Deconstructing Trauma

Resiliency… What are the major life events have my students survived and what hassles do they deal with every day?

Alaska Elementary Teacher

What Is This Section About?

This section is about ways the whole school community can develop a common understanding of how trauma impacts learning.

The brain goes through enormous developments during childhood and adolescence in response to a person’s environment and experiences, and schools have a critical role in helping build and reinforce neural pathways that support resilience, positive decision-making, healthy relationships, and lifelong learning. Schools connect children to concepts around numbers, sorting, and words, and help children understand how to interact with others and manage their own thoughts and feelings. The impacts of this brain development stretches across a child’s lifetime.

We also know that healthy change often begins with awareness. The more that people understand that stress has real impacts on the body and the brain, the more we can act with compassion and caring toward our students and each other.

Community Adaptations

The content of this chapter is offered to district leaders, school staff, counselors, and community members with the idea that each of these people have different roles in the process of transforming schools. The intention is to transform the whole school in support of the whole child, with an understanding that adaptations are needed to make the practices culturally relevant and align with each community’s strengths, norms, and expectations.

What Can Leadership Do?

Click each section below for more info.

A. Operate from a resilient, strength based perspective. Support a shift from thinking, “What is wrong with this student?” to, “What happened to this student?” for you and your school community.
  1. Realizing the widespread impact of trauma and pathways to recovery.
  2. Recognizing signs and symptoms of trauma.
  3. Responding by integrating knowledge about trauma into all facets of the system.
  4. Resisting re-traumatization of trauma-impacted individuals by decreasing the occurrence of unnecessary triggers (i.e., trauma and loss reminders) and by implementing trauma-informed policies, procedures, and practices.
  • Resilience
    A new documentary that delves into the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and a new movement to treat and prevent toxic stress. (This is a for purchase resource.)
  • Building your Resilience
    By the American Psychological Association. Discusses the fact that all people face trauma and other stressors, and shares a roadmap for adapting to life-changing situations and emerging even stronger than before.
B. Understand the history of the community and its current relationship with their school. Focus on the challenges, strengths, and opportunities for improving the relationship.
  • Paper Tigers
    Follows a year in the life of an alternative high school that has radically changed its approach to disciplining its students, becoming a promising model for how to break the cycles of poverty, violence, and disease that affect families. (This is a for purchase resource.)
  • A History of Schooling for Alaska Native People
    Documents significant historical events and trends that have helped to shape the policies and practices of education in Alaska, particularly those that have most directly impacted the schooling of Alaska Native people. The following information is provided:
  1. An overview of the Alaska context.
  2. A review of federal policies that have directly affected education in Alaska.
  3. A historical analysis of the evolution of schooling for Alaska Native people, including the development of a dual federal/territorial system of schools, and the initiation of a range of federal and state reform efforts.

The current status of schooling in Alaska is briefly described.

