Bringing Independence to the Classroom

Bringing Independence to the Classroom

THE INTERRUPTER | Your Write to Education | July 2018

Bringing Independence to the Classroom

As we celebrate July 4th, Independence Day, a day typically filled with cookouts, fireworks, parades, and honor of past sacrifices made, my thoughts are drawn to the 1,000’s of classrooms filled with students seeking their own personal independence.  Unfortunately, due to the interruption of trauma in childhood, they have become dependent on the maladaptive responses they have acquired in order to mitigate, compensate, cope and survive the impact of the adversity dealt them.

Dysregulated and on alert, they show up in classrooms attempting to navigate unseen barriers so that they can be present and in a position ready to learn. However, too often times, rather than ensure students are cognitively positioning and possess the regulated state optimal for receiving, our first response is to take an assessment to see if the student’s ability to present certain indicators align with our preset list of standards. Standards many times that serve to hold up a system in need of repair.  We have to be cognizant of the contradiction experienced by our well-funded research and findings and our daily, in-classroom practice.

If you wince at all at the sound of trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive, I would caution you.  I remember one of the participants in our pilot of The Day Trauma Came to Classasking “aren’t the things shared not things we should be doing with all students?”,to which I answered “yes, absolutely”, I have also been challenged with the idea of “this is not what I signed up for”, which for the child’s sake is concerning.  To me, that would be like wanting to be a heart doctor as long as all your patients’ hearts worked fine, but saying “wait, hold up” once they start having heart attacks.  The bottom line is this, we need to learn to care and love each other, our students, through and in spite of the bruises of adversity.  To think that there are any of us who have not been exposed to some degree would be remiss.

So…within the context of the classroom and the instruction therein, what does the road to independence look like?  And, to make sure we are clear and working from the same frame of reference, when I think of independence, I think of a comment made to Steve Harvey by Oprah Winfrey when he was touring her LA office.  She said, “It’s the fact that you rose to the moment, to the highest part of yourself, that’s what I’m really proud of.”  I have to believe, I choose to believe, that if you are called to education, to the nurturing and building up of children, this is what you think of independence as well. We want all of our students to rise to the highest part of themselves.

The Day Trauma Came to Class, available online July 6, will help to provide the blueprint for creating trauma-informed schools.  Building the foundations, empathizing and understanding situations and contexts that enable us to navigate barriers erected from trauma’s impact, all for the purpose of engaging students in the best part of themselves.

If you want to learn more about customizing a blueprint for your trauma-informed school, email


Dr. Ivy Bonk is President (Educational Psychologist/Consultant) of IMAGINAL Education Group.  She is author of The Day Trauma Came to Class, architect of The Lost Child Theory, and Bridge Builder and Collaborator at MyTraumaInformedSchool, IMAGINAL’s resource and training site.