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Creating School Level Resiliency Teams



          Cape May & Atlantic County School Districts- Southern NJ

 Applied Educational Neuroscience, the Brain and Adversity-

“Stressed Brains Do Not Learn”

 Purpose: To provide training for school level teams on the latest research and strategies concerning Educational Neuroscience, the Brain, Stress and Adversity.

 To create school level “turnkey” teams focusing on the skills and organizational components necessary to create trauma sensitive AND trauma responsive environments in our schools.

 These environments are characterized by the 3 Pillars of Trauma Informed Care ( Howard Bath, 2015 ) which include:  Safety, Connections and the ability to Regulate Emotions.

 Goal:  To have school district teams trained and supported to “turn-key” this training to the staff in their respective schools. To support these teams in a sustained, ongoing fashion.

 Suggested Team Composition:  School Administrator, teachers, counselors, CST members, school resource officers, nurses, Intervention and Referral Services Team Members ( I & RS ), other...  

A school level administrator must be a member of the team.

 Outcome Goals:

 #1-The district level teams will “turnkey” this training to all school district personal.  All school district personal will gain knowledge about Childhood Adversity, learning and the brain and strategies to increase their effectiveness with ALL student.

 #2- To create in district “Resiliency Teams” that can provide ongoing training and support toward the creation of trauma sensitive and trauma responsive school environments.

 These environments are characterized by:


 The three inter-related Pillars are the core characteristics of social environments that promote healing and growth. They are based on the three central trauma-related needs:

  1. Safety: the creation of an environment in which a young person can feel safe, relax and attend to normal developmental tasks.
  2. Connections: the development of positive, trust-based, interpersonal connections between the young person and caring adults as well as engagement with normative community supports such as sporting teams, youth groups, and recreational programs. Sometimes a young person needs to re-connect with his/her cultural roots; and
  3. Emotional Regulation: helping the young person to develop adaptive coping and self-regulation skills to positively deal with life’s challenges as well as the problematic emotions and impulses that lie at the heart of traumatic stress.

 Research Background:

The need:Many of the young people in special care, education and justice settings have experienced chronically stressful family environments as well as complex trauma. Such exposure affects many developmental domains including biology, cognition, behavioral control, the regulation of emotions and impulses, self-concept, and future orientation (Cook et al., 2005).


Trauma-sensitive schools also benefit students who have not experienced traumatic events. All students benefit from safety and positive connections to school. An understanding of trauma’s impact on learning can rally educators around their students’ shared need for safety and connection to the school community. This calls for a whole-school approach that is inclusive of all, while recognizing that there are those who are especially vulnerable.”

– Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative “Creating & Advocating for Trauma Sensitive Schools”

 The rational for training school personnel:

 The Three Pillars framework builds on the understanding that much of the healing from exposure to chronic stress and trauma can and does take place in non-clinical settings. Greenwald (2005), for example, observes that:  Parents, counsellors, teachers, coaches, direct-care workers, case managers, and others are all in a position to help a child heal.

 Trauma results from young people experiencing toxic levels of stress that result in changes in young people’s neuroanatomy that is best characterized by a state of persistent and ongoing alarm.  Human brains learn best in a state of “relaxed alertness”. Stressed brains do not learn, and these young people tend to trigger untrained and unaware adult responses that reinforce the young person’s lack of felt safety.   ( Dr. Nicholas Long, The Conflict Cycle, 2014 )

 Without training adults will inadvertently escalate conflict and create anything but a felt sense of safety.

Human brains learn best in a state of “relaxed alertness”. Stressed brains simply do not learn.


 Training Outline:

 School teams will connect with the latest research on how the brain reacts to stress, and how stress affects our student’s behavior and their ability to focus and learn.

 This training will focus on:

  • An understanding of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) and the implication for education
  • Toxic Stress, Adversity & Trauma Informed and Responsive Care
  • Creating Resilient Environments in our Classrooms and Schools- Safety, Connections, Coping Skills
  • Classroom Strategies to dampen the stress response
  • Implementing focused attention practices and brain aligned strategies
  • The Skill of Learning the Conflict Cycle- Co-regulation Skills for educators
  • Creating School Resiliency Teams trained to co-regulate stressed brains in a safe and productive manner.
  • Addressing Teacher and staff well-being

 Teams will come away with brain-aligned strategies for emotional and cognitive well-being and a clear understanding of the emerging research that suggests that to feel positive is to learn deeply.

 Outcome Measures:

 This training is designed to create powerful learning environments for all members of the school community.  With this in mind the district resiliency teams will be tasked to learn this material and provide the training to all school district personnel that have contact with the children and youth in the school district.  

 All materials, activities and videos will be shared with the school level teams.

 Outcomes will be measured by the feedback received by the participants of the initial training as well as the participants of the “turnkey training” at the school building level.

 A pre and post/ test “climate and culture survey” will be used to determine baseline data on the perceived school level environment.  This data will be collected prior to the training and post tested after completion of the in district work.

 The survey will be completed by the students, staff, parents/guardians and community members in the school community.