C. Develop and promote common language and understanding for the school environment. Review and discuss brain science and research as a staff.
  • Dr. Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain – For all of us, there are times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed. Understanding what is happening to us in these stressful moments can help us to respond in less traumatic ways. The hand model of the brain video is an easily understandable way to explain the brain and body’s stress response system. Children and adults can use this insight to “tame” their stress response system.
  • Overcoming Adverse Childhood Experiences in Alaska’s Schools defines adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and explains how they affect children’s brains and behavior. In Part 1, you will learn about ACEs and how they affect Alaskan children. In Part 2, you’ll learn how children’s trauma shows up in the classroom and how to use trauma-informed practices in response to ACEs.
  • The Trauma-Sensitive Schools eLearning course is the second in a three-part series that provides insight into the paradigm shift schools undergo as they become better equipped to support students’ responses to traumatic experiences and the impact it may have on learning and behavior.
  • Trauma-Engaged and Practicing Schools builds on the foundation of the first two courses to provide a roadmap for broader implementations. You will learn the steps necessary to become trauma-engaged on a school-wide or even district-wide basis.
  • The Alaska Behavioral Health – Trauma 101 training focuses on understanding how trauma impacts the body and the brain, how people adapt to trauma, and what we can do as providers, caregivers and community members to support recovery and resiliency.
  • A Practitioner’s Guide to Educating Traumatized Children walks through childhood trauma in our society, in our schools and in our classrooms. It provides information on recognizing trauma, making a trauma-informed school the impact of trauma on non-cognitive skills and the impact on academic skills.
D. Create space for conversations about how trauma and resilience manifest in the school community. Involve families in brain development training, supports, and resource creation.
  • The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model focuses on the child to align the common goals of both sectors to put into action a whole child approach to education. The education, public health, and school health sectors have each called for greater alignment that includes integration and collaboration between education leaders and health sectors to improve each child’s cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. Public health and education serve the same children, often in the same settings.
  • No School Alone is a report that discusses how community factors significantly contribute to the individual, peer, and family factors that set the conditions for school success. The nature of the community a school serves directly influences the nature of what makes each school a community in its own right.
  • How stress affects the brain talks about how stress isn’t always negative; it can be helpful for a burst of extra energy and focus, like when a person is playing a competitive sport or has to speak in public. But when it’s continuous, it actually begins to change the brain. Madhumita Murgia shows how chronic stress can affect brain size, structure, and function, right down to the level of your genes.
  • Building and Sustaining Trauma-Informed Approaches in Schools (2019) is an article compiled in coordination with Public Health Seattle and King County, this brief report provides key lessons for successfully managing trauma-informed school practices. These lessons are based on over ten years of implementation experience in the trauma-informed school intervention CLEAR (Collaborative Learning for Educational Achievement and Resilience), which has been implemented in more than 60 school sites across five western states, including in Seattle Public Schools.
E. Review your school’s current discipline policies and practices with staff and families. Consider whether these practices promote resilience and contribute to positive relationships, improved self-regulation, and support lifelong learning.
  • DEED’s Trauma-Engaged Educator’s Guide micro-course Classroom Practice discusses how trauma can have a profound effect on how students perform in school. Teachers who take a trauma-engaged approach are sensitive to the fact that some students have experienced significant trauma and can provide the supportive environment they need for success. This course walks through strategies that can be used in the classroom.
  • Implementing Restorative Justice Practices is a multi-tiered system to support school climate and health in schools. Restorative Justice Practices (RJP) are multifaceted. The approach is grounded in the traditional practices of indigenous communities around the world and underscores the values of respect, compassion, dignity, and inclusion of all members of the community. This program also utilizes talking circles, which are a way of life for many indigenous communities and have been used often to address harms in the community. This approach of inclusive dialogue became the foundation of the current RJP approach that is being used as a non-punitive approach to discipline. Credit: Get Healthy San Mateo County and San Mateo County Office of Education.
  • Cultivating Restorative School Communities is a resource packet for implementing Restorative Circles. In schools, Restorative Practices are multifaceted in nature. The roots of the understanding and practice are grounded in the traditions of Indigenous Cultures around the world that underscore the value of respect, compassion, dignity, and inclusion of all members of the community. This approach rests with the belief that everyone is an equal member of society and has a contribution to make.
  • Restorative Practices: Fostering Healthy Relationships & Promoting Positive Discipline in Schools–A Guide for Educators is intended for all educators who support the growth and health of students in schools. It is an introduction for those new to the concepts and will help support and enhance the work of teachers already implementing these practices in their classrooms. The toolkit includes accessible models, frameworks, and action steps for school-wide implementation, accompanied by guiding questions to support reflection for practitioners looking to make restorative methods part of the fabric of daily life in schools. It also recognizes the significant role all education professionals play in maintaining a school community that models respectful, trusting, and caring relationships.
  • Safe, Healthy and Ready to Learn is a consensus report on children exposed to violence, and explores policy solutions to help children, families, and communities heal and thrive. The report was developed in partnership with leaders from throughout the health, education, justice, and child development fields, with support from The California Endowment, Blue Shield of California Foundation, and the Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund.

What Can Staff Do?

Click each section below for more info.

