Trauma-Informed Practice Is a Powerful Tool. But It's Also Incomplete []


By Simona Goldin & Debi Khasnabis, Education Week, February 19, 2020

Science has a pernicious history of doing violence to communities of color. Examples abound: Consider the infamous Tuskegee study in which the U.S. Public Health Service spent decades withholding treatment from hundreds of African-American men suffering from syphilis. Or consider more recent research that shows that doctors, informed by discredited theories of racial difference, are significantly less likely to prescribe pain medication to Black patients than White patients with equivalent ailments. In education as well, science can be used against communities of color.

As teacher-educators who support teachers in addressing systemic inequality and its impact on children in schools, we are frequently asked about trauma-informed teaching. Teachers and school leaders name serious challenges: children flipping over desks, screaming at teachers, running out of the school. They tell us, "We've been hearing about trauma-informed practice. Please, just tell us what to do!"

We've responded with a desire to be of service but also with trepidation. Trauma-informed practice is a powerful but incomplete tool. Powerful because it helps teachers understand the children in their classrooms and bring individualized care and attention to build resilience. Incomplete in dangerous ways because it is rarely paired with attention to naming and addressing systemic injustice and racism. We also can't help but notice that most of these pleas are in reference to children of color. 

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Simona and Debbie (and Raphael),

 Thank you so much for your courageous articulation about the missing component around trauma informed practices.

 Our work around creating and maintaining hopeful cultures has shown us  the need to be careful that our well-founded intentions in understanding trauma doesn't result in the unintended consequences of defining our children by their trauma rather than by their hope. 

 As you well know this is exactly what happened when we began to focus on "risk" factors back in the 1980s. The end result was that this deficit stereotype was tattooed on many young people's futures. "At-risk" kids. 

 For the past 27 years, Kids at Hope has been reviewing the scientific literature, conducting its own research, and testing its conclusions in order to better understand why many children, regardless of the risk factors, continue to beat the odds. Our findings have truly revolutionized whole child development and its relationship to academic and social emotional learning. Each day, we come closer to realizing that every child can succeed without exception.

 Our Kids at Hope offices are located on the campus of Arizona State University where we partner with the T. Denny Sanford School of Family and Social Dynamics and have established the Center for the Advanced Study and Practice of Hope.

This new β€œHope Center” is the world’s first research, academic, and community outreach center dedicated to the study and practice of hope as a strategy that enriches the lives of children, adults, families and communities.

One of the valued and powerful expressions  we use when we conduct our institutes, seminars, classes, etc. is in demonstrating that we are more effective together than we are alone (collective efficacy), but we need to work from a common understanding or code that is never challenged. That cultural code is: β€œWe don't give up on kids, nor do we tolerate anyone who does.” It is consistent with our shared belief: β€œWe believe that all children are capable of success, No Exceptions!”  In today's systems we do tolerate adults who give up on kids because too many adults believe it's not their place to challenge their colleagues. In our culture we do not just state that we believe in all kids, we assess this belief in a collective manner and on a regular basis. The expectation then is that each and every one of us will overcome whatever is getting in the way of truly believing. This then changes the paradigm to one that allows staff to have the necessary conversations to cause the transformation.    

 We all know that children/youth succeed when they have meaningful and sustainable relationships with caring adults. This is indisputable. In our cultural framework we simply take the step to one of being intentional about creating (and measuring if you choose) these meaningful relationships. Meaningful relationships are not something we can β€œmandate” to our educators, this must be part of a natural occurrence within a culture that is adopted, believed and practiced by any particular organization. We can no longer continue the practice of allowing programs to replace meaningful relationships.

For the past 12 years Kids at Hope has focused on the process of mental time travel and how it relates to HOPE. We define HOPE as the ability to visit your future - (The future is – Home & Family; Hobbies & Recreation; Community & Service, Career & Education) - return to the present, and prepare for the journey. Mental time travel then, is a learned skill that helps connect what is learned in school to what is required in becoming hopeful about the future. In other words Hope can be taught!

 In a bureaucratic hierarchy our strategy is to divide and conquer the work in front of us by creating job descriptions and organizational systems. The unintended consequence of that design is the system sometimes becomes more important than the intended beneficiary for who the system was designed (in our case, the students).  Enlightened leadership understands the difference between bureaucratic and cultural success and ultimately uses both their management and leadership skills to generate greater success for all. We know how bureaucracies operate, it's the cultural piece that either we ignore or which eludes us. It is time for all of us to understand how cultures are created and maintained. We can no longer ignore the consequences when the ability to lead a positive culture escapes us.

  This understanding drives our passionate interest in collaborating with like-minded organization by offering a service that may not be otherwise offered.


Thanks again. Maybe we should connect...


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