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Setting the Wheels in Motion - Becoming a Trauma Informed and Trauma Sensitive School

I recently wrote a blog post about how to take the first step in creating a trauma informed care model (TIC) in your school.  The first step, Establishing a Baseline, is necessary because it fuels future steps in the process.  In the blog post "Is Your School Ready to be Trauma Informed and Trauma Sensitive," I also listed the key components of a TIC model.  I am adding them here as well, because I don't want you to have to keep going back to the other blog as you are working on this process.  

Key Components of a TIC Model for Schools

  • School personnel at all levels are supportive of TIC (staff buy in)
  • Ongoing, sustainable staff training
  • A system to address student needs - both academic and non-academic
    • Assessment tools
    • Basic needs support (food, shelter, safety)
    • Health care support (primary care and behavioral/mental health care)
    • Discipline or behavioral adjustment model
    • Legal system care and support
    • Student engagement
    • Academic support, special needs, tutoring, and/or differentiated instruction
    • Clear referral system for needs that exceed the school's scope of support services
    • Family education
    • Feedback loop (dialogue with students and families)
  • Tracking/Monitoring system - in the world of education, documenting student success, and additional needs, is critical to a school's success.
  • Feedback loop with school personnel - specific to their roles in the larger TIC model
  • Vicarious and secondary trauma support 
  • Reporting mechanism(s)


The second step of creating a TIC model in your school is Building Staff Support. 

This step is more complex than it might sound.  A school is made up of many individuals who bring with them their own beliefs and expectations. These beliefs and expectations will be about everything from how children learn to the role a school should have in a young person's life to their own individual responsibilities to their career and their community.  The wonderful common ground, which is true of every educator and support staff person I have ever met in a school, is that each of them cares about children and values education. 

Staff development, however, is often not the highlight of the school year for many staff.  Any teacher who has been in a school system for more than one year, can tell you that staff development and staff inservice can be arduous.  There are a million things to do everyday, and taking time to sit and listen to someone else, particularly someone who hasn't even  been in their classroom, their school, or worked with their students, can seem like a waste of some very good working hours. Hence, I cannot stress enough, that your teachers are truly your best resource to teach ACEs and TIC to your staff - even if they don't yet know much about these topics.    

I am going to give you a list of topics that are worth covering in staff development.  But before you build these videos, or these reading assignments, into your schedule for the year, take a step back and ask yourself (or your staff development team) how to integrate your staff into the teaching of staff development.  At my former school - and I have said it before - we were a small school with just over 40 staff members, we set up staff groups (drawn from a hat, or numbered around the room) and then had them draw topics out of a hat, which they then presented to their peers.  Staff were given three options for presenting, they could do a skit, a technology presentation (PowerPoint, or some other electronically assisted mode) or develop a website.  They were also given time during staff development to do their research and create their presentation or rehearse their skit.  You might want to have your staff groups draw their presentation modes out of a hat too, that will guarantee that you have some variety.  Whatever you decide to do, you'll have  better results if your staff are engaged in the process. 

Topics to cover should be broad, but then related to possible scenarios in your school.   Each training area should involve discussions centered on "what if." This is where your ACEs team will be very helpful. Your ACEs team needs to become the silent observers of the training process.  They (ACEs team) should be taking notes about the ideas or concerns that come up. These ideas and concerns will help when you implement TIC school wide.  Depending on the size of your ACEs team, it is helpful if they are able to move around between the groups working on training materials to sit in for a few minutes with each group.  The role of the ACEs Team member is to provide encouragement to the team of staff working on their presentations - whenever possible, the team members should say things like, "that's a great idea," "that is an awesome resource," "I love the creativity in this idea." As an ACEs Team, you are modeling the behaviors staff will use in the classroom.  

Staff Development Topics: 

  1. Imagine our perfect school
    1. Sir Ken Robinson - Do Schools Kill Creativity? 
    2. Logan LaPlante - Hackschooling Makes Me Happy
    3. Brainstorm - How would our day be different at our school if our students were able to be happy? 
  2. What are ACEs?
    1. Adverse Childhood Experiences by Vincent Felitti
    2. Center for Disease Control Study (1999)
    3. States that have replicated the CDC study - has your state replicated the CDC study? If so, present this information too.
    4. Each staff member should determine their own ACEs score 
    5. Ask the staff what surprised them the most about ACEs? Ask them if they have seen any signs of ACEs in their student population, and if so, what have they seen - again, you aren't asking for student names, just helping staff start to recognize warning signs. 
  3. What is toxic stress
    1. Harvard University - Center for the Developing Child, Toxic Stress
    2. Social and Behavioral Determinants of Toxic Stress, David Williams of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
    3. How Poverty Changes Your Brain, DNews
    4. Ask staff to identify other sources of toxic stress that might exist in students at your school.
  4. What is the impact of trauma and toxic stress on brain development?
    1. Poverty and brain development
    2. Abuse - as a witness or a victim, how does this impact the brain?
    3. Drug and alcohol abuse - personal or family use - how might this impact the brain?
    4. Family mental health - What is generational trauma? How does the mental health of a parent or primary caregiver impact child development? 
    5. Daniel Amen - YouTube Video - The most important lesson from 83,000 brain scans, TEDxOrangeCoast 
      An important note about this video - it is not realistic that we scan brains of students to determine what is going on in their brains. It is important however, that we recognize that the same techniques that build resilience also repair the brain, we can build new neural pathways in students.  
  5. How do we build resilience?
    1. What is a harm reduction model? How might this look in a school setting? 
    2. What is a circle process? How might a circle process build resilience? 
    3. What is restorative justice? What are we currently doing to help students reintegrate back into the community after a suspension (in school suspension or out of school suspension). What skills would students learn in a restorative model? 
    4. What are some things we could say to students during the day to let them know that we care about them? What can we say to them when we see them in the hall? What can we say to them in the classroom when they are doing well? What can we say to a student who is struggling with school work? What can we say when a student is struggling with their emotions? 

This is the start of helping your staff transition to a TIC model.  At this point, you are not making any changes, you are simply helping them look at their students through a different lens.  

The next step after this is a task for the ACEs Team, and I'll cover that in my next blog post on this topic.  

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Comments (2)

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Geri Keskeys posted:

This is great! I am looking for training for my team in addtion to the wonderful ideas you mentioned here. Any suggestions?

Hi Geri, Are you looking for a general overview of ACEs or something more specific to implementing a TIC model in your school? If you'd like to talk on the phone a bit about where you are in your process, I am more than happy to set up a time to talk.  Otherwise feel free to send me a private message about your specific needs and I am sure we can find some resources for you. 

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