The Flexible Framework: An Action Plan for Schools

The first six blogs introduced the attributes of a trauma-sensitive school. In this blog, we introduce a tool, The Flexible Framework, which can be used to help schools develop their action plans with a whole school focus in mind. For more information about this tool, please refer to Chapter 3 of the teal book — Creating and Advocating for Trauma-Sensitive Schools .

The Flexible FrameworkThe Flexible Framework - Creating an Action Plan for a Trauma-Sensitive School is an organizational tool that is designed to enable schools to develop their own trauma-sensitive institutional structure. It provides guidelines for establishing schoolwide practices.

The Framework is organized according to six core operational functions of schools, each of which is critical to any effort that seeks to make school-wide changes. We recommend educators carefully consider the role of each element as they create action plans.


School leaders must play a key role in any effort to make addressing trauma’s impact on learning part of the core educational mission of the school. School administrators create an infrastructure and culture that promotes trauma sensitivity. Building leaders engage their staff in planning and encourage the integration of trauma sensitive approaches into existing school operations.

Professional Development

Professional development is critical for all school staff, including leaders. Educators should be provided the opportunity to build skills that enhance their capacity to create trauma sensitive learning environments. A few examples of important areas for professional development include: understanding the prevalence and impact of trauma; techniques for strengthening relationships between children and adults; and alternatives to punitive disciplinary practices.

Access to Resources and Services

Identifying and effectively coordinating with mental health and other services outside the school is critical. These resources should be used to help students participate fully in the school community. Equally important are resources that support staff and provide them with the opportunity to discuss students’ needs confidentially and to reflect on how their work is affecting their own lives.

Academic and Nonacademic Strategies

In the classroom, it is important for educators to discover students’ islands of competence, whether they are in academic or nonacademic areas. Clear, explicit communication and routines that provide predictability help ensure the classroom is a place where children feel physically and psychologically safe. All children should be viewed holistically—their relationships with adults and peers; their self regulation of emotion, attention and behavior; and their physical and psychological well being are all related to their academic learning.

Policies and Protocols

In order to ensure a whole school trauma sensitive environment, educators must review the policies and protocols that are responsible for the day to day activities and logistics of the school. Some examples of policies that schools often review as they become trauma sensitive include: discipline policies; communication procedures; and safety planning.

Collaboration with Families

Collaboration with families that actively engages them in all aspects of their children’s education helps them feel welcome at school and understand the important role they play. Good collaboration can be facilitated by providing professional development to educators that focuses on sensitivity to cultural, linguistic, and other aspects of family diversity; developing mechanisms to share information with families regularly; and making sure meetings and other events happen at times and places that are easy for families to attend.

Have you thought about organizing initiatives in your school according to school operations—rather than program by program?   How would that change things?  Has your school put the Flexible Framework to use? If so, please comment on  how it is going?

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