Teaming with Teachers – Working With a Client’s School

By Judith Norman, MA, MS, LPC, RPT-S

Have you tried working with a client’s school and found it challenging? If so, you are not alone; this is often the case. While everyone may want to work together for a child, it’s easy to begin to feel that we are not on the same side. If our goal is to team with teachers, we must recognize one another’s value and different roles.

  • We need to be able to view the big picture and help everyone value one another’s part in it.
  • We need to be able to effectively communicate with schools about how the pieces fit together.
  • We need to provide concepts and frameworks that make sense in educational settings
  • Most importantly, we need to offer support.

Our role becomes empowering teachers to make shifts in perceptions, rather than simply asking for changes in behavior.

How do we go about doing this? Here, we’re going to focus on offering support.

As a Certified Synergetic Play TherapistTM and Supervisor, I conceptualize support using the tenets of Synergetic Play Therapy.  Recognizing how the brain processes input and looking through the lens of the nervous system, behavior can be understood as information. In Synergetic Play Therapy sessions, work is at the level of the nervous system. The therapist supports developing self-regulation using mindfulness, attunement and authenticity. Children learn that they can move toward big emotions and widen their ability to tolerate them. This work leads to creating new neural connections as children have new experiences and break long-time neural connections that have guided their behavior. As they develop these new networks, they now have new options for behavior.

What if teachers understood how to view behavior as information about the nervous system? What if we could help teachers identify hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal as cues that a child is trying to regulate, but is currently stuck in a dysregulated state?

This perspective allows teachers to understand what a child needs in that moment and what things could pro-actively support this child. Every classroom and teacher are different. If we sweep in with a one-size-fits-all strategy, or a highly-differentiated plan for a student, we are often setting teachers up to fail. However, a teacher who understands the information that behavior is communicating can then determine strategies that will work in that classroom. We can support this process.

We can share information about nervous system regulation and dysregulation. We can help teachers identify these states of arousal in themselves and their students. From this perspective, we can support teachers in implementing strategies that allow ALL students to recognize their own states of arousal. Ultimately this gives students permission to discover what self-regulatory strategies work for them and allows them to take this responsibility away from the teachers.

In the classroom, rather than moving towards the big emotion as a therapist would, a teacher who understands that a child is dysregulated, can interact with the child in such a way that the child is not escalated. Understanding what part of the brain needs attention, this teacher can support the child in moving back towards a regulated state. Such knowledge allows teachers to have plans in place based on the regulatory needs of their students, so teachers can be proactive when possible, along with getting the support they need in the moment. Being proactive and getting support in the moment, are BOTH important elements in school.

Most teachers will have already tried a litany of strategies and consequences with a student by the time they view behavior as a problem. If none of these have worked, then something else is needed. Perhaps that something is a new perspective? Our support in understanding behavior allows teachers to see that change comes from new experiences and neural growth and change. Frustration can give way as new interpretations of behavior are made available to teachers, creating new options for their own behavior.

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