I want to start this episode with a poem by Joshua T. Dickerson entitled, because they ain't got a pencil. I woke myself up because we ain't got an alarm clock dug in the dirty clothes basket because they nobody washed my uniform. brushed my hair and teeth in the dark because the light turned on. Even got my baby sister ready, because mama wasn't home, got us both to school on time to eat us a good breakfast. That and when I got to class, the teacher fussed at me, because I ain't got a pencil.
You're listening to that music podcast. With Bryson Tarbet, the curriculum designer and educational consultant behind that music teacher at the elementary music Summit. Each week, Bryson and his guests will dive into the reality of being an elementary music teacher, and how music can truly be transformative in the lives of the students you serve. Show Notes and resources mentioned in this episode can be found at that music teacher.com.
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to that music podcast. I am super excited for this conversation with Courtney Casta about trauma informed teaching and how we can make sure that everyone has a place in our classroom, especially those students that unfortunately have experienced so much trauma. Courtney, thank you so much for joining me, I cannot wait to see what we can get into during this conversation. Yeah, thank you so much for having me. Before we get into the weeds a little bit, can you introduce yourself and explain kind of how you got into being the person that was leading sessions that Oh, MBA about trauma informed music education? Sure. So thanks for that lovely introduction. Obviously, I am Courtney.
And I am a Cleveland based music educator. I've done lots of different types of work in all different types of school districts. My background is in music education, I got my bachelor's degree in music education was teaching in classroom settings for a while. And I became really curious about the different types of things that I would experience as a teacher and the lack, I think of real training and understanding of child development. Like we go through all of these courses, and all of these hours of practice and student teaching and all of this and that. But there wasn't really a lot of education and understanding around child development and some of the more like psychology type things. And so that's sort of how I got involved in this work is that I became really curious about when a child would have a specific behavior, what would that actually mean? And so that kind of led me down the path of research and trying to understand, you know, really what is happening in a child's brain, which I later learned, you know, is kind of that buzzword trauma informed and became really interested in what that means. And I guess I really kind of skipped a question, can you let us know a little bit about your current situation? Where are you? What are you? What is your current job? And kind of how are you in that music ed world? Yeah, so right now I work with the Cleveland Orchestra as their learning programs manager. And I get to do all different kinds of programming, which is really great. So I work with kids starting in pre K, and then all the way through teachers, which is why you know, you like stop me do things like that. Oh, MEA. And so everything from as early as like that very first exposure to music all the way through providing education and development for teachers. Awesome. So I know they're like you said, there's a lot of definitions of trauma and trauma informed teaching in the world. Can you give the the Courtney version of how you define trauma and trauma informed education? Sure. So the way that I usually think about trauma is that it is either an experienced or a set of circumstances, that leaves a child in kind of that like fight flight or freeze state. And so as I like referenced before, like trauma really became sort of this buzzword. And I think that over the last five years in particular, we started hearing this a lot in school settings of trauma, this trauma that and I remember going through this with social emotional learning that it started becoming this buzzword, but we're not really necessarily always taking time to define it. And so, with trauma work, there are a lot there are a lot of different technical definitions, but I like to think of it as it is either an experience or a set of circumstances. So it could be something that is happening consistently over time. This could include things like child neglect, living with a family member who is experiencing mental health issues substance abuse, separation from
loved one, abandonment, divorce, child services, situations death, incarceration, poverty, racism, discrimination.
