Directions of Attachment

During this COVID-19 crisis, it is more important than ever to understand trauma and the impact of trauma on ourselves, our students, and their families. Equally as helpful is understanding the directions of attachment people show when they are coping with trauma. These styles of attachment are not static non-changing characteristics. They can be changed just as we can learn and grow.

Dr. Chris Blodgett of the CLEAR Center presents Directions of Attachments like this: a person has a sense of self and a sense of others, which can range from negative to positive. Depending on where a person falls can determine in that continuum their disposition of attachment to themselves and others, and how much they rely on others versus themselves. This is very influential when it comes to relationships and learning styles, especially during this time when school and instruction is anything but normal.

Though I’m not a psychologist or a counselor, this framework greatly helped me understand not only my response to this crisis but also the responses of those around me. I learned at a young age to rely on myself (until I couldn’t) in a chaotic environment. Though it worked when I was young, now, as an adult, I’ve realized it can be problematic. As an educator, my work requires me to work as a team, taking direction from others, and partnering with colleagues and families to support students. My attachment style was a barrier to effective service and leadership and a barrier to how I reacted to the pandemic and school closures.

For me, recognizing my attachment style was a powerful first step in having an awareness that my brain was running on old programming. Rather than judging others and myself for how I was responding to the “new normal”, I was able to consciously address my new reality to ensure I was able to support and instruct my students. I practiced meditation, reached out to trusted supportive friends, took daily walks, and most importantly, I forgave myself for my not so graceful reactions while I was transitioning to this new normal.

Furthermore, understanding that my coworkers, students, and families have their own directions of attachment was a great first step to creating solutions during a pandemic. It has helped me understand why some students may struggle more than others in adjusting and may need more support, guidance, and patience, while others adjust to their new normal more independent of my support. It has helped me not take people’s reactions personally. It has helped me understand that our work, even done in crisis and remotely, needs to be done with a trauma-informed lens focused on equity, taking into account each student’s unique background and home situation.

I use attachment styles to inform my teaching on a regular basis. I make sure to record my live teaching so students can access my lessons at any time and reach out to students consistently with positive affirmations and to check on how they are doing. I provide office hours so students can share their concerns, fears, successes, stresses, and needs and keep my schedule and communication consistent and predictable. When I talk with parents, I listen to their needs and suggestions and incorporate their feedback into their child’s learning path.

In our new normal, educators should consider different attachment styles and navigate those responsibly. We don’t need to be psychologists, but rather be aware that our students and colleagues will each react to and cope with the situation differently. As we all continue adjusting, we must be cognizant and continue to focus on no-harm practices, especially as our schools have drastically altered the support services in place for students.

Katie Paetz teaches 5th grade in Arizona and has over 14 years of experience in education. Katie believes children learn best when communities and teachers come together to inspire students to find their passions and develop useful skills. She is the past president of the Osborn School Board and is currently serving her second term on the board. Additionally, Katie serves as the only teacher on the City of Phoenix Traumatic Incident Intervention Resources Ad Hoc Committee where she works with volunteers to provide innovative solutions to the trauma crisis.