Co-Regulation: The Key to Building Sustainable Trauma-Informed School Communities

Jim Walters
Oct 16, 2018 · 4 min read

So much is being written today about the Components of a Trauma-Informed Community. SAMHSA defines the three components of a Trauma-Informed Community as 1.) Creating a Safe Environment 2.) Building Relationships & Connectedness and 3.) Supporting & Teaching Emotional Regulation.

However, greater than all of this is an understanding within ourselves of these principles. It is hard to teach others self-regulation practices if you yourself exhibit behaviors inconsistent to what is being taught.

The last thing anyone needs is a dysregulated pilot during an emergency. Ask that question of any of those passengers and crew on Captain “Sully” Sullenberger’s US Airways Flight 1549 on that cold January 2009 day. The demeanor and calming voice of Captain Sully was credited as playing a large role in the successful emergency landing of the Airbus A320–214 on the Hudson River. From listening to the cockpit voice audiotapes on that day you would have thought Sully had performed landing on the Hudson River a 1,000 times! The movie “Sully” based on Chesley Sullenberger and Jeff Zaslow’s autobiography, Highest Duty, followed the 2009 emergency landing in which all 155 passengers and crew survived and the subsequent NTSB investigation. The pilots on this day had only seconds to make decisions that would ultimately determine the fate of all on board. The movie highlighted the preparation and training that they and all pilot’s and crew routinely go through to remain proficient in their jobs. That training made all the difference in the world on that day.

Take a look at Sully and Jeff’s view on that day below and imagine yourself in their seat.

Crew of US Airways Flight 1549. Credit: Smithsonian Institution

Just as any pilot; educators also can’t predict or plan for every possible scenario. But, we can control how we will react as caregivers. The simplistic depiction below illustrates what is needed for educators to cultivate their own “Sully Impact.”


Although it may sound like something internal to an individual, self-regulation develops through interaction with caregivers such as parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors. Further, self-regulation development is dependent on predictable, responsive, and supportive environments. Because caregivers are vital to self-regulation development, teaching adults in caregiver roles to promote self-regulation can be powerful.

Key Take-Aways:

  1. This is ALL about us, the adult caregiver. What we cultivate is directly linked to our harvest.
  2. Think of Self-Regulation and Co-Regulation in terms of Eco-Systems: The passengers were dependent upon a pilot fully regulated on that day for their personal safety. Students are equally dependent upon their teacher’s ability to model co-regulation skills (I do, WE do, YOU do), as well as teachers are reliant upon a regulated building principal, and building principals are reliant upon regulated central office personnel, etc. If any of these co-regulation layers are operating from a dysregulated state, the entire eco-system will be impacted.

The Masai people in Kenya are known to greet each other with, “how are the children”? It is hoped to be answered with, “all the children are well”. What a great lesson for those building healthier school eco-systems.

Implementing mindfulness practices within an Eco-System increases the likelihood of sustainable systems-changes! If your focus is only on the classroom, the odds are not in your favor for long-term success.

The Eco-System of Co-Regulation


Co-regulation From Birth Through Young Adulthood: A Practice Brief.

SAMSHA: The Three Components of a Trauma-Informed Community

Dr. Jim Walters was an early Trauma-Informed School adopter in the St. Louis region, Post-Ferguson. Through his consulting company; TRAUMAINFORMEDLEARNING.COM, he now assists schools across the nation in their quest to build healthier & more resilient communities through a trauma-informed lens.

Jim Walters

Written by

Trauma-Informed School Design-Thinker/Coach/Consultant/Speaker

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