Student anxiety and the impact of early childhood trauma are among the "hot topic" workshops as at least 1,400 public school educators prepare to attend the second countywide professional development day at locales ranging widely from schools and health facilities to museums and nature preserves.

Most students will have Nov. 7 off, but teachers will have "homework" before and after the six-hour workshops in a shared-services collaboration involving nearly all of Berkshire County's 17 public school districts.

The event, first presented last year to about 1,200 out of the county's estimated 1,500 public school teachers, is set up by the Berkshire County Superintendents Association's professional development coordinator, William Ballen.

"I think we live in a tremendously anxious time right now, not just for adults," he told The Eagle recently. "So how can we not expect our kids to reflect what's going on? I think it's natural."

He blamed social media as a prime culprit.

"It's unbelievable; just horrible. I think that affects anxiety; what kids hear, learn and see really makes an impression, way down to a younger age."

Lenox Schools Superintendent Timothy Lee said: "I've known some anxious kids from really laid-back homes where parents are not pushy, really easygoing and accepting whatever their kids attempt to do. I've known kids who put a lot of pressure on themselves and create their own anxiety."

He also pinpointed social media as a primary cause of anxiety, rather than parenting, the school environment or high academic pressure.

"I think media, in general, gives young people an idea of who and what you should be, and it's always like this idealized goal that they think they'll never live up to, and I think it makes them anxious," Lee said.

Ballen identified a workshop at Taconic High School, on "Strengthening Family Engagement through Enhanced Trauma-Informed Developmental Understanding," as a crucial presentation by Nancy Singer, a staff psychologist at Boston Children's Hospital and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. At least 85 teachers have signed up for the course.

"As educators, we're finding that we're getting more and more young children coming into our schools who have been influenced by trauma in their development and in their families," he said. In the past, the impact of such experiences was the focus of school adjustment counselors.

"But now, what we're hearing from early childhood educators from pre-K through 3 is that it's affecting academic performance, not only socially and emotionally," Ballen said.

A workshop at Morris Elementary School in Lenox, titled "Anxiety in the Classroom," presented by Jennifer Daily, a licensed social worker and therapist based in the village of Housatonic, is filled to capacity, Ballen said.

According to Lee, the anxiety phenomenon is not necessarily connected to classroom performance, but "it could be social anxiety, perceived separation from their age-level peers which may or may not be true, but it seems like kids are analyzing their place a lot these days, relating to, `Am I good enough, am I getting this right, doing this well?'"

At least 70 educators have signed up for the "Growth Mindset" workshop at the Lenox Memorial middle and high school's Duffin Theater. Based on research and a book by Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck, "it describes a way of thinking that is more resilient, flexible and tends to view errors as learning opportunities," Lee said. "It's our professional development focus for the year."

"It's opposed to a fixed mindset in which individual students might believe that their potential and intelligence are fixed, and therefore wonder, `why bother?'" he said. The presenter will be DeNelle West, director of professional development at Research for Better Teaching in Acton.

"I think it's a hot topic, because it's universal," Lee said. "It really challenges a lot of assumptions students have these days about their own abilities and limitations. We're trying to counter rigid thinking about ability and potential that comes with anxiety that some kids fall into."

"I think it's critical; a huge topic," Ballen added. "It's really interesting, not only for students on how they can learn, but also for teachers and how they approach students. We're finding that a lot of adults sometimes have a closed mindset based on who's in front of them, and that affects their teaching and also the way it's received by the kids in the classroom."

Compared with last year, the number of workshops offered has expanded from about 50 to 70, Ballen pointed out. Also, he added, "we have reached out to our community partners in a strong effort to engage them in what we're doing with professional development, and they're thrilled to participate with us."

Math and science workshops are aimed at attracting strong interest, as well as courses on "differentiated instruction" to meet special education needs.

Several offerings on performing arts at the Berkshire Museum and at the Berkshire Theatre Group's Colonial Theatre, as well as on visual arts at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, reflect the integration of arts into the regular curriculum, Ballen said.

"The Berkshires, as we know, are a mecca for the arts and culture, and the superintendents are working very hard with our cultural partners to promote the arts and culture as part of the educational landscape," he said, citing a nearly $740,000 federal grant to be awarded over four years to North Adams. The money will help provide professional development for arts educators in the Pittsfield, North Adams and Adams-Cheshire school districts as well as the Berkshire Arts & Technology Charter Public School in Adams.

Many of the workshop topics were identified by educators throughout the county as significant for all districts, Ballen said.

"In addition, we are offering more workshops this year that support mental and physical health of educators, such as yoga and healthier living," he said. "These topics were identified by the educators as important for them."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at or 413-637-2551.