A lot of those things are more like what we consider to be consistent trauma, things that are happening consistently over time. And even things that are kind of a one off if you experience a car crash or a shooting, unfortunately, that is a big one right now is that our kids are going to school and they could experience a school shooting really on any given day. And that's trauma in and of itself is living in that fear state of what could happen to me. So unfortunately, I, a lot of my students have experienced this consistent trauma that you're talking about. And since I started in this district, I've really kind of did a little bit of deep dive into this research. Because again, I also think that it's really important, and we don't have enough time to actually do the work and talk about it. But how do you, you know, what, what ways can you see music education supporting these types of these students that have experienced this trauma. So music in and of itself is a really beautiful thing, because in and of itself, it has all these great healing properties. So music taps into parts of our brain that allow us to express how we feel, it allows us to be creative, and be in an environment where we're learning how to self regulate, we're learning breathwork, we're learning how to work as a team. So how to collaborate, social cues, things like that. And so what separates music, I think from other areas of learning is that we kind of incorporate all of these other things that if a child is not necessarily getting support from the other adults in their life and other scenarios, in music class, they're getting all of these great, not just interactions with their classmates, which collaboration is really important learning to work together with your peers, but also the modeling of this is how we can take what we're experiencing, and shift the energy into creating and creating something beautiful and expressive through our music. I love that. So we we talked a little bit about what trauma is, what a kind of, you know, what trauma informed teaching can, you know, be a little bit in the academic sense, but what are some, like? What does it actually look like in practice in a music education setting? Yeah, so trauma informed practices are really built on what they call like the five principles of trauma informed education. And so these, these principles are trust, safety, awareness, you're really working to create an environment where you're connecting with your students.
So creating environments where our students feel empowered, they feel that they are safe in their environment, and that they can also make choices. So some of it is having the power to be independent, and really have the ability to even have a say that they're what they think and what they feel is truly valued and truly important.
And that I think the trust, and the safety piece is what I personally consider to be the most important foundation. Because if you have trust, and you have safety, and it's mutual, between you and your class, all of the other components kind of fall into place. Yeah, I really concur with that. I think, you know, when we think we hear all the time, as teachers, you know, did you build a relationship and like, it can be weaponized, unfortunately. But the reality is, is, especially with students that have experienced trauma, that relationship is so important, the understanding that that student can let their guard down a little bit when they're in your in your classroom, because they know that you're going to be taking care of them, and that you're going to protect them from whatever they're, you know, kind of thinking, you know, could happen, or even if it's just this, you know, hypothetical thing. I think that that is when we let the kids be kids a little bit because they don't have to feel like they're protecting themselves from the whole world. Yeah, and something that I like to remind myself of, and remind just my fellow like educators and just fellow adults have to is that we are also human beings who are also experiencing the same things. So we also are experiencing these fight flight and freeze states. And I think that often, I think that often our generation finds that when they get into their 20s or their 30s they're experiencing things like anxiety and depression and realizing they have things like add OCD, living with different types of mental health conditions that quote unquote, kind of suddenly seem to appear in like heavy symptoms and things like that, but really what's happened
thing is what's happening with our children, which is that we aren't really taught the proper tools and don't have the understanding of what those things mean as children. And so then what's happening is that our nervous systems literally stores these responses. Our bodies are so incredibly smart. They store these responses over time. And we never actually learned how to process them, and how to work with them, and work through them. Right. And so it could I think, especially for children, what's really sad is that they may have a behaviors such as acting out in class. So disrupting the teacher seeming unfocused, seeming to not do their work seeming to not care. And what's really going on is that their brain is in survival mode, they don't have any other choice but to try to survive. And they also may not have any other type of support anywhere else in their life. And so where do you get attention at school, even if it's negative attention, that's something that I like to remind just just adults, a lot of is that a child who is acting out, even if they're getting negative attention, that might be the only attention that that child is receiving? And so what their body's remembering from that is, even if I have a behavior that results in a punishment, you're at least giving me some kind of attention, right? And so why wouldn't we want to shift that into a positive energy and a positive attention? Yeah, I, early on in my career, I realized that, unfortunately, the reality is with some of my