A Trauma-Informed School

Joshua Kaufman (bio) details the components of a trauma-informed school environment.


When we talk about trauma-informed schools, really what we are describing is the awareness that educators, administrators, and other school personnel have of the impact of trauma on students, in terms of behavior, in terms of relationships, in terms of ability to regulate internal states and how that manifests in the classroom. Ultimately, trauma-informed schools understand and recognize that children's behavior is a developmental response to past experience, so that instead of wondering what's wrong with a child or immediately beginning to label, we start to ask the question, "What might have happened that explains this child's behavior?" And all of a sudden, when we do that, understanding can manifest and we can begin to address the underlying needs that the child may have.

When we think about components of a trauma-informed school, it's important, and I think very helpful, to look at a multi-tiered approach. So what's happening universally on the school campus? What kinds of positive behavior interventions and supports are in place to support all students and support a healthy, safe, and compassionate school climate? What kinds of supports are in place in terms of teaching social-emotional learning, and how do we begin to recognize that in the trauma-informed school environment all children are supported regardless of trauma history? Often, we may not know who of the student body has been exposed, but certainly, if we're providing a safe and sane and secure and caring climate, it will ultimately support all students.

As we move up into the secondary tier or that selective level, what we begin to see are small groups that can effectively address some of the symptoms of child trauma, as well as some disciplinary policies through deans' offices, et cetera, that begin to take into account some of the child's past experience and move beyond simply a disciplinary or punitive standpoint. Certainly programs such as restorative justice can make a big difference.

And then at the indicated level or the tertiary level of care, how do we begin to either provide those mental health services through district initiatives or partner with outside agencies to be able to provide the on-on-one mental health services necessary to support students who have been exposed to trauma and are presenting with significant symptomatology.

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Excerpted from an interview at CBITS Summit 2013 in Santa Monica, CA.

 

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