Listening to Students, Cultural Responsiveness, and Trauma-Sensitive Problem-Solving

Listening to students about what they need to be successful in school is at the core of a trauma-sensitive learning community-whether students are in the classroom or working remotely. Students are more likely to focus on and embrace learning when their voices and cultural backgrounds are respected. TLPI’s video, What Does a Trauma-Sensitive Middle/High School Look Like?”, highlights a trauma-sensitive school that listens to student voice and engages in trauma-sensitive problem-solving.  This excerpt from that video shares one example of how doing so leads to a more culturally-responsive learning environment.

Erica is an African American 11th grader who attends Salem Academy Charter School, a demonstration school that used TLPI’s process-based approach to trauma-sensitivity. In TLPI’s excerpt of a longer video, Erica speaks about her frustration with the school’s rule banning head scarves, something she uses on her natural hair during certain weather conditions. The Black students discussed  with the school’s administrators the differences between Black hair and White hair, and the occasional need for Black students to use hair coverings. After listening to these student voices, the school changed its policy, adding to a more welcoming, inclusive and culturally-responsive learning environment.  Dean of Students, Chyna Onembo, welcomed the open and honest conversations. “Having real conversations with students about what it means to get ready in the morning led to working with administration to create a plan. This is why we listen to students.”

TLPI’s blog, Not Belonging Hurts,  describes a study showing that marginalization and a lack of belongingness are forms of adversity that affect the brain much like constant physical pain. This can cause a traumatic impact. When Black students who wear their natural hair, or use culturally-expressive hair coverings, are marginalized, rejected, or punished for doing so, their sense of belonging can be threatened or, worse, devastated. Sadly, wearing their natural or culturally-expressive hair has contributed to the already high rates of discipline of Black girls.

When educators have a deep understanding of the impact of trauma on learning, they can create schools where students’ voices are heard and their cultural backgrounds are respected. The role of trauma-sensitivity in this school as a pathway to racial equity is highlighted in research findings, including a finding that trauma-sensitive school culture change can lead to schools Affirming Cultural Identity and Promoting a Sense of Belonging.

Trauma-sensitivity is critically important as schools support their students, families and staff during the public health and racial justice crises we are facing. Whether students are learning in school or in remote learning environments, it will be more important than ever to engage students, to listen to them, and to take the necessary steps to ensure that each and every student feels a strong sense of belonging to the school community.

We invite you to view this clip:

You can also watch watch the full video to hear more student voices about what it feels like to them to attend this trauma-sensitive middle/high school.

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