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How Care and Compassion for Educators Builds a Foundation for Children’s Resilience

 

Greater Richmond SCAN (Stop Child Abuse Now) has been working for 30 years to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect. SCAN advances its mission through five programs—the Child Advocacy Center, Family Support Program, Richmond CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates), Circle Preschool, and Community Programs—which work together to provide the support, treatment, education, and advocacy needed to help build safe, stable, nurturing environments for children. SCAN’s Community Programs provides training, consultation, and technical assistance services to professionals, organizations, and systems across Virginia focusing on preventing and mitigating the impact of child maltreatment through the advancement of protective factors and trauma-informed approaches in organizations, communities, and systems. Five full-time Trauma-Informed Education Specialists provide professional development, coaching, modeling, and support on trauma responsive practice to individual schools, school districts, and afterschool programs.

As it became clear that the changes in our everyday lives due to the pandemic would continue beyond just a month or two and school districts started planning for the 2020-2021 academic year, Community Programs was able to hire two additional individuals who would be part of a four-person team working within the Richmond Public School System. This team, in partnership with BareSOUL Yoga, adapted already-existing Community Programs trainings and developed additional trainings specific to the needs of educational staff. Topics include Trauma-Responsive Strategies for the Classroom; Building Resilience at Home: Breaks, Boundaries, and Balance; Mindfulness and Movement: Managing Stress; The Intersection of Trauma Exposure and Mindfulness; Managing Uncertainty; Routines and Rituals for Everyday; Mindfulness for Educators: Overall Self-Care; and Mindful Communication for Relationship Building. The team also hosts Community Conversations that provide space for educators to openly speak and feel heard.

This past year has seen collective trauma and loss, from a global pandemic with deaths in the hundreds of thousands to violent displays of white supremacy. Individually, people have experienced unemployment, poverty, illness, social isolation, lack of child care, and more. In the midst of all this, the work of educating children and adolescents has continued, now with the added challenges of the virtual environment. Even before the pandemic, educators were reporting high levels of stress and anxiety in their work, with upwards of 50% of new teachers leaving their positions within five years. Researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Child Study Center surveyed 5000 teachers about their emotional well-being in 2017 and again at the end of March 2020, and both times, emotional stress was a top response. When teachers are feeling emotionally overwhelmed and stressed, this can impact their ability to build relationships with their students and make the strong connections that help students to be more emotionally regulated and engaged.

One stable and supportive relationship with an adult is the single most common factor for children who develop resilience. Educators have the power to provide that crucial relationship by responding to students on a social-emotional level. However, research has shown that many of them have not been given the tools to do that. This is where Greater Richmond SCAN's Community Programs is able to intervene. By helping adults in the school system understand the importance of social-emotional competence and how to respond with more care and compassion to their own trauma and stress, Community Programs staff are helping to prevent potentially traumatic experiences for students.

In our society with its many traumas and systems of oppression, self care and collective care are typically not prioritized, much to our individual and collective detriment. Greater Richmond SCAN is working to ensure that more educators are equipped to implement compassion and care in the classroom – virtual or in person. Educators can make a significant impact on the lives of children by modeling healthy social-emotional behavior and lessening the stigma attached to honoring emotions and self-care. The ability to recognize and respond to trauma in others starts with our own self-regulation, self-care, and self-compassion. This foundation supports teachers in extending compassion to their students and helping them co-regulate. These practices also extend beyond the classroom into educators’ own homes and communities and opens doors to better communication with students’ parents and caregivers.  

A cultural shift of this magnitude will take continued efforts over time. With each effort, we get closer to a world where children receive the support they need from adults who are supported as well. One step at a time, we can shift from a cycle of trauma and stress to one of resilience and care.

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SCAN is the founder and backbone organization for the Greater Richmond Trauma-Informed Community Network (GRTICN), a diverse group of over 500 individuals from more than 170 organizations who share a commitment to creating a more trauma-informed and resilient community. SCAN serves as the coordinator and convener of the Virginia TICNs, the statewide coalition of 26 trauma-informed community networks across Virginia.

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