A. Understand that self-care is critical to be able to serve students effectively. Reflect on your own self-care practices and take part in activities that promote your well-being.
  • According to the UC Davis Wellness Center, there are Eight Dimensions of Wellness: occupational, emotional, spiritual, environmental, financial, physical, social, and intellectual. Each dimension of wellness is interrelated with another. Each dimension is equally vital in the pursuit of optimum health. One can reach an optimal level of wellness by understanding how to maintain and optimize each of the dimensions of wellness.
  • The DEED Self-Care for Educators eLearning course provides health-enhancing information on how to manage compassion fatigue and secondary trauma by practicing self-care. Topics covered include, what is self-care,  how to avoid compassion fatigue and burnout, the four important factors of self-care, and core self-care strategies. Active self-care reduces teacher turnover and depression, anxiety, anger and fatigue among teachers. In taking care of ourselves and each other, we provide positive role modeling for students.
B. Operate from a resilience, strength-based perspective by supporting a shift in thinking from, “What is wrong with this student,” to “What happened to this student?
  • The DEED eLearning course Emotional Intelligence discusses how students who have experienced trauma can react to stress in unpredictable ways because trauma can impede their ability to develop emotional intelligence. This course gives foundational information about emotional intelligence and walks you through strategies you can use with students.
  • The article from the American Psychological Association Building your Resilience discusses the fact that all people face trauma and other stressors, and shares a roadmap for adapting to life-changing situations and emerging even stronger than before.
C. Enhance your understanding of how trauma impacts learning and well-being. Integrate education about best practices around the science of learning (brain biology) into daily classroom activities.
  • Dr. Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the Brain – For all of us, there are times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed. Understanding what is happening to us in these stressful moments can help us to respond in less traumatic ways. The hand model of the brain video is an easily understandable way to explain the brain and body’s stress response system. Children and adults can use this insight to “tame” their stress response system.
  • Why Do We Lose Control of Our Emotions? is a video that is a simple, easy-to-understand whiteboard animation to help early elementary-aged children gain an understanding of the way their brains work to recognize and manage their emotions. This is intended as a beginning resource to help children, parents, educators, and those who work with children to encourage mindfulness, empathy, and emotional regulation.
  • DEED’s Self-Regulation course provides a foundation for understanding self-regulation and walks you through how to help students develop these skills. Students who have experienced trauma may have trouble developing self-regulation skills.
  • DEED’s Mind Body Connection Module course provides a foundational understanding of how non-academic mindfulness tools and techniques can help students focus in the classroom. You may also find these activities helpful and healing for yourself. To ensure the academic success of students who have experienced trauma, it is necessary for schools to address their health and emotional well-being.
  • Alaska Staff Development Network has several recorded Alaska Trauma-Engaged Schools webinars: “Latest News on Trauma-Informed Schools,” “Simple Tools for Self-Regulation, Transforming Trauma and Preventing Compassion Fatigue,” “Trauma-Engaged Schools: Building Resilience Through Strength-Based Practices,” and “Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences” by Dr. Linda Chamberlain. All staff from level 1 member districts and organizations can view these recordings at no charge. Contact ASDN at: asdn@nullalaskaacsa.org to request the username and password to access the webinar recordings.
D. Reflect on whether your own interactions with students and families are trauma-engaged and strength-based, and seek ways to learn and improve.
  • The Nurturance of Being Known discusses different layers of being human, that being known by another person is vital to life. The film discusses how listening to babies cry to figure out what they need is one of the first steps we often take in knowing someone, and that helping people overcome childhood trauma is to help them feel known at every level.
E. Identify trauma-engaged supports and resources available to students. Consider how they may be implemented and adapted for the classroom.
  • DEED’s Self-Regulation course provides a foundation for understanding self-regulation and walks you through how to help students develop these skills. Students who have experienced trauma may have trouble developing self-regulation skills.
  • DEED’s Mind Body Connection Module provides a foundational understanding of how non-academic mindfulness tools and techniques can help students focus in the classroom. You may also find these activities helpful and healing for yourself. To support the academic success of students who have experienced trauma, it is necessary for schools to address their health and emotional well-being.
  • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has many tools for educators to use. Children’s reactions to trauma can interfere considerably with learning and behavior at school. Schools serve as a critical system of support for children who have experienced trauma. Administrators, teachers, and staff can help reduce the effects of trauma on children by recognizing trauma responses, accommodating and responding to traumatized students within the classroom, and referring children to outside professionals when necessary. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developed tools and materials to help educators, school staff, and administrators understand and respond to the specific needs of traumatized children.
  • Responding to Trauma in Your Classroom recognizes that trauma can have significant and lasting effects on students. This PD Café will help you learn how to recognize the signs of trauma, better understand the causes of trauma, and take steps to establish social and emotional safety in your classroom.
  • Calmer Classrooms: A Guide to Working with Traumatized Students addresses the needs of children who have been traumatized by abuse and neglect. These children may be involved in the child protection and family support systems. Some may not be able to remain in the care of their families and may be living in foster care or other forms of state care

Additional Resources

  • A Practitioner’s Guide to Educating Traumatized Children discusses how the often-considered most pervasive result of trauma, lack of self-regulation, can contribute to children lacking inner understanding, inner strength, or desire to monitor their own emotional and behavioral reactivity.
  • Helping Traumatized Children Learn is the result of an extraordinary collaboration among educators, parents, mental health professionals, community groups, and attorneys determined to help children experiencing the traumatic effects of family violence succeed in school.
  • On the CDC Adverse Childhood Experiences Resources website, you can find journal articles about adverse childhood experiences organized by topic area. Select the link in the More button for a sample of selected ACE-related journals.
  • ACEs data are in the AK-IBIS system and are the result of three years of surveys of Alaskan adults regarding their ACEs. These data include regional breakouts as well as other demographic comparisons. This link comes from Alaska’s Division of Public Health, Section of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.