ISTE Coaching Standard 5: Collaborator reads, “Coaches establish productive relationships with educators in order to improve instructional practice and learning outcomes. Coaches establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies.”
Why are adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress often not associated strongly enough with the reason students are unable to achieve their full potential in the classroom? How can coaches help educators to understand that disruptive behaviors and challenges at school for students may be actual indicators of toxic stress; and that by not only understanding the symptoms, but collaboratively partnering with medical providers and other educators, they can better enrich student learning and healing for those unfortunately impacted by ACEs?
To begin addressing this question, I found a 2021 article out of Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools, titled “How Educators Can Address Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress”. Written by Dr. Devika Bhushan. This article explores the impact of toxic stress on learning, and the role of trauma informed schools specifically as it relates to teaching social-emotional skills, developing collaborative decision-making by students with ACEs within school policies, and working to include and involve families and communities. This articles goes on to explore the collaborative partnership between schools and medical providers by highlighting how “pediatric providers and educators can work together to enhance one another’s understanding about how toxic stress can manifest in the classroom”, and how pediatric providers and families, educators and coaches can work together to develop and support strategies that can help students regulate toxic stress at home and at school.
In first looking at the impact of toxic stress on learning and success in school, Bhushan notes that “toxic stress literally gets under the skin and changes crucial biological receptors and pathways, including those responsible for memory, concentration, emotional regulation, impulse control, and complex decision-making. These changes can give rise to many learning, relational, and behavior difficulties in the school setting – often without anyone recognizing toxic stress as the root cause”. Bhushan goes on to note that “in the classroom, effects of toxic stress can include trouble concentrating, lack of engagement, not completing homework, learning disabilities, impaired executive and relational functioning, absenteeism, grade retention, school failure, and dropping out”. However, when detected early, and provided the right points of intervention – these biological changes can be reversed. Of those points of intervention, close relationships, mindfulness, and mental healthcare are immensely impactful.
Pediatric providers and educators can begin by working together to coach and support one another on their understanding of toxic stress, and what it looks like in the classroom or in recreational settings, and how to best address the health conditions and symptoms that affect a student’s learning. Addressing these health conditions could come in the form of collaboratively developing social-emotional skill-building sessions in small groups or one-on-one with a counselor; or creating an IEP for toxic stress-related health conditions. Developing these collaborative opportunities in conjunction with mindfulness practices and the formation of supportive relationships, could significantly reverse the impact of toxic stress on student learning.
The greater our focus on collaborative relationships between pediatric providers and families, educators and coaches, the more impactful our healthcare and educational practices will be in preventing toxic stress altogether. In addition, students with ACEs will develop greater resilience skills inside of more equitable learning environments, and this is what will truly enrich student learning and healing.
Bhushan, Dakita. 2021. How Educators Can Address Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress. Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools. How Educators Can Address Childhood Adversity and Toxic Stress – Thriving Schools | A partnership for healthy students, staff & teachers (kaiserpermanente.org)