What does it look like for an entire school to shift to centering trauma-informed practices? In this episode, Sara speaks with Mathew Portell, principal of Fall-Hamilton Elementary and founder of Paradigm Shift Education, about creating a school culture that centers on social emotional learning and trauma-informed practices.
In the Saracast, Sara uses Creative Exercises to ground herself & her guests before each interview. We can bring moments of intention and creative expression to our day in small ways, like at the start or end of meetings, or as we transition from one activity to the next, to feel centered, grounded, and present as we move through our days.
Creative Exercise: Let It Go
Breathing helps us process and manage our emotions, especially when we’re feeling stress or pressure. Take 3 deep breaths as you focus on a thought or feeling that you’d like to let go. Take 3 more deep breaths as you focus on a thought or feeling that you’d like to carry with you.
“I began to consume any and everything I could find on reading and books and connections and people. That started the journey. That was in January. By March we had started ACE’s training for all staff. We had started talking about, what are we going to do instead? I banned clip charts in my school immediately, and how I sold that to my staff was, if we’re going to keep clip charts I’m going to keep one for the faculty meeting so that when you pull your phone out, I’m going to call your name and you’re going to come up, and we’re all going to watch you and you’re going to quit. But kids can’t. This has to stop! I heard someone go oh, well we can’t use clip charts, what else are we going to do? Well, we’re going to connect with kids, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to build relationships. And that started it. That was the paradigm shift, honestly.” -Mathew Portell
Learn more about Paradigm Shift Education
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Berry
The Deepest Well by Nadine Burke
“I heard a scream and I was in my office – I know the scream – I went outside and the teacher said ‘I’ve got it.’ I asked what’s wrong, and she said ‘Mr. Portell I just have so many stress days.’ And that’s a fourth grader, being able to communicate, honestly, thanks to you all, understanding emotion and being able to express it. I passed that situation off to my school counselor and watching her comfort and connect and de-escalate, it’s just amazing. I’m going to be honest right now: educators need that same thing. They need comfort, they need connections, they need support, and I don’t think people understand what it’s like to be an educator on a normal day, let alone amidst a pandemic.” -Mathew Portell
About Mathew Portell
Mathew Portell currently serves as principal of Fall-Hamilton Elementary, an internationally recognized innovative model school for trauma-informed practices in Metro Nashville Public Schools. The school’s work has been featured on National Public Radio, the local documentary Enough, PBS, and Edutopia. He has had the honor of presenting Fall-Hamilton’s work to both the Tennessee State Legislative, Senate Education Committees, as well as the National Conference for State Legislators. Mathew founded the Trauma Informed Educators Network Group on Facebook which has connected over 21,000 educators in over 100 different countries! In July 2019 he launched the first annual Trauma Informed Educators Network conference which was attended by 150 people from around the world and he is also the host of the Trauma Informed Educators Network Podcast.
Mathew has had the honor of presenting at a variety of conferences internationally including Healthy Nashville Summit, Tennessee State Behavioral Conference, Conditions for Learning, LEAD Conference, National Music City SEL Conference, SCORE and many more. He served as the featured keynote speaker of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents, New Teacher Academy, and multiple Leader in Me National Symposiums around the country. In January 2019, he provided the keynote address at the Towards Trauma Informed Practices in Northampton, England and returned to England in October of 2019 as a presenter at the Hertfordshire Virtual School Conference. He has facilitated professional learning at David Lipscomb University, Murfreesboro City Schools, Coffee County Schools, Lawrence County Schools, Roane County Schools, Charvelvoix ISD in Michigan, Milton Hershey Public Schools in Pennsylvania amongst other organizations. The highlight of his speaking opportunities occurred in February 2020 at the National Education Association’s Teacher Gala in Washington D.C. The gala is designed to honor and inspire the country’s top educators.
Mathew’s work extends past his educational experience. As a classroom teacher in 2008, he combined his passion for literacy and cycling and founded the double award winning national non-profit Ride for Reading. The organization promotes literacy and healthy living through the distribution of books via bicycle to underserved children. Ride for Reading has donated over 500,000 books to children nationally. Mathew hold a B.S in elementary education and a M.Ed in curriculum from Tennessee State University, and completed his administration requirements at Trevecca Nazarene University.
“I think the biggest one that is always on the forefront is that kids don’t get consequences, they can do whatever they want. I hear that all of the time. I think that we have to be cognizant that our education system is built on a behaviorist mindset. Understanding the foundations of how our education systems are built, and understanding that some of that thinking is archaic. What we know based on science, especially around neuroscience and trauma, is that you can’t punish the trauma out of kids. You can’t punish it. It’s not going anywhere. In fact, research has clearly stated that it actually makes it worse when you’re hammering kids with punishment. That is a mindset that kids are expendable, like we don’t have time to waste on this kid, right? So an area I talk about a lot is, it’s about natural and logical consequences.” -Mathew Portell
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