students, they could go an entire day without saying without one, anyone saying their name in a positive way. And that is that understanding really changed how I react, interacted and reacted with children in my classroom, because, you know, that stinks. You know, can you imagine going through the day, and anytime someone says your name, it's someone getting on your case, or telling you you did something wrong or telling you that, you know, like, can you imagine how that day in and day out would really start to affect you. And I like how you brought up the the the fact of you know, negative attention is attention, because a lot of times these students, they just crave attention, they crave that adult relationship. And I found that sometimes you see students that have experienced trauma, when they feel most comfortable with you is when they act out the most, because they feel like they don't have to put up as much of a wall. And that's such a frustrating thing for teachers, because, you know, you want them to feel safe. You want them to feel like you know, they're a part of the classroom. But what do you do when their reaction to your relationship is to have more outbursts? Sure. And that's a really great point. And something else that I think is important to this conversation is that I think it's important to acknowledge that today we'll talk about different practices and different skills and different very specific activities that you can incorporate. But it also doesn't mean that you're never going to lose your cool, because just like how children lose their cool like we are, we are normal human beings who have feelings and who have reactions. And I would be lying if I said that, that never happened to me. Sure. There are still times that I probably lose my cool more than I'd like. But I think what's important about that is having a conversation about it, having an environment where you can actually speak with your students about how that's a normal part of life, how it happens. And how you deal with it afterwards, I think is what the the key pieces, it's not being perfect all the time. It's not taking strategies like breath work, which we'll go over a little bit later breath work, reframing movement, those specific things are great. And yeah, we want to be able to incorporate them into a consistent routine, but sometimes it's just not going to be perfect, right. But what you do with it later is if you have the understanding, to say, You know what, just like you had this outbursts, sometimes I am not perfect, I'm tired sometimes and frustrated. And I don't know how to help you like having that honesty, I think is really shocking to which
Yeah, and I think that shows modeling of, hey, I messed up, and but I'm going to do something about it. I'm not just going to let it be. And it's a really good modeling of that growth mindset and understanding that nobody's perfect, and that we're all working to get better. So I, I, I totally agree with all that. So you mentioned some like specific things like actually things to do in your classroom to be more mindful of trauma. So let's dive into it. What are some of your favorite ways to actually what favorite practices strategies activities to implement in the classroom? Sure. So some of some of my favorite things incorporates breathwork and movement, which I know like sounds kind of funny, because as music educators, like we're doing these things all the time anyway. Like we're really just taking something that we're always doing and just sort of shifting it to, you know, fit a practice of truly focus on phone. And so
What I like about these activities is that they're so quick, they're so simple, and you can do them no matter what area you're teaching, you could teach general music orchestra band, you need breathwork, no matter what and where you are at any age at any time. And so one of the techniques that I really like, is called the 444 breaths. So you have your class, breathe in for four, you hold it for four counts, and you exhale for four counts. And what I really liked about it is that with this one, in particular, it's more about how you're kind of energizing your body through your breath. So I'll take it a step further. And I'll work with the students to kind of imagine that they're literally filling a balloon, like their bodies, a balloon, and you have to fill your entire body with air, and you only have four accounts to do it. Right. So it almost becomes like a game for them that like they have to focus so much on filling up their balloon, that they're not really thinking about anything else that's happening in the day, and then you only have four counts to hold it. And then you have to get all the air out by the rest of the four counts. So it sounds like super simple. And it's it's breath work that a lot of people do. But that one is is kind of, I think, just really easy. Another breath exercise that I really like is taking the four counts, but then doing a seven count hold and an eight count, exhale. This one is nice, because you have to use your mind a little bit more, you have to think about, okay, I need to make sure that I'm keeping my core really strong, so that I can physically hold seven counts of air in me. And when I breathe out for eight counts, I like pretending that we're breathing through a straw or blowing out a candle or something. So that you're you're having a really delicate, controlled, exhale. So number one, you're also secretly doing something that we need to be doing anyway, which is having a really strong core so that we have great breath in our music anyway. But for the children, they are taking that time to think about, okay, I have to breathe in this way I have to hold this way, I have to exhale this way. And so it's beneficial anyway, because breathing is really important. But it really takes their mind out of whatever else was happening in the day before just jumping into the work. So I recommend doing this at the beginning of class or even if things are getting a little bit off track.
