Trainer Spotlight: Dr. Mary Triana

Q: How long have you been an Ukeru trainer?

A: Since 2017

Q: What population do you work with? What inspired you to get into this field?

A: I’m currently a supervisor of special education with MTSD.  We support students with a variety of learning needs, including academic, behavioral, social, functional, physical, etc.… Prior to becoming a supervisor, I was an autistic support teacher for grades K-4. I was also a Therapeutic Staff Support (TSS) and a waiver support staff for children with severe autism.

I originally got into the field during a work experience as an undergrad. I entered college wanting to be counselor for teens, but after working in elementary schools through a tutoring program, I realized that I loved working with students with unique needs. In 2004, I began working as a TSS and I’ve been in the field of special education ever since.

Q: What part of Ukeru do you enjoy teaching the most and why?

A: I enjoy teaching the portion on how trauma effects the brain. When I first went through the Ukeru training, that part really stood out to me. Understanding behavior through a lens of trauma makes such a difference in how staff respond to students in crisis. It’s changes “what’s wrong with this child?” to “what’s happened to this child?” It comes from a place of understanding instead of control.

Q: What would you say to someone who is unsure about using Ukeru?

A: I would tell them:

  1. Don’t do it half-heartedly. It won’t work if you’re not fully invested. This includes, critically, administration.
  2. Give it time. There will be growing pains. Staff trained in restraint may feel frustrated. That’s ok. It will get better.
  3. Most importantly, what we’re doing is better for our students. We are reducing the possibility of injury, retraumatization, and death every single time we don’t restrain a student

Q: What advice or tip would you give to a new Ukeru trainer?

A: Rehearse before your first training. It’s a long training and it’s a lot to learn. Be prepared for a lot of “what if” questions if staff have never been trained in Ukeru before or have only used restraint. If you can, have someone from administration present to be a support and reinforce the importance of this change.

Q: How has Ukeru impacted your life?

A: I taught staff how to restrain students for nearly a decade. It’s hard to reflect on that now, knowing what I do about the impact of trauma and retraumatization on children. But once we know better, we have to do better. And I have the utmost confidence that we’re doing better by our students and staff now that we’ve moved to Ukeru. In addition, I ended up doing my dissertation on the use of Ukeru vs. the use of restraints. I had the chance to interview several students who have experienced both. The results of my study further reinforced my understanding of the importance of a trauma-informed approach for students in crisis. I’m working now on publishing my research and hope to be able to get it into research publications in the near future.

Q: What is your favorite quote or a motto that you like to live by?

A: “No one achieves anything alone.” – Leslie Knope, Parks and Rec.

I think this is especially important in times of change.  One person can make a difference, but true systemic change happens through the devoted work of many people moving in the same direction.  

Q: What three words would you use to describe Ukeru?

A: Brevity has never been my strong suit, but if I have to sum it all up, Ukeru is trauma-informed. It takes time to understand what that really means though. It doesn’t happen in one training. I’ve watched my own understanding and the understanding of the professionals I work with evolve over time, as it became something we truly understood.