Dealing with Abuse: Helping the Voiceless

Removed. Displaced. Torn away. So many synonyms but none come close to the reality of an abused child ripped out of their home.

A while back  I was sitting in a class about how trauma affects learning when we watched this heartbreaking video. Like most of the teachers in the class, I started to cry wishing to take away this little girl’s pain. Watch with tissues.

Afterwards, I decided to try and understand just what these kids live with every day. I wanted to find  more ways to help these children learn, make them resilient, and stop the cycle. These are just a few.

  1. Treat each student with respect.
  2. Use a calm voice in the class. A whisper is  more powerful than a screech.
  3. Maintain routines. Predictability helps abused children to be open to learning.
  4. Understand that lack of focus has many causes. Find creative, non-threatening ways to keep your class on task.
  5. Teach children assertive vocabulary and the difference between win-win and win-lose situations.
  6. Love your students unconditionally. You may be the only person who ever has.

Robin Williams Heals the Sea

Robin Williams said, “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”  He may have been known for his madcap comedy but when I think of Robin Williams, I remember the day I learned of how he helped save one bottle-nosed dolphin, named JoJo.

I was interviewing Dean Bernal for rewrites on his biopic when he told me about how he met Williams while filming Dolphins In the Wild. During takes of swimming with JoJo and strolling along the powder white sands of Turks and Caicos, the three of them struck up a friendship.  Between scenes, Robin listened to Dean tell him story after story of how speed boats and jet skis had injured JoJo. How he had administered first aid and medicines time and again but supplies were running low.

A few months later, when JoJo was injured again using up the last of Dean’s emergency stock of antibiotics, Dean received a generous contribution from the Williams family. Thanks to Robin, all of JoJo’s antibiotics could be purchased for years to come. The dolphin healed well and soon  was up to his old tricks again, being a playful comedian, just like his benefactor.  Because of Robin Williams’ kindness, this bottlenose dolphin had medication for life.

Thank you Robin Williams.  


I wondered how I could I honor his legacy and raise awareness in children. I decided to design the following lesson hoping children would see the connection between art and healing in their own lives.

Objective: After watching the Dean and JoJo Resolutions DVD, the learner will come up with alternatives to bullying by writing ideas on a blank coloring page of JoJo.

Materials: Dean and JoJo Resolutions DVD, class set of blank dolphin coloring pages, crayons, markers, pencils, paper, chart paper, white board or electronic whiteboard


  1. Tell students that they should look for JoJo’s injuries as they watch the Dean and JoJo Resolutions DVD. Play film.
  2. List the four kinds of bullies on the board.


Verbal                    Physical                        Social                          Cyber

Cruel words           Hurting bodies              Excluding                    Text

Name calling          Pushing                        Gossip                         MySpace

Intimidation           Touching                       Notes                                Email


  1. Ask them to brainstorm what sort of alternatives there are to bullying. List on the board.
  2. Pass out blank coloring pages. Tell students that they are going to write positive alternatives to bullying on JoJo’s body. As they write each positive choice they are healing JoJo’s wounds.
  3. Write one example and display for guided practice.
  4. They fill in more alternatives then color the page.