Tuesday, 23 September 2014


One of the exciting opportunities I've taken this year has been to train as a SMART Practice Trainer through a programme auspices by the Department of Education and Child Development. Have you heard of SMART Practice before?

SMART stands for Strategies for Managing Abuse Related Trauma. It's not a programme, or an extra thing to do. It's a way of thinking and acting. It's a way of creating environments and relationships that support our students who have experienced abused related trauma.
PRACTICE is an acronym  of the characteristics of relationships and behaviours that fit within the strategy.
  • Predictable (children who have experienced trauma thrive on predictable routines, and often see any change as a threat)
  • Responsive (whilst behaviours can be challenging and overwhelming, the responses to that behaviour need to come from a place of understanding the trauma-based origins of it)
  • Attuned (children who have experienced trauma often have little or no way of understanding themselves or their responses and need someone else who is attuned to them to help them learnt to better understand their own reactions) 
  • Connecting (children who have experienced trauma need help reconnecting to their own feelings, responses and strengths)
  • Translating (integrating experience through building stories of understanding often requires someone to help translate those experiences into manageable stories)
  • Involving (children who have experienced trauma often struggle  building peer relationships)
  • Calming (children who have experienced trauma often live in a high state of arousal and benefit from consistent and repetitive experiences of calm environments)
  • Engaging (children who have experienced trauma have little experience of supportive adult-child relationships)
We spent the first day of the training looking at trauma and brain development, the second day at training techniques and the final day (quite some time later) reviewing our initial live training experiences and building further knowledge bases and training strategies.

The main purpose of this course was to build a phalanx of SMART Champions who can deliver a 'taster' (of a longer course) to other teachers. It's a sound premise: getting those of us in the classroom talking to other teachers about some strategies they can use the very next day AND whetting their appetite for more in depth training.  The reality for me, though, was so much more.

Side note: Before I go any further I want to explain trauma. The trauma we're focussing on here is complex relational trauma. This trauma happens within relationships (often significant relationships), is often ongoing and carries a stigma of shame and isolation. This is distinct from so-called simple trauma such as a car accident, bushfire, death of a parent.  It's a tough call to make because the research often shows that simple trauma will often bring to light or even cause complex relational  trauma BUT in and of itself simple trauma tends to be more 'socially acceptable' and there are typically open support mechanisms around to help.  I am NOT saying that simple trauma is SIMPLE. I think it's poor nomenclature but I'm working with what I've got so… I'm sorry.

Trauma has a HUGE impact on the human brain.
These brain scans are of three year old children.
Already the difference is huge.
I'll admit that I've not done the longer course. In fact I hadn't even done the online mini-course (available here if you'd like to do it) until after dinner the night before I started this course. I've done a little neuro-development through some of my undergrad subjects which meant not too much of the content of this course was new BUT presented in tandem with the impact of trauma as sustained during or at that developmental period was both confronting and exhilerating. It's something that makes perfect sense but I'd not explicitly considered before. For example: a child who experienced trauma in utero, while his brain stem was still developing, will always have a rapid heart beat, and trouble self-soothing.  Or the child who experienced trauma during the first couple of years of life while her
cerebellum was developing and who now at 12  still has trouble with motor function: she's clumsy and struggles to hold a pencil to write. Or any child who has ever experienced trauma and can't remember where they put their homework because the door slamming shut was a trigger for their amygdala to switch on, their cortex to go offline and all access to episodic memory is immediately gone.  Phew! The connections were vast and so easy to apply.

Better than the intellectual lightbulbs that were pinging all over the place, was the message that there are simple strategies that through attuned and responsive relationships can be put in place to help these children.  That there is HOPE.  And that I, and many of my colleagues, already use these many of these strategies without realising it. Or explicitly realising the deeper impact of our actions.

One of the other 'take home' messages for me was that time doesn't heal everything. As a society we hear it all the time… I, personally, have been told it many times in the last couple of months since Dad's passing: 'you'll get over it, time heals all'. Um no. Actually I won't. He's still dead. Time doesn't fix that. So why would we ever think that the passage of time will heal the injuries sustained by a child who has experienced trauma? What will help is processing and reintegrating the experiences. I know from this simple trauma I've recently experience that talking about it and making sense of it has helped me find peace. I still have moments - like hearing his voice on voicemail (how's that for a trigger!) - when it's hard to breathe but I'm explicitly learning strategies to deal with it. So we need to remember this for children whose trauma is complex and relational.

Which brings me to my last point - for now, anyway  - that we need to remember that the site of the injury MUST be the site of the healing. If the trauma happened in a relationship, it needs to be healed in a relationship. The relationships we build with all of our students help each and every one of them but especially those who have experienced trauma. As teachers we have a tremendous opportunity (and responsibility) to provide these children with a site to heal. We are NOT therapists, but we do get more time with these children than anyone else.

Stay tuned for SMART Part II about how we went preparing for and delivering our first training session and what impacts I've seen in my classroom and the school.

This relates to the following Australian Professional Standards for Teachers...
Standard 1 Know students and how they learn
Standard 4 Create and maintain supportive and safe learning environments
Standard 6 Engage in professional learning
Standard 7 Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community


  1. A close family member of mine in reception at another school has recently gone through a lot of trauma AT school, trauma any 6 year old shouldn't have to deal with. I'm interested to read part 2 and to pass on to the Mother of this young girl who is considering HEPS as an alternative. Thank you

  2. Best I get on with finishing it then! There are another couple of posts already finished and scheduled to be published but Smart Part II will be finished by the end of the weekend. I hope it will be of some help. Thanks for reading Tamara! :-)