May 25, 2016 - In This Issue:

As the school year winds down, we want to let you know some of what we've been up to this spring, tell you about our Engaged Classrooms institutes, and share a review of recent research into the effects of chronic stress on young people's development and learning.

Wishing you a restorative summer!
Lucy Patton
Engage! Newsletter Editor

Engaged Classrooms Institutes
Teachers Sharpen their Skills in our Engaged
Classrooms Institute

Our revised Engaged Classrooms institute was well received this year in locations across the US, such as New York City, western Massachusetts, and Oakland. We customized the institutes to meet the varying needs of host districts; all institutes focused on supporting teachers in creating safe, orderly, and engaging classrooms. Participants learned a range of research- based instructional strategies and the program's Ten Core Practices to reach and engage all learners. They expanded their understanding that developing strong personal relationships between students and adults is the key to engagement and the basis for supporting students' personal, social, and academic development. They honed a problem-solving, restorative approach to classroom management and discipline, and explored the model-teach-practice-assess cycle.

Coming this summer and fall are institutes in Chicago, Oakland, Syracuse, New York City, and other sites.
How Stress Affects Learning, and the Science Behind It  

" Poverty, the Brain, and Mental Health", a conference sponsored by Partnership with Children and the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health in New York, informed educators, families, and mental health professionals on recent advances in understanding the adverse effects of stress.

WNYC.org and the New York Times both reported on the discussion. Key points included:

Chronic stress, sometimes called "toxic stress", reshapes the brain by release of the hormone cortisol, essential to the "fight or flight" response. Children exposed to multiple, chronic stresses - neglect, abuse, maternal depression, parental discord, crime and other domestic dysfunctions - have chronically high cortisol.

Too much cortisol changes two parts of the brain, Margaret Crotty, executive director of the Partnership With Children and an organizer of the meeting, said. "One is your prefrontal lobe,
responsible for the development of executive functions - negotiating with people, telling the difference between good and bad, thinking about the consequences of your actions, your social behaviors in a classroom. Literally, how you behave." The other area, she said, is the hippocampus, which is central to creating memories of fact. "The things you can declare and verbalize - pretty important to school," Ms Crotty said. 
"Stress has not always been accepted as a valid construct in clinical medicine or in public health or even in the basic sciences," Dr. Mary Bassett, health commissioner for New York City, said. "It's only recently that we've moved past thinking of it as a feeling and begun to think of it as a deep experience that affects our whole body."

She described the growing literature on Adverse Childhood Experiences. These ACEs - incidents of abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and other traumas - are thought to have a cumulative effect on the body. Researchers in San Diego first described the phenomenon a decade ago. "They found a powerful connection between the number of ACEs and the incidence of health and social problems well into adulthood, and they found that ACEs were far more common than anticipated," Basset said.

However, she said the effects of the exposure can be reversed. "We know that stresses make their way into our bodies and affect our lives," she said, "but researchers have also demonstrated the power of resilience, the ability to adapt, to mitigate, to bounce back in the face of adversity."    

The brain's ability to adapt means that young people are not doomed by biology and environment. Caring, consistent relationships with adults, including those outside the home, can build resilience and help counteract the negative effects of chronic stress.

For further reading on how stress and trauma affect young people's development and learning, see Paul Tough's new article in The Atlantic magazine
Conferences and Work in the Field

The Hard Work of Recalibrating District-wide Discipline and Student Support

Engaging Schools' executive director Larry Dieringer participated in a panel discussion at the National School Boards Association annual conference in Boston on April
9 with two top officials from the Syracuse City School  
District (SCSD). They shared some of what they have learned from the multi-year effort there, supported by Engaging Schools, to transform the entire district's approach to discipline and student support, including the challenges and opportunities of implementing the SCSD Code of Conduct, Character, and Support.

SCSD Superintendent Dr. Sharon Contreras shared many indicators of progress in Syracuse. For example, from last school year to this, the portion of discipline referrals characterized as restorative (vs. punitive) increased over 60 percent and over 7,000 children benefited from new Behavior Intervention Centers. 

Almost 100 district leaders attended the session, which included structured opportunities for attendees to "turn and talk" and to engage with the presenters.  

To revisit Larry's multi-part conversation earlier this school year with Dan Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA, about the importance of reforming school discipline policies, see this blog post.  

                             Please Support Engaging Schools! 

Engaging Schools is a nonprofit organization that collaborates with middle and high school educators to create schoolwide communities of learning that integrate academics with social and emotional development. We provide professional learning and publications for instructional practice, classroom management, discipline and student support, postsecondary readiness, and advisory programs - all grounded in the values of equity, community, and democracy. The result: engaging schools where each and every student succeeds and makes positive contributions in school, work, and life.  

We rely on tax-deductible donations from you and others to develop our programs and resources and help us reach more teachers, schools, and young people. Please support our work with a gift today. Thanks!