonstrate, in order to run schools and school systems that graduate students who are ready for college and the workforce.

Spearheaded by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration, the “refreshed” standards released last week are meant to ensure that “the current roles of leaders as well as the current research are reflected,” said Michelle D. Young, the executive director of

the University Council for Educational Administration. Ms. Young, a professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, also serves on the National Leadership Preparation Standards Committee. Source:…erstandards.h34.html

(note: emphasis added)

This is an important development for those working to implement trauma-informed practices in schools and one that might actually get lost amid so many sound bites swirling around Common Core implementation and in cases where states have opted out of the Common Core. While many are engaging in debate about factors related to implementing (or not) the Common Core State Standards, one thing is clear:

leaders must provide leadership in creating a learning culture where each student is known, supported emotionally and socially as well as academically regardless of the academic learning standards adopted by any particular state.

While states may opt out of the Common Core, individual educational leaders will be expected to work within the professional expectation that leading educational professionals in their care toward a culture of care. There is no opting out of that.

Consider the implications of the ISLLC Standard #5:

Beyond Academic Leadership

While the revised school leaders’ standards focus heavily on instructional and ethical leadership, they also lay out in greater specificity an expanded role for principals and others in improving school climate, engaging the school community, and recognizing and embracing cultural diversity. Here are two of the expanded areas, as they appear in the draft document:

Standard 5: Community of Care for Students An educational leader promotes the success and well-being of every student by promoting the development of an inclusive school climate characterized by supportive relationships and a personalized culture of care.

FUNCTIONS: A. Ensures the formation of a culture defined by trust B. Ensures that each student is known, valued, and respected C. Ensures that students are enmeshed in a safe, secure, emotionally protective, and healthy environment D. Ensures that each student has an abundance of academic and social support E. Ensures that each student is an active member of the school

(NOTE: “culture of care” is my emphasis of what is summarized in these standards)

The final version of Standard 5 of the “refreshed” ISLLC Standards are certainly not “back page” news to those working in schools to create a “culture of care” (as per Standard 5 revised language). While this is great news for those of us working in education and wanting to work in partnership with leaders to implement “trauma-informed classrooms” or “compassionate schools” or from a “whole child” perspective – consider also that for the vast majority of administrators there has been little to no training available for them on these important topics.

One look at the reading materials on any administrator’s shelves and you will see the number of books on “leadership” is probably 10:1 in favor of books on PLC’s, running effective meetings, aligning curriculum, implementing standards-based academic reform – etc – rather than books filled with strategies for implementing an inclusive culture of trust where every student is known and provided emotionally and psychologically safe learning conditions – and where the result is a “culture of care.”

Yes, there are exceptions, but ask the administrators you know or where your child attends school and what their top ten books on leadership are. Odds are strongly against there being more than 1 book strongly aligned with ISLLC Standard 5 where the leader’s skill in building a “culture of care” is explicitly stated as a standard. This begs a very real question – if this is to become the standard (or norm) and not an exception, what has to change?

This begs the question, “What will best support our leaders as they “refresh” their own mindset, learning and skills in ways that align with their own professional standards of practice as reflected in ISLLC Standard 5?”

Here are 5 ideas to help get you started (and I’d love to hear the dozens of other ideas that will no doubt become necessary to build a “culture of care”!):

  1. First, trust that as professionals all administrators want to demonstrate evidence of meeting all of these professional standards – including Standard 5.
  2. Consider the barriers that leaders might encounter throughout systems where they are now facilitating “crucial conversations” they had previously opted out of. Ask yourself if you are one of those barriers (either real or perceived) and how you might lend support from your role (either in education or from outside)
  3. Engage leaders in constructive dialogue on each of these professional standards in conjunction with Standard 5 in order to explore the mutually reinforcing nature that alignment of efforts could provide.
  4. Recognize that as leaders look to demonstrate evidence-based practice from within their role that they will ultimately need to partner at very deep levels with a diverse range of practitioners – and this will include you.