Even preschoolers, preschoolers will follow this example. Now here's where I wanted to throw in something that we talked about earlier, which is like the child who maybe is having struggle struggles with like focusing staying on task, things like that, try having that student lead this breathwork exercise at the beginning of class, it's one of my favorite things to do. Because at first, they might even say that this is stupid, I've had that before. I've had a kid say This is so dumb, Miss Courtney, I am not doing this. But they get in front of the class and they realize that the entire class is relying on them to teach them what to do boom, leadership position, all of a sudden, you've shifted that student's behavior you're reframing. So you're reframing that student's behavior, which is oh, you know, they seem like they're off task. They seem like they're not listening. And no, they don't care. All of a sudden, they care that you've invested in them enough, you care what they have to say, and you obviously care enough that you think that they can lead the class. So for two minutes, that kid now has gone from, I'm only getting negative attention to suddenly my teacher cares so much about me that I'm leading this class. Um, so that's, that's a really great one. Another one that I really like, is incorporating the students feedback into the routine. So for example, maybe you have a student who thinks that every, like, foundational or classical piece of music that you're working on is just so lame, and they're like, I will never ever be added to this. Maybe at the beginning of class or at the end of the class, you ask that student is there something that is, you know, like school appropriate, obviously, but is there something that we could play at the beginning or under a class that as the kids are coming into your classroom, that that student had a say in what like the intro music was or what the exit music was? And you'll be really surprised at how much that influences, like suddenly they're like, oh, wow, they actually listened. They actually care that I really like Lizzo and I really wanted to listen to Lizzo today, and what they will remember from that is that not only you heard, you saw them you listen to them, you really cared and valued that child as a human being. But you'll be really surprised at how much more motivated they are to put all of that energy then into the work when it's time for class. Yeah, I can see how doing
Having that kind of cycle of feedback coming in and can really allow the kids to make the class more their own and really have agency and really feel like this is, it's not something that's happening to them it's happening. It's something that they're a part of. And you know, while we are definitely there's definitely something to be said about, you know, being the facilitator of the class, there's also something to be said about, be about the fact that music is so community focused. And, you know, we don't want to be, you know, the sage on the stage, pretending we have all the answers and, and leading everyone, sometimes, it's important to hear what else is out there, and here's some different viewpoints and figure out how we can include those in our classes. Right. And I think that that's one of the components that some of the buzz that a teacher who's brand new to these kinds of practices, some of the buzz that you might get back is well, so what so now I have to like change everything I'm doing because I, I'm relying on every child to give me every opinion. And it's not really about that. It's more about taking what you're already doing, and just making very tiny adjustment. It's so small, it takes pretty much no effort at the very beginning of class, either play a song that the kids can come into, that does not take time away from class, the breathwork stuff, you got to do that anyway, right. So you might as well just take advantage of what you already have to do, and just tweak it ever so slightly. So you kind of hinted at my next question, which is, what are some common common challenges that you hear from teachers when you're talking about trauma informed teaching? Hi, I'm really excited that we were talking about this one, because yes, it is true. There are, there are some challenges, and there is some pushback. So one of the things that I think is a struggle is that I think sometimes trauma informed practices get confused for as a replacement for mental health services. And this is where I'm going to insert that because that's often a pushback that I get not not necessarily me as a person, but like with the practices is that it gets confused with. Okay, so now I have 50 jobs as a teacher already. And now I also have to be the student's counselor, no, that is not at all what we are doing. This is not a substitution for mental health services. That is mental health professionals have incredible, incredibly difficult jobs. And we are not a replacement for that. However, that doesn't mean that we cannot change our interactions with children and see them and hear them and acknowledge them in our classroom. So I would say that's probably the biggest challenge is understanding the difference between there are, there are times when a child needs certain help that we cannot provide, you know, like, I'm pretty open, specially when I do like workshops and things like that I'm pretty open about the fact that I'm in my adult life. And I go to therapy. And I think it's really important that we normalize that and that we talk about that there are not nearly enough school counselors in schools, there's not a lot of funding for that the pay is really not great. I think school counselors should be getting paid millions of dollars for the incredible work that they do. And so it's just to say that, yeah, there's a difference. It's not the same thing. We are taking skills, and we are empowering children and not substituting medical professionals. I think another thing that's tricky is that really, these practices are best if every single person in the school is on board, and that's just not life. So I'm obviously keeping identities, you know, safe and everything at Oh, MEA. Someone asked a really great question. And their question was, what do I do if the problem isn't the students, but the adults that work in my school who think that this stuff is baloney. And what I have to say to those adults is, I feel that their reasoning, or at least the feedback that I received is that the reasoning is, well, I turned out fine. And I got slapped on the wrist with a ruler, or there have been much more graphic examples of that if I was hit with a belt or I was hit with a ruler in class, whatever it is, but, um, I think that for one thing, just because somebody experienced that way back when that doesn't mean that we should be experiencing that now. And I think another thing is, why wouldn't you want to make something better? So yeah, you may have turned out okay, but very likely, you're probably also somebody who has a short temper, you're probably somebody that doesn't have any leeway when a child in your world, you know, missteps.
