A School-Wide Approach
The Attributes of Trauma Sensitivity, Part 1
In our previous post, we introduced the six attributes of a trauma-sensitive school. This is the first in a series of six blog posts that will delve deeper into each of these attributes.
The first attribute of a trauma-sensitive school is that leadership and staff share an understanding of trauma’s impacts on learning and the need for a school-wide approach. This awareness is the critical first step in creating a trauma-sensitive school. All staff—educators, administrators, counselors, school nurses, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, athletic coaches, advisors to extracurricular activities, and paraprofessionals—should understand that adverse experiences in the lives of children are exceedingly common and that the impact of these experiences on child development can play a major role in the learning, behavioral, and relationship difficulties faced by many students.
With a shared understanding, it becomes possible for leadership and staff to begin to see the connection between trauma sensitivity and the positive changes they would like to see in their school. Often, developing this shared understanding begins with small groups of like-minded colleagues sharing readings and having discussions about the prevalence of traumatic experiences, their impacts on learning, behavior and relationships, and the need for a whole-school approach. Such discussions can lay the groundwork for building a critical mass of staff who share an interest in trauma sensitivity and who hope to begin a process of change in the school. On pages 38 and 39 of Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Volume 2, we share some examples of strategies we have seen educators employ to generate interest and begin to build a shared understanding among their colleagues.
Ultimately, the whole staff also needs time to learn together about trauma and its impacts and to develop a collective sense of urgency about becoming a trauma-sensitive school. A whole-school professional development presentation is a common way of accomplishing this goal, and there are many possible formats that can be effective for such a presentation. On page 46 of Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Volume 2, we share two approaches to whole-school professional development we have seen schools use. Irrespective of the format or timing of the presentation, it is crucial to elicit the staff’s reaction to what they have learned and provide an opportunity for them to process this learning together as a group.
Overtime, schools become trauma sensitive by engaging in an ongoing, iterative process of inquiry and learning. The initial informal discussions and the first formal professional development presentation establish the necessary foundation. But these are just the beginning steps. Staff in a trauma-sensitive school are continually learning together, deepening their understanding, reflecting on successes and challenges, and participating actively in building a safe and supportive school community for all adults and students.
What are some successful strategies you have seen for growing a shared understanding of trauma and its impacts among leadership and staff in a school? What, if any, barriers have you encountered in spreading this understanding in your school? What did you do to overcome them?
(We invite members of our learning community to share their thoughts and reflections on these questions. As always, we respectfully ask that all comments respect our Community Guidelines.)