Student Mental Health: Reset Rooms Can Help Create a Safe Space in Schools

When implemented properly, a Reset Room can drastically improve student behavior and academic achievement.

Student Mental Health: Reset Rooms Can Help Create a Safe Space in Schools

Image via Adobe, by dglimages

Across the country, schools and families are grappling with the frequency of violence and disruption that is happening on a regular basis. For many districts, they are turning to increased security measures to create a sense of safety in response to the needs of their community in real-time. The problem with this response is that something “big” must happen before a school or community can or will respond. This is often due to lack of funding, staffing concerns or even limitations from local and state agencies. Schools are grasping for a perceived sense of effectiveness and security in the face of mounting obstacles.

To shift the paradigm in our schools, we must first look at the foundational beliefs that drive policy and practice within the organization. Does your district or school somewhat resemble a prison or inpatient facility? How often are students practicing lockdowns and clearing classrooms for their safety and the safety of others? When a student is presenting with a behavior that interrupts their learning or the learning of others, are they punished and sent to detention or worse yet, suspended? Many of these practices have come to fruition out of necessity and a need to respond to a crisis.

What would happen in your school if you could create a safe space where students could regulate and have their needs met, both emotionally and psychologically, in real time. What would a classroom look like where students were able to advocate for their needs and have access to an appropriate break? Imagine if your school culture embraced that students AND ADULTS are allowed to not be OK?

Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Reset Rooms Can Help

This is where a trauma-informed, resilience-focused model can come into play. In this trauma-informed model, there is a foundational mindset in which we believe that there is no such thing as a bad kid and that behavior is a form of communication.

However, in most schools, our students are telling us what they need, and we are not able to or willing to take the time to understand what they are saying. In a school day, often a teacher can be managing between 25-40 kids per class period. In a secondary setting, there could be upwards of seven periods per day. How can one person take the time to check in on every single student? The answer is simple: they can’t. This is where creating an intentional space that is supported by a trained adult can shift the entire dynamic of a building.

One essential component to a trauma-informed model is the use of a Reset Room. There are a few very important parameters that must be in place to make this space successful. First, we must start with what it is not.

A Reset Room Is NOT:

  1. This space is NOT to be used as a punishment. This is not in-school suspension or somewhere that kids are forced to go.
  2. This is not just for students receiving special education services. This space is accessible to all students and staff in the school.
  3. This is not daycare. This space requires high expectations of both the staff and students. The time spent in the Reset Room is either focused on the emotional well-being of a student OR if they are not able/willing to engage around what happened, then academic expectations come into play.

A Reset Room IS:

  1. A predetermined location where a student can go to regulate. This is a place where a student can practice mind/body skills or role-play how they can repair situations that have happened in class or during unstructured times.
  2. This is an opportunity for a student to share what has happened AFTER they have time to cool down. This space will offer students choices in how/what they need to get back to baseline.
  3. This is one part of a system that teaches students and staff that stress is a part of our daily life, but we have choices in how we respond. It is OK to not be OK all the time.
  4. The Reset Room must be staffed at all times. This is crucial to ensure that students can depend on this tool because how and when they need it can change daily.

75% Decrease in Major Behavior Referrals and Suspensions

Creating a Reset Room within your school is not as simple as it might sound, but the impact it can have on student behavior, discipline, attendance, staff morale and ultimately academics is unlike anything I have ever seen within the school setting. I have had the experience of teaching and leading schools that held anywhere from 1,200 students in an elementary school to 80 students in an entire high school. Not one program or tool has ever made the impact that I have seen with the implementation of this model.

Within the first six months of implementation, we saw a 75% decrease in major behavioral referrals and suspensions at the elementary level. In addition to that drastic shift, we saw some of the highest growth in academics in our entire district. In our primary grades, our students grew on the statewide reading assessment from 14% proficient in September to nearly 80% proficient in the Spring. One secondary school saw a 40% decrease in suspensions within the first four months and almost half of their student body had accessed the Reset Room during that time. That rate of growth and impact in the first year of a programmatic implementation is unparalleled.

Students and Adults Both Benefit

Implementation of a trauma-informed and resilience-focused model of education is not one more curriculum or giant binder that will solve all the challenges in your school. The transition to this model requires a shift in your fundamental belief around education and the children you teach.

Through this lens you see children as first human and then as students, athletes, musicians, and artists. Giving students the space to be human is paramount. For adults to expect a student of any age to stay on task, focused, quiet and navigate conflict with peers or life outside of school AND learn at high levels is absurd. If we can meet their most basic needs and create a genuine connection in the school with at least one safe, supportive adult, we have created the pathway to one of the key protective factors in resilient children.

There was one outcome that I could never have predicted when we started this journey and that was the impact it had on the staff. The adults in the building were using the Reset Room space for themselves. We were able to TAG our teachers out when there was a disruptive event and gave teachers the space to regulate and get themselves back to baseline. Giving the adults in the building permission to also be human created a trust within our staff that this was our village and that we were going to show up for each other.

Cultural Change Will Have the Greatest Impact on Mental Health

In order to create true change within the educational setting and build in preventive strategies to reduce the impact of behavior and violence in our schools, we must be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. Installing new doors and locks and updating safety features within a school can create a perceived sense of safety, but to shift the climate and culture of a school, we must be willing to focus on the core beliefs and practices within our system.

Katie Francis, Ed.S. is a trauma and resilience educator.

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