I continue to say quote unquote, just because I really don't like referring to behaviors as good or bad, or kids is good as bad because they're just children and behaviors are just behaviors. They're not good or bad. But there are teachers who do still believe that if you miss step me, if you cross me, if you do this, if you do that it's punishment. It's detention, it's, you know, it's you're failing. And, you know, I think what's sad about that is that you have an opportunity to influence a child for the better. And I think we need to stop thinking of things as being good or bad, and black and white, and instead shift our thinking to children, our children, children are innocent. We are there to help mold children, you know, we are there to show them that there could be something better than back in the 60s and 70s, when we used to get hit with rulers in the classroom. And I often gets, I don't know why. But it's sometimes gets misconstrued that we're letting kids do whatever they want. And the answer is, that's just wrong. We're still holding them accountable to their expectations, we're still making our expectations clear. But what we're doing is we're making sure that the way that we've structured our classroom, the way that we structure, the interactions we have with our students, is understanding that there are things that we don't understand. And there are things that are out of our control that are out of our scope. But we are taking that information, and we're doing our best with what we have. Yeah, and focusing on what we can control, rather than what we can't. Yeah, and I have a couple of thoughts on that, too. So one is that I had even written in my notes for this conversation to bring up the expectation factor. And so I'm really glad that you brought that up. And something I want to emphasize is that we're actually talking about the opposite of not having expectations, like what we're building on is having expectations. And the expectation is that we have a mutual understanding of trust, and safety, collaboration, respect, all of those things. I can't earn your respect, though, if you don't feel safe. And like you can trust your environment, right. And so going back to those principles, that's why I mentioned trust and safety as being kind of the the most important guiding principles in my opinion. And so all of those things influence the expectations, the routine, the consistency of every day, if I'm a kid, every day, I come to this music class, and I know exactly what to expect today, I know that I'm going to be respected, and I'm going to be valued. And I know that I'm a really important member of this class and of this team, I know, my peers respect me, and I know that they need me here. Right. So that was a really great point to bring up. And something else that I will often talk about in workshops that I do at teachers is I go through like a guided imagery. And I did do this at home, yay. And I think this is where the room started to shift. Because even at omta, everyone is choosing you're making the choice to attend the sessions that you are attending. But even then I could tell that there was some skepticism when I was first speaking, there were a couple of folks that were looking around, like, I'm not sure what this lady is talking about. And I love those people. I'm like who I am ready for you, you know. And here's why we did a guided imagery. And what I asked everybody to do is to close their eyes. And I asked them to imagine that they're in a situation where it is nighttime in a jungle, and they are running and running and running as fast as they can because they're being chased by a lion or a tiger or a bear whatever it is.
That lion or that tiger, they're going to outrun you, I'm sorry, but like if it is the choice between my legs and a tiger, they're going to win every single time because my legs can't go that fast. Okay. And I really have them thinking about what would happen in your body, while your nervous system is going into probably every stage of fight, flight and freeze. And in all of those moments, the first thing you're going to try to do is run right so you are trying to flee the situation, but you cannot run it. So if that tiger catches up to you, and it gets his claws on you, you can try to fight it and you probably instinctively will try to fight it. But you will get to a point that you can't, your body automatically shuts down you're not making that choice, your nervous system is making that choice and you are done. You are frozen and that thing's going to eat you whether you want it to or not because you can't escape the tiger. Now what I had them do though before we got to the point of Tiger gets you and eats you because preferably that wouldn't happen in real life is thinking about what's you know, physiologically happening in your body and imagine that you somehow escaped and now imagine
did that two seconds later you have to be in math class. And you have to focus. And you have to learn long division, they still do long division, I don't even know.
