In Focus: Addressing Trauma and Social Emotional Learning in the Chatham School District

“The stress of the pandemic can completely shut me down, so I use compassion to understand why my students might be struggling or not functioning in a way that I expect”  – Angoon Teacher

For the second year consecutive year, Lisa Worl (AASB) and Heather Coulehan (AASB) facilitated an in-service session focused on Trauma Engaged Schools for the Chatham School District staff. This year staff from Angoon and Gustavus gathered together to start the year by: 

  • Celebrating the strengths of Chatham students and families;
  • Building on these protective factors to foster emotional and cultural safety, and belonging which activates learning; and,
  • Exploring implicit bias, specifically how they  get to know their students and families.

Staff were reminded of Dr. Dan Siegal’s hand model that illustrates trauma’s impact on the brain. The team then reflected  on their own experiences in the pandemic and how this impacted their own learning and teaching.   

The team reviewed the  “Strengths of Chatham Students” list created last year by Klukwan, Angoon, and Gustavus school staff. Chatham students bring a Knowledge of land; Traditional practices; Storytelling; Eagerness to learn; Excitement; Family; Community; Humor; and Creativity to the learning environment. This activity deepened staff understanding, particularly new teachers’ understanding,  of resilience in learning and the resources already available to students and staff to boost this resilience.  

The Chatham team then went deeper and explored how to use these strengths to effectively build emotional and cultural safety, and belonging, in Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs.  This is the foundation of students’ ability to access the learning part of their brain described in Bloom’s taxonomy  (see image, below).

However, this safety is difficult to establish without understanding implicit biases and how that impacts both our relationships and student learning.  Using the “Circle of Trust” self-reflection activity, school staff explored implicit biases. Staff examined how they  get to know their students and families. These biases and relationships can impact the safety students and families feel within the school environment and the conditions for student learning. 

Illustration by Kristin Link

After building the foundation , understanding trauma and relationships, school district staff explored how to explicitly teach and embed social and emotional learning (SEL) into classroom practices. AASB used CASEL’s Three Signature Practices to model how staff can infuse SEL into any content area.  Each participant and facilitator were also able to put their own SEL skills into action during the reflection activities and within small group collaboration.  Staff were able to practice Breathe, Move, Rest self-regulation and self-awareness strategies throughout the workshop. 

The Angoon and Gustavus staff identified these priority steps during small group collaboration:

  • Start the year with a positive phone call to create connection before there is an issue that needs addressed. Call, text, email each family to check in, before needing to communicate about anything in particular.
  • Ask or survey families about their  preferred mode of communication. And then invite and communicate in that way.
  • Ask families for tips on what to do when their child/student is dysregulated.
  • Host Family Engagement nights/community event that includes hands-on activities led by families.
  • Engage in two way communication, not just a newsletter which is one way after the event has happened.
  • Get to know families and the strengths they bring to the school and ways they can contribute.
  • Be systematic about contacting families – eg. keep a phone log of relationships and interactions.
  • Use one of the scripts or  conversation starters to reach out to families for the first time.
  • Do an “empty space” inventory of your classroom. What do you have hanging in empty spaces?  Does it reflect the families, community, students?
  • Be visible in the community.  Follow the social media of community organizations for invitations and announcements of events in the community. Attend meetings at tribal organizations. 

Another easy action you can take is looking at our slides with references and links.

Or visit the AASB or DEED websites for more information on trauma engaged schools.