THREE schools in Bendigo are using a ground-breaking trial to help students living with the devastating impact of trauma and neglect.
Teachers at Kalianna School Bendigo are already working with La Trobe University experts to stop children who suffered early childhood trauma falling through the cracks.
Researchers have not yet named the other two schools, but their teachers are expected to begin the program this year.
It could lead the way for teachers across Bendigo who are trying to help the one in 33 children who suffered abuse or neglect as their brains formed in early childhood, La Trobe trauma expert Anne Southall said.
"It's called 'complex trauma' and those children end up with a lot of behavioral and learning difficulties," she said.
"The way back in is through attachment to another person. So that student-teacher relationship is really critical."
It comes as thought turns to ways to deepen educators' understanding of trauma and mental illness on learning - a key need identified in a 10-year Bendigo Education Plan released last year to improve teaching.
La Trobe's two-year plan will help schools steadily introduce new teaching methods and allow teachers time to reflect on what can often be challenging, long term work.
Ms Southall's previous research on trauma was inspired by work she had done with a teenage boy.
"It took me two years to unpack that kid's trauma - two years working one-on-one," Ms Southall said.
"This program is not a quick fix. A traumatised child and the dynamics of the classroom are very complicated things."
Why teachers can find this work so difficult, and what they are doing about it
Groups of teachers at all schools would gather throughout the program in "reflective circles" to review what worked and what did not.
The groups were trialled previously at Kalianna, where teachers found them useful for sharing ideas and as an outlet.
"There are strong feelings teachers experience, with what can be constant rejection (from a student), or aggression. So the circles provided an outlet and a support base for that," Ms Southall said.
Teachers working with children who had early childhood trauma often felt feelings of inadequacy. Their students often struggled to learn from past experiences, Ms Southall said.
"So they cannot learn and apply that to their current experiences and teachers can feel like it does not matter what they do, that the behaviour does not really change," she said.
"Teachers can feel like people are judging them. The circles really address that. Teachers had five others who know they are doing everything in their power."
The circles also could help teachers reevaluate ideas around power, often finding their students needed to feel in control in order to feel safe.
"That can be very confronting for teachers. The circles can help them explore those ideas," Ms Southall said.
While the kind of relationships teachers would form through the program would take a long time, she said they could completely change their perspective on their work.
If the trial is successful academics hope to expand the trial to other Bendigo schools.
"We are passionately Bendigo," Ms Southall said.
"Both I and Fiona (Gardner, whose research also informs the program) are here.
"Also, regional areas often miss out. We really feel more resources should come here."
Both Ms Southall and Associate Professor Gardner plan to speak in two weeks time at the 2019, Hard Yards Conference in Bendigo.
Trauma experts plan to speak at the Hard Yards conference 2019, which takes place at the Capital on Thursday 30 May.
It will be a ticketed event.
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