Because we have
a moment of laughter just because like, I'm like, I don't even know like what kids are learning and like math was right now. But that's to say, if you just escaped a life or death situation, imagine that now you're a child that has to go sit in a classroom and be still and be silent, and do your work perfectly, and get A's and never get in trouble, like all of these things, it's not going to happen. So whether we're talking about a consistent trauma over time, or a specific Tiger eating type situation, you just can't your your nervous system can't handle that. So when we take these practices, and we put them, you know, when we put them in our schools and with our classes, it's not to let the children you know, quote, unquote, do whatever they want. But it's to teach them that there's perhaps another way that we could be working together, perhaps there is another option, other than, you know, putting the energy into my body is lashing out, because I don't, I don't know any other way to cope. It's taking that and saying, I see you, and I hear what you're experiencing. And I know it's not directed at me as a person. What can we do together to help influence a different response? Because there's perhaps a different reaction than I could have that could then teach that child Oh, I don't have to react this way. I could instead do something else. I didn't know that. I didn't know it was an option, because I always get in trouble. I, I'm kind of speechless with that. I bet because it's a really good way to put it. And it's a really
good way to show just how sometimes we don't have the whole picture. You know, and sometimes our responses
just are, the things that we focus on are just, they're the least of their kids concern, because they just have so many bigger concerns. It's not because they don't want to carry it's because they they don't have the capacity to worry about this small thing in our class right now. Because they're worried about all these other things. Right? Yeah. And I was mentioning early on in the conversation, the curiosity that I had with this topic. And one of the absolutely amazing trainings, I feel incredibly lucky that I got to do this. But one of the amazing trauma trainings that I got to do was with some of the leaders amongst this work, which included people like Peter Levine, who was one of the first authors to even write about trauma, and how trauma presents and different behaviors and actions and things like that. He has a really great series of works on healing trauma. And it also included Steven Porges, who is one of the very, very first folks who talked about something called polyvagal theory. So that's the different states that our body lives in. So that fight flight free state social engagement, so like your safety state, things like that. And Bessel Vander Kolk, who has of course, the very, very, very famous, the Body Keeps the Score, I highly recommend, if you are somebody who is like, I have no idea where to start with this work, I really highly recommend the Body Keeps the Score. And it really embodies this idea of what is happening in my body based on the things that I've experienced before. And this is how my nervous system is always remembering it. So when we take that then say, into the music classroom, you know, say you have a child that is, you know, coming in, and they are, you know, kind of every day like, I come back to the like the children who seemed like really unfocused, who seem to not care and all that, well, I gone back to whatever is happening in their actual real life, they likely just don't have any understanding that their brain is taking this as an automatic response, there is no other option for that child, other than to you know, kind of deviate from what they're really experiencing in their body. It's a protection. It's a safety mechanism. And again, it's why our bodies are really kind of creepy, because we do things on autopilot that we don't even know are happening. That's how smart our nervous system, I could continue this conversation for hours. Because it's so important. And there's so many so many layers to it. And it's so nuanced. And I think we're really at the beginning of this conversation. I'm so glad that we as as a society, and as an educational system have started this conversation, but I feel like we are such at the beginning and there's so much more that needs to be getting. So Courtney, where can we connect with you and continue this conversation online? Yeah, so
I'm the as far as social media, the best way to connect with me is through my Instagram, which is see Marie Gazda on Instagram and I like Instagram a lot for I use it for healthy purposes, social media is not necessarily always the best place to be, but I choose to use it to consume a lot of information that I'm interested in. So I follow a lot of really great educators and psychologists and people who also share this love of trauma informed work. One of the people that I love to follow her name is Nicola para. Some people might recognize that author's name from how to do the work, or how to meet yourself. Those are two books that are really wonderful. I follow a lot of other really, really great like mental health, trauma informed types of social media, through Instagram, and also by email if you're somebody that kind of just wants to reach out with a question, which is cm [email protected] So those are the two best ways to reach me. I am on Facebook, I don't respond to Facebook very often. I'm also on LinkedIn just through my name, Courtney Gazda. All right, Courtney, thank you so much for joining us today and for being part of this conversation and helping other educators start this conversation. Thank you so much for all you do. Well, thank you so much for having me. This was wonderful.