In Trauma-Sensitive Schools Leadership and Staff Anticipate and Adapt to the Ever-Changing Needs of Students

Trauma-Sensitive Schools Leadership and Staff

In an earlier post, the six attributes of a trauma-sensitive school were introduced.  This is the sixth and final entry in a series of blog posts that delve deeper into each of the individual attributes.

There are a seemingly endless number of events that can have traumatizing impacts on children. A whole community can be negatively impacted by community violence or other tragedy that may reverberate particularly strongly for students in the school. Sometimes, a troubling event can happen within the school.

We also know that children bring dramatically different experiences into school from year to year as the surrounding community changes due to economic pressures, immigration patterns, and other factors. Often these changes can result in large turnovers in the school population, even within the same school year. Likewise, there can be high levels of staff turnover from year to year, creating a sense of instability. When schools and classrooms are constantly confronted with changes, the classroom and the school’s equilibrium can be upset.

Educators and administrators in a trauma sensitive school do their best to adapt to such challenges flexibly and proactively so that the equilibrium of the school is maintained despite inevitable shifts and changes.   They try to plan ahead for changes in staffing and policies. They take the time to learn about changes in the local community and, in some cases, help students to anticipate new challenges before they arise. Of course, many disruptions to a school’s equilibrium are unpredictable, and it is important to be aware that, whether expected or not, they may leave the staff extremely unsettled.

A school can spend valuable time, resources, and energy feeling “thrown off.” A trauma-sensitive school is prepared for these reactions and views them as opportunities to stop and reflect on goals and successes, but then moves quickly ahead, making plans to accommodate any new needs or issues that have arisen.

For example, in 2010 after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, one school district in Massachusetts welcomed hundreds of immigrant students. Some had witnessed parents fall to their death when walls collapsed.  Others lost whole families.  Already deeply familiar with the impact of trauma on learning, behavior, and relationships, the school was able to quickly adapt to support the students and bring out their resilience as they grieved their losses and adjusted to their new lives.

How have your school’s actions helped anticipate and adapt to the ever-changing needs of your school community?

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