by Vij Richards


As a therapist, I help adults who feel lost in their purpose, are struggling with the challenges of life and experiencing a stuckness. By being present to witness their story I can often co-regulate their nervous system. When this happens, a person can more easily access their own inner wisdom and strength. In some ways, teachers face similar challenges in supporting their students. However, many teachers are not equipped to be a therapist and a behavioural specialist on top of their demanding role of teaching a class full of individual learners.

As I reflect on an increasing number of teachers in my practice through a trauma-informed lens, it highlights the need to impart useful tools and strategies for our teachers first, so that they may then be able to support the well-being of our students in such difficult times.

As a therapist, I witness the attachment wounds that many adults have. I use a model called Internal Family Systems (IFS) developed by Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D. In this model, there are no bad parts of us. Each part of us has developed for a good reason: parts that carry wounds (exiles); parts that prevent wounds from getting triggered (managers); and other parts that stop the pain (firefighters). By befriending these parts, we learn to know what they want us to know and are then able to release the emotional wound and restore these parts so that they can be reintegrated back into the system – or Self.

Self is the state we all strive for. You know when you are in Self because time flows and there is inner harmony. Schwartz named the qualities of Self the 8 C’s – Curious, Calm, Confident, Compassionate, Courageous, Creative, Connected and having Clarity. At any given moment, the question is, “Who is driving your bus?”

Imagine a bus and that each seat represents a different part of your system. There could be an inner critic, a scared part, a silly part, a hurt part, a proud part, an eager part, a funny part, an avoidant part, an excited part, or a lonely part. As a teacher, which part of you is showing up in class or in a meeting with a parent or the principal? Are you bringing your defenses around your internal wounds or are you being open to what is in front of you and the opportunity for connection and growth?

Our teachers are under an unprecedented level of duress in these times and they may not even be aware of how old wounds are being triggered or how their own early years may be showing up in the classroom – and, as a collective, in our system. Offering support to teachers to better understand themselves and their parts with curiosity and compassion is a prerequisite to offering similar support to the children they teach – and could create great transformation in our school systems.

Educators with higher EQ’s are resilient in the classroom demonstrating greater wellbeing, better instructional practices; and, in turn, students show less disruptive behaviour and better attention as well as feeling included and valued at school (SEL Providers Council – CASEL, 2021).

Educators play an integral role in creating a nurturing space where students can explore and express their parts. With many systems breaking down in our world right now, those of us who can create positive ripple effects not only have the potential to inspire change but to reconnect with a sense of purpose in our lives which is a key factor of resilience.

Children have much less experience in life and consequently less coping options. By incorporating new learning strategies based in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) principles, we set up a generation of children to better understand all parts of themselves that are showing up in the classroom and in life.

The Captains & Poets model supports educators by teaching children about key parts of themselves that help them to trust themselves in the face of challenges and maintain a sense of agency and wholeness in their daily lives. Without even having the language, they are better able to rally the exiles and the managers and the firefighters to help them be their best selves for today and tomorrow.

While the classroom is not a therapy session, it is also not a laboratory where we leave our human makeup at the door. There is a conscious awakening that change is needed in our school systems – not only for our children but the future of our planet. Strong social emotional learning capabilities are a prerequisite to healthy relationships, learning and performing at our best and to living our best lives – and all of these are inextricably intertwined. We need to shift from teaching SEL as a separate set of competencies and bring it to life for everyone in our schools. At the heart of this evolution is the well-being of our teachers.


Vij Richards is a Registered Nurse and Registered Psychotherapist at Milton Therapist and author of SHIFT STRESS Get Back to What you do Best: for Nurses, Caregivers and other Health Care Professionals