Trauma-Sensitive Schools Descriptive Study Final Report
By the American Institutes for Research
The purpose of this study by the American Institute for Research was to understand and describe how five demonstration schools in Massachusetts implemented the Inquiry Based Process (IBP) to create trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive learning environments.
Major Outcomes of this study include:
- decreased office referrals and disciplinary incidents
- improved staff and student relationships
- positive changes in school climate as evidenced by reports of fewer crisis
- schools feeling “safer” and “calmer”
- more parent communication and engagement.
- increased staff cohesion
In addition, the IBP empowered teachers and helped to build shared ownership for school climate and culture change, produced shifts in mindset that led to changes in practice, and over time appeared to become embedded in the culture of the school.
Reader-Friendly Four-Page Research Snapshot
This reader friendly four-page snapshot: How Can Educators Support All Students to Succeed? highlights the key research findings and the implications for policy and practice of the full AIR report.
- A process-based, whole-school approach can help educators create trauma-sensitive school cultures that establish conditions for teaching and learning.
- Shifting a school’s culture toward trauma sensitivity can result in observable positive changes in school climate and improved outcomes for educators and students.
- Engaging educators in school culture transformation can empower them to develop creative, cost-effective, trauma-sensitive solutions to locally identified problems.
ABSTRACT of the American Institutes for Research Trauma-Sensitive Schools Descriptive Study
Many school improvement efforts fail because they do not produce lasting changes in school practices or within the school in general. Given that a safe and supportive school climate and culture is linked to positive student outcomes, it is critical that educators understand how to create and sustain such an environment. To help address this need, the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI), a joint program of Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, developed an inquiry-based process (IBP) for creating trauma-sensitive schools, which was implemented by educators in four elementary and one middle-high school over the course of two school years.
The purpose of this study is to understand and describe how these schools implemented the IBP to create trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive learning environments. Major outcomes observed include positive changes in school climate as evidenced by reports of fewer crises, schools feeling “safer” and “calmer,” decreased office referrals and disciplinary incidents, increased staff communication and cohesion (e.g. more consistent implementation of schoolwide expectations), improved staff and student relationships, and more parent communication and engagement. In addition, the IBP empowered teachers and helped to build shared ownership for school climate and culture change, produced shifts in mindset that led to changes in practice, and over time appeared to become embedded in the culture of the school.
The findings from this study suggest that a process-based whole-school, trauma sensitive approach which sets conditions for educators to use inquiry to identify challenges and solutions through a trauma-sensitive lens, can help change school culture and create conditions for teaching and learning, which should ultimately lead to improved student outcomes. They also suggest that context and readiness are important variables.
TLPI has partnered with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to conduct a 2-year, descriptive research study of the inquiry-based process. The purpose of this study is to understand whether and how the TLPI inquiry-based process is useful in supporting educators in transforming the culture in their schools to become trauma sensitive. TLPI hypothesizes that its inputs—which include the inquiry-based process, tools in the form of questions developed by TLPI, and the use of a designated knowledgeable facilitator as a “sounding board”—will assist educators in producing shifts in thinking and a deepening understanding of trauma’s impacts on learning that, in turn, will lead to changes in practice that embed trauma sensitivity as a regular part of the way the school is run. This study was conducted with five schools. It takes an in-depth look at the journey that these schools took (over a period of 2 years) to become trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive learning environments using the inquiry-based process. The study addresses key findings related to (1) readiness, (2) implementation of the inquiry-based process, (3) outcomes experienced as a result of this work, and (4) sustainability. Download the full AIR Descriptive Study