The NBFA Voice – Educating Children Through The Lens of Emotionally Responsive Practice

Heidi Barker

Family and Community Engagement Coordinator Heidi Barker


(October 20, 2023) - New Beginnings Family Academy (NBFA) provides students a meaningful, high-quality education through experience-based learning that helps them develop essential social, emotional and critical-thinking skills. To better connect NBFA’s mission to our audience, The NBFA Voice will spotlight important matters on academics, social-emotional learning and more from the voices of NBFA.  


NBFA Family and Community Engagement Coordinator Heidi Barker highlights the need for Emotionally Responsive Practice to develop deep relationships, meet children where they are developmentally, and help them cope with stressors that could impede their learning if dealt with ineffectively. 




All students carry their struggles, challenges, fears, traumas, abuses, losses and other weights and burdens that adults may not be aware of. At New Beginnings Family Academy (NBFA), we implement Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP) to respond to the toxic stressors and other big emotions that many of our students contend with. This relationship-based approach is grounded in a deep understanding of child development and acknowledgment of the role that students’ life experiences play in their ability to learn. ERP is understanding that child development matters and ensuring that every adult in the building is committed to providing a “school that heals.”


Behavioral changes, emotional distress, grief, difficulties with attention, academic failure, nightmares, and illness are all ways toxic stress can present in children. Students process and react to these big emotions in many ways, some of which can impact their peer relationships and academic performance in negative ways. When students are not emotionally available for learning they are not able to be successful academically. Just as unfortunately, emotional dysregulation not only disrupts the learning environment for the troubled student, but also for his/her peers.   


Heidi with Student

FACE Coordinator Heidi Barker and an NBFA student sit in a

cozy corner and share about their comfort bears.


It is important that the caregivers in the building recognize these big emotions immediately and respond to them appropriately. At New Beginnings Family Academy, when students disengage from classwork or instruction, the teacher uses ERP to offer them a way to express their feelings such as journaling with their comfort  bear or bibliotherapy instead of sending them to the principal. Bibliotherapy is a literacy-based strategy that gives children a creative outlet for their feelings. The teacher validates and reflects on the students’ feelings before providing a developmentally appropriate self-regulation strategy such as visiting the classroom's cozy corner. Cozy corners are a designated space with comfort items designed to help children manage emotions and solve problems. 


As NBFA’s Family and Community Engagement (“FACE”) Coordinator, I work with all staff to increase their emotionally responsive capacity through professional development and real-time coaching. The goal is to successfully foster strength-based relationships, manage classrooms effectively, and implement empathic versus punitive strategies and interventions. This is important because research shows that students who are punished are less likely to make positive moral choices because the focus is on the consequence being faced rather than helping the child understand the cause and effect of their actions. It has also been found that punishment makes kids feel like a bad person, fosters dishonesty, and teaches kids that it is acceptable for adults to abuse power. Even with this awareness, many schools around the country continue to punish students. Not NBFA. We strive for connection, modeling, and love instead of harmful punishments. That is why NBFA’s suspension rates are so much lower than the state average (4%  vs. 6.5%). We believe it’s important to keep kids in school learning so we address students’ big emotions and challenging behaviors in a way that avoids bias and illogical consequences. 


Heidi with families

FACE Coordinator Heidi Barker meets with NBFA families to discuss different

strategies to build a positive relationship between school and home.


NBFA employs restorative practices, which highlights that human beings are happier, more cooperative, productive, and more likely to make positive changes in their behavior when those in positions of authority do things with them, rather than to them. The aim of this approach is to develop community and manage conflict by repairing harm and restoring relationships. For example, if students are using hurtful words with each other, instead of being assigned a detention, they are held accountable by being brought together to repair the harm through a restorative circle.  During this circle, a trained adult facilitates a conversation between all students and asks specific questions that lead to the harm being restored.  


This year, I plan to increase emotionally responsive capacity by offering training workshops for NBFA families. Children will benefit most when families use a common language and strategies at home that students recognize from school and vice versa. Through emotionally responsive practice, the entire NBFA community can partner to make sure all students have the tools they need to succeed regardless of the stressors in their lives at the moment. 

To read more The NBFA Voice features, please click here.