Your Student Did What?

Helping Students Get Out of the Basement of Their Brain

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Your Brain As a House

Imagine your brain is like a house. This house contains all your memories, your stories and has the capacity to keep you safe. In this house you will learn new skills, sharpen your abilities and you have the space to imagine yourself in the world.


    • The Basement: meant for safety and storage. Students who have experienced trauma are very familiar with their basements, having spent much of their time in protection mode. The basement is their safe spot, their comfort zone and a place that has kept them alive.
    • Ground floor- This floor manages the day to day functions that keep us alive. In this level, our brains look for patterns to simplify all details and information we are constantly bombarded with.

    • Top Floor- Here, we store our memories, our emotions and how we see ourselves. There is a lot of reflection on this level.

    • Attic- we do our best thinking up here and plan our futures from this level. In a perfect world, all students would be in their attics at school.

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    Shift Your Lens and Consider the Following!

    Keep it simple and remember it can trial by fire every time! The key is to track success, stay calm, and support.


    • Stock up on food. Food can be used as a dipstick to test where your student is. Consider that you wouldn’t stop to pick up your picnic lunch if a grizzly bear is chasing you (crisis) but after you have calmed down, you will often be hungry (crisis over). So have food on hand to help them regulate or juice boxes with a straw. Your students will not be able to go grab their snacks, so have them easily accessible.

    • Think safety first. Check the environment and decide if it is safe and if it preserves dignity. Removing the class is far safer in all aspects then physically removing the student. If you have a student who struggles regularly, teach the class what the plan is (when that student isn’t present). Students will understand and the plan helps them feel safe too.

    • Get some things to tinker with. Lego, slime, playdough, coloring supplies, magnets, sand table. High interest items that occupy their hands are often helpful and one of the most utilized strategies when students merely dip into the basement. Let go of the thought that it is a reward but rather a tool to regulate.

    • Stay Calm: Be vulnerable and reflect on how you have handled situations before. Where was your state of calm? Did you follow a set plan to handle the behavior? Safety can be felt so our response in these situations matter. Best place to start is to debrief a previous situation, how the adults can change their response, and build a plan! When in crisis humans find the someone that “takes charge” because there is safety there. If you have a plan you will feel calmer and grounded

    • Stop talking: When shit is going down often the best thing we do is just shut up. Trust me you are gonna wanna talk, ask questions, tell them to do things! You will be doing whatever to get the heck out of that situation and make the kid behave. You know this to be true. Think caveman! Minimal words and concise! “Let’s get juice.” “Office Lego!” Simple and short is often most effective.

    What is in Gutmann's Office?

    Scenario Walk Through

    Christie and I received a few requests to work through some specific scenarios and this was a common one! So we wanted to share with everyone! Thanks for your questions we love the feedback


    Student Info: Disregulated kindergarten student, history of trauma, concerns about parents ability to cope with behavior, triggers include socialization/group play and transitions, behaviors include throwing, screaming, kicking, swearing.


    Scenario: Student is playing with a group of peers at a center, triggers, and throws an object at another student and starts swearing.



    1. Identify the behavior for the student! You are struggling shoudl we take a break. Keep it short. Snack or a walk? Use your body to make space between student struggling and peers to help keep other safe. Stay calm!
    2. If escalation continues and student is unable to choose, preserve dignity and remove the class first before any physical intervention
    3. Give it some time
    4. Eventually we want learning back for our other students so you maybe faced with needing to move the child to a different location. Always frame this with consent in mind. This script is vital to keep consistent everytime. "I am going to count to 10 and you can take my hand or I will need to move you"
    5. Follow through!
    6. Give it more time once in a new location. Track the duration, keep them safe, and just stay calm. Put the snack or juice box near them and let them know it is there. Drink one yourself! Or start playing with the playdough.
    7. In time they will start to calm, don't be too quick with this step. It is exhausting for them and you may have to wait till much later to have restorative conversation.




    It is vital to debrief each event, tweak the plan, and stay solution focused. Collect the data around frequency, intensity, and duration. When it goes well....talk about why it went well. Candid conversations are important and remember the behavior is not a personal. A couple things to consider:



    • If data shows (since kindergarten) disregulation is happening near the end of the day, consider shortening the day for a period of time. Set the student up for more success which will support the student with their peer relationships. Always use the lens of supporting student success this will help with parents struggling to cope. If a shortened day isn't an option for the family, simply framing the end of the day with less demanding tasks (such as centers).
    • Boundaries are important: Set realistic boundaries and follow through with them. In this case if unsafe in the classroom he/she will not be able to participate is a realistic boundary. Each time this behavior occurs follow thru consistently with the same plan, same language, and same level of calm. THE WHOLE TEAM NEEDS TO FOLLOW THIS SCRIPT!
    • Trust in the fact that when you take the lens of hurt not bad and view these as strategies, you are teaching skills to help the student manage their emotions. The need to evacuate the class will lessen and the script will provide predictability for the student.

    How to Measure Success: Frequency, Intensity Duration

    When trying to see the success with hard students it is sometimes gained in seconds or minutes. It can help to take the lens of frequency, intensity, and duration.


    Frequency: How many times in the day or week did the behavior occur?


    Intensity: Use a 1 - 5 scale on severity.


    Duration: How long did the behaviour or situation last? Or how long did it take to get out of the basement!


    We use a very simple and quick to use Google Form. Nothing fancy but we can then export to a spreadsheet or look at visuals to track success or flag a student who may need additional support!


    Click Here to view a sample form.

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    Stay in touch!

    Christie Badry: cbadry@brsd.ab.ca Twitter: @ChristieBadry


    Andrea Gutmann: agutmann@brsd.ab.ca Twitter: @Andreagutmann