Sample surveys can be found here:

 2014 New Jersey School Climate Survey

The revised NJSCS includes four validated questionnaires to support local school climate and culture improvement activities, as an integral part of their continuous efforts to improve student's educations and prevent at–risk student behavior.  Schools are encouraged to but not required to use the NJSCS tools.   There is no mechanism for reporting survey data to the state.  The NJSCS materials are provided as a service to help schools understand and improve local safe and supportive conditions for learning.


  • This is a 3 day turnkey training for school building teams.
  • Teams will be selected by the district and will be responsible for learning the material and bringing it back to their respective schools.
  • Lori and I will follow up the initial training a number of times during the school year. This can be done in a face to face manner or through electronic communications ( skype/zoom ).

School teams will be giving all the support materials presented during the 3 day training.


Trauma-informed school-wide interventions may increase student resilient recovery (Shamblin 2016), coping skills (Perry 2016), ability to pay attention (Holmes 2015), and attendance (Dorado 2016). Such interventions are also associated with increased graduation rates (Mathematica-Verbitsky-Savitz 2016), improved classroom behavior, and improved emotional and physical safety for students in urban, suburban, and rural areas (Walkley 2013, Phifer 2016).

 Trauma-informed school-wide programs may also enhance bullying prevention efforts, and address the social-emotional and mental health needs of vulnerable students (Blitz 2015).

Over the long term, trauma-informed interventions are associated with decreased office discipline referrals (ODRs), physical aggression incidents, and out-of-school suspensions (Mathematica-Verbitsky-Savitz 2016, Dorado 2016).  (http://www.countyhealthranking...uma-informed-schools)

 Presenter’s Bio’s:

 Dr. Lori Desautels, is an assistant professor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Butler University in Indianapolis. Before coming to Butler University, Lori was an Assistant Professor at Marian University in Indianapolis and earlier taught children and adolescents with emotional challenges in the upper elementary grades, worked as a school counselor in Indianapolis, was a private practice counselor and co-owner of the Indianapolis Counseling Center.  She was also a behavioral consultant for Methodist Hospital, in Indianapolis on the adolescent psychiatric unit.
Lori's passion is engaging her students through neuroscience in education, integrating Mind Brain Teaching and Learning Strategies into her courses at Marian and now Butler University.

Dr. Desautels designed and teaches the Applied Educational Neuroscience certificate program at Butler. This program is specifically designed to meet the needs of educators, social workers and counselors who work beside children and adolescents that are experiencing adversity and trauma. This course is now available on-line.

Lori has conducted workshops throughout the United States and abroad.

 She is the author of three books:

  • How May I Serve You- Revelations in Education ( 2012 ),
  • Unwritten: The Story of a Living System ( 2016 ) co-authored with Michael McKnight.
  • Eyes Are Never Quiet: Listening Beneath the Behaviors of Our Most Troubled Students (2019) also co-authored with Michael McKnight.


 Michael McKnight is currently an educational specialist for the New Jersey Department of Education working in the Cape May County Office.  Michael works closely with the 16 school districts in the county and is involved with a wide range of school district issues. 

 Prior to joining the department of education Michael had 23 years experience in schools.  He was a special education teacher for 13 years working and learning with emotionally and behaviorally troubled adolescents.  He taught in 3 states: Pennsylvania, Arizona & New Jersey.  Michael also was an administrator at Atlantic County Special Services School District for 10 years and was responsible for the programming for troubled students, ages 5 thru 21 years, removed from the local school district. 

 Michael has a passion for creating and supporting Reclaiming Environments for “at-risk” children and youth as well as the adults who serve them. He currently provides professional development to schools.  His current focus is joining with schools to create school level “Resiliency Teams” with a focus on school districts working with children and youth who carry into school toxic levels of stress.   The resiliency teams are designed to turnkey training in schools and move them toward becoming trauma responsive.

 Michael is a senior trainer for the Life Space Crisis Intervention (LSCI) Institute.  LSCI is an advanced therapeutic strategy for helping challenging students. 

 He has been involved with program and staff development for over 35 years. 

 Michael along with his colleague and friend, Dr. Lori Desautels, is the coauthor of 2 books:  Unwritten- The Story of A Living System about school transformation and their most recent work, Eyes Are Never Quiet- Listening Beneath the Behaviors of Our Most Troubled Students to be published January 2019.

 Michael is also an adjunct professor at Stockton University teaching Inclusive Learning in Education. 

 He views himself, not as an expert, but as a learner and a teacher who has always enjoyed building strength based cultures with others.






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Comments (2)

Newest · Oldest · Popular

Great idea. In my opinion, the future of the educational system lies precisely in such an approach. Bravo. I also often initiated various useful events in college, I prepared so hard that I often paid little attention to my studies and then I had to look for thesis proposal help in order to keep up with other students. But thanks to my active participation in grade-by-grade events, I was often given the exam automatically.

Last edited by Former Member

Michael, thank you for the provided model of Resiliency team training. Inclusive Learning in Education is an exciting concept that must be developed in the future. I usually write my paper on educational issues and free-use approaches; From my researcher's perspective, I am sure that your approach will result in the effectiveness of the learning process. What do you think about the future development of your idea? Can you provide additional thoughts on it? and do you have any additional resources that I can learn from and be more aware of the approach itself?

Last edited by Jayda Acevedo
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