Workshop descriptions

Our Professional Development Day for people in the education sector included a range of keynote presentations and workshop sessions.

Keynote presentations

Trauma in Education – Misha Thomas

Education emerges from the lived experience of the student. When the student’s experience is negated, the term education loses all meaning. When the student’s lived experience is profoundly affected by psychological trauma it does not suddenly change the capacity or process of education. It rather forces us to define the basis and texture from which learning will and must emerge. This is radically different from assuming that trauma is an obstacle to learning. It is not. It is often its very foundational start and end point and schools must provide the necessary sanctuary in which students can flourish and learn.

So long as student trauma is viewed as a separate and competing factor working against the student and their capacity to learn, we as a system of educators fail the highest aim of any education: to promote the full integration of an individual’s relationship to self and environment, regardless of the profound variations and challenges between them.

Trauma is never an enemy or obstacle to education. Psychological trauma occurs as a dramatic factor within a countless bundle of other setting conditions in children’s education, but it is never a prevention of education for those children.

The Impact of Trauma – What Has happened To You? - Dr Robyn Miller, CEO MacKillop Family Services

Dr Robyn Miller will draw on her experience as a teacher and practitioner at Bouverie Family Therapy Centre and with the Department of Health and Human Services, to explore the impact of trauma. The question What has happened to you? invites us to recognise the fact that trauma changes the structure of the brain and influences the stages of development for a child and adolescent. The way this trauma manifests in certain behaviours, can lead to further rejection, stigmatisation and re-traumatisation. It is critical for all those caring for and working with children and young people, who have experienced trauma, to understand that behaviours are a form of communication;  as professionals we have a responsibility to interpret this language and provide a safe and nurturing environment where the child can be held, the story can be told and the healing can begin.

Workshop breakout sessions

Responses to Challenging Behaviours that Work – Justin Roberts

Challenging student behaviour is an ever-present reality in every schools’ commitment to provide safe learning environments. Schools, their leaders and teachers, share the task of putting in place practices that aim to have a positive impact on individual students’ behaviour. There is no simple answer due to the wide variety and complexity of barriers to learning; this means that the search for an effective response can be illusive and, to the dismay of all stakeholders, can sometimes lead to exclusion.

Aimed at educators, teachers and all levels of school leadership, this workshop will explore brain development and trauma theory and how this knowledge can inform effective responses to challenging behaviours in mainstream education. Informed by MacKillop School’s experience, working with disengaged young people and their mainstream host schools, it will also propose inclusive, trauma-informed post-incident responses to challenging behaviour that call into question, hierarchical escalation processes that can often lead to the exclusion of our most vulnerable children and young people. 

Creating a Trauma-Informed Classroom – Caitlin Burman, Bernadine Kelly and Jessi Belli

The experience of trauma is common in many of the students that we teach. The range and complexity of this trauma includes mental health, spectrum diagnoses, abuse, neglect, grief and loss and antenatal substance exposure. Studies have shown that trauma affects brain development and therefore has significant implications for the development of a child’s cognition, language, self-identity and their ability to self-regulate.

This workshop will provide trauma–informed tools and to foster skills in self-regulation, including emotional control, sensory regulation and the ability to exercise executive functioning skills, necessary for learning. The workshop will draw on the Sanctuary in Schools Model which has been developed to support children and young people who have experienced trauma.

Students Do Well if They Can: How do Schools Make Sure They Can? – Brona Walshe

In this session, Brona will explore the seven Sanctuary Commitments that schools can use to create a culture that will lead students and schools away from trauma-reactive behaviours. The Commitments include Nonviolence, Emotional Intelligence, Social Learning, Democracy, Open Communication, Social Responsibility and Growth and Change.

This framework enables school community members to share common understandings, language and goals in supporting the most vulnerable students. Brona will provide practical applications and examples of how schools, families and agencies have progressed in addressing the challenges and moving to school success.

Creativity: The Pathway from Trauma to Hope – Rhonda Goodall

Trauma causes us to lose our sense of self and consequently, our capacity to access and exercise our imagination. Childhood trauma, impacts on the development of the brain and the normative stages of development; its damage, if unaddressed, follows us into adulthood and impacts on every aspect of our life, extending to our family, friends and community. There is an urgency to address this trauma in children and young people, so they can access education, flourish academically, socially and emotionally and become adults who are actively and positively engaged in society.

This workshop will provide an insight into the creative journey Rhonda takes with young people, fostering a relationship of trust and mutual respect. Once the young people feel safe and comfortable in this relationship, it allows them to own their creative space and experience their capacity for self- determination. A recognition of their value and worth is enhanced.  Rhonda aims to empower every young person to leave their session with a sense of pride and achievement; pride in both themselves and their work.

Sanctuary in Schools – Misha Thomas and Anne Henderson

The Sanctuary Model provides an educational framework of theory and practice for teaching students affected by psychological trauma. This workshop examines the key principles and practices used in the Sanctuary model applied to schools. Case studies and successes from MacKillop and other schools internationally will be reviewed. The workshop will examine:

  • Common threats and consequences of chronic stress and trauma;
  • Challenges in a school setting;
  • Rethinking the relationship between academics and student development;
  • Foundations of safety and social learning for effective education and development;
  • The use of the tools: turning theory into everyday class room practice.