Finally, help leaders to know that leadership is a function – not just a formal title – and that if/as you have opportunities to engage in constructive dialogue around such topics as becoming “trauma-informed” or “creating a compassionate school” – that you will avail them to your own informal leadership skills and influence in service of the needs of all learners. Get rid of the “we” and “they” thinking and make it a concerted “us” that helps take “compassion to scale.”

As you may not be very familiar with such leadership standards, or perhaps have never viewed them, consider also that those in formal leadership positions will now have a greater professional impetus, or pressure, to lead conversations within and across organizations that help integrate professional convictions around viewing student needs through a trauma-informed or compassionate lens. In other words, couching the discussion as an “either/or” between academic achievement vs. creating learning conditions that honor the social and emotional learning needs of students will start to fall flat or apart.

It is now more likely than ever that educational leaders will view academic reform efforts previously associated with NCLB and now associated with the Common Core as being intricately connected to what I like to call “Common Care” standards. If we want improved academic outcomes we must recognize that learning conditions matter – and that affect impacts effect.

But what if a leader encounters resistance in an attempt to provide evidence in support of Standard 5? Can they simply say, “I can’t lead effectively on Standard 5 because _______(fill in the blank)____ ” reasons?

The answer is “no”, they cannot. That said, it will be vital to recognize that just as there will be no “opt out” for those in formal leadership positions (principals, superintendents, etc), there will also be no “opt out” for staff who work against leaders in formal positions who are clearly attempting to create a culture of care where students are supported in the ways described in ISLLC Standard 5.

After serving as an administrator for 10 years in 2 rural Washington State districts, I began summarizing much of my own learning as a professional and leader in the form of “online courses” that synthesized the great things I was seeing evidenced in my own context. The result included a 3 credit course titled, Creating Compassionate Schools, which can now be accessed from virtually any location in the nation including several NCATE accredited universities. Residents of Ohio can access the course at the following website:

Though I had very little of what might be called “push back” in my own context, I had heard from colleagues that sentiments from within their organizations fell along three distinct lines. With this in mind, I began my course by surfacing these sentiments head on.

From the opening pages of the course:

It is anticipated that as a committed professional you are already actively engaged in many levels of educational reform that have a variety of applications to your work. You also may have a strong sense about your teaching style and wonder whether it will fit within a compassionate schooling approach. Perhaps you have so much on your plate right now that you can’t entertain the thought of adding more.

You may have one of three basic concerns about “compassionate schooling.”

  1. Compassionate Schooling concerns itself with unscientific fluff or “TFC” (“touchy feely c+@p)
  2. Compassionate Schooling represents a distraction from “real reform” efforts (ie, addressing the academic achievement gap)
  3. Compassionate Schooling is not for everyone and professionals need to be allowed to opt out.

These are valid concerns that will be addressed as you move through the course. Time will be invested in thinking through whether “compassionate schooling” is TFC, is just another reform strategy, or should remain optional for professionals. Source: Creating Compassionate Schools, CE Credits Online (

As I bring an already long blog post to the network members in Ohio to a close, I surface the idea that if any true traction is to be gained in the “refreshing” of the ISLLC Standards – and in particular Standard 5 – it will not be the result of service providers who themselves are out of step with what research clearly now supports. If they attempt to disconnect from the conversation, minimize it as being “TFC”, or characterize it as “a distraction from real reform efforts”, or that it should be left up to each individual whether to opt in or opt out……it will speak volumes about what reading volumes are (or aren’t) on their own desk.

Simply put, what exactly is the valid, research-based argument against implementing a compassionate school culture of care?

Only time will tell what additional evidence will be produced in Ohio as a unified professional “academy of learners” embraces a common standard of care – or “Common Care” standards – resulting in greater access to and success in learning through improved learning conditions for all learners regardless of need – academic, social, or emotional.

In Washington State there has been a concerted effort to design training and networks across schools which the Ohio network members may find useful. For example, news media in Ohio are promoting such connections:…passion-in-education

Please let me know if there is anything I can do to be of assistance! So I end the post as the title suggests

Greetings Ohio – with Love from Washington!

Steve Dahl