Revolutionizing Education

Developing Trauma-Informed Teachers: The Story Of One Teacher Preparation Program

Ed Prep Matters features the “Revolutionizing Education” column to spotlight the many ways AACTE, member institutions, and partners are pioneering leading-edge research, models, strategies and programs that focus on the three core values outlined in the current AACTE strategic plan: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Quality and impact; and Inquiry and Innovation.

Long before the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) survey illustrated the dire consequences of adverse events on children, educators have known that today’s students are more stressed than previous generations. They face greater challenges developing executive functioning skills needed to succeed in social-emotional and academic tasks. Trauma-informed school approaches have flourished in an attempt to more effectively teach students suffering the consequences of home-based or social-cultural trauma. But we know that this challenge requires more than just offering teachers conferences or webinars on trauma-informed school techniques. We need multi-level systemic change in the way our profession conceptualizes what it truly means to incorporate advances in the neurobiology of trauma and learning.

In our open access, no cost text Trauma-Informed School Practices we address this challenge by detailing systemic change processes in the application of trauma-informed knowledge. The Trauma-Informed School Practices Tri-Phasic Model (diagram #1) outlines best-practices as applied to students. It is embedded in the Six Elements of Education System Change (diagram #2) needed to ensure a lasting incorporation of this paradigm shift. The reality is, we can’t place the burden of change on current teachers; all of us need to participate.

We’d like to share with you a way we are contributing to this change process by describing how I (Brenda) have revised my preservice curriculum at George Fox University, and how students are responding:

Becoming trauma-informed is not a set of strategies but a mindset shift evidenced in deeper empathy for human struggle resulting in personal and professional change. To prepare preservice teachers to do this work, I created a semester long elective for elementary major undergraduates at our university. We begin by examining the developmental impact of chronic stress and trauma commonly experienced by K-12 students. This enables preservice teachers to then identify classroom practices, inviting growth and learning while eliminating practices that retraumatize or inhibit school success. This critique allows them to now create a trauma-informed education plan, then implement and evaluate its efficacy in order to determine best practices for students in their classrooms.

My students also reflect on their attachment history and personal trauma in an effort to deepen self-awareness. Now they can more easily understand why certain classroom events are triggering for them and devise a plan to self-regulate. Last, we discuss compassion fatigue and the importance of a self-care plan for all educators; sustainability in this profession is critical.

During the course, each of the students are able to reflect on their own trauma and personal impact. At the end of the semester, I received a student email that read, “I need to formally address my issues and take care of myself. Understanding myself and learning different trauma-informed practices and ways to address trauma helps me be more compassionate towards my students and coworkers.”

Shifting to a trauma-informed perspective is not easy. But if we do not make this shift on multiple education system levels, we contribute to further academic and social functioning impairments that may last a lifetime.

 Brenda Morton, associate professor in the School of Education, and Anna Berardi, director of the Trauma-Response Institute, are co-founders of the George Fox University Trauma-Informed School Initiative.

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