Breaking the Chain
So what are educators doing to support students who are living with trauma? Though the details can vary, we have seen common threads of success in schools. And they are doing this work and showing that we can break the generational “chain of pain”. Though not meant to be an inclusive list, three common threads should be in place in every school.
- Caring Adult – Am I worthy?
Does it get any more basic than this? Positive relationships are key for every student. The value of a student having at least one caring adult to go to for support, questions, and guidance is immeasurable. Educators (including support staff such as cross walk guards, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and more) are critical to filling this role in schools. One example we have seen is the adult mentoring program such as My Brother’s Keeper NYC. This program is providing valuable connections of support to boys and young men of color through a city-wide initiative, partnering cross-sector with the schools, the district, and with others. MBK’s mentoring component is part of the work of The National MBK Alliance, laying out six life milestones that they hope to achieve. It’s critical work we are happy to support.
We also know that for those students who need more support beyond the first Tier due to a combination of factors (related to trauma or other factor), targeted supports at Tier 2 and Tier 3 should be made available to students who need them. Effective schools use such things as early warning systems, collaboration between home and school, data collection, and active monitoring of student progress. Other targeted strategies at these Tiers may include intentional peer or adult mentoring, small groups related to concerns (i.e., grief, divorce, other), self-monitoring tools, even testing and individual therapies as interventions intensify.
“Many suggest that the increase in mental health issues is tied to social justice concerns and are calling for educators to take the lead in solving these problems that highlight the connections between race, gender, socio-economic status, and mental health concerns.”
Ask most educators and they will tell you that while all MTSS Tiers matter (as well as the resources needed to do them well), they also know that getting Tier 1 right for every student is most critical. We simply know so much more about the interconnectedness of trauma, social ills, and the role schools can play in both…especially problems that can be effectively addressed for students at Tier 1 if done correctly.
One critical component of effective Tier I is ensuring a school embraces Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) as a fully committed approach. Students should not only see themselves in all aspects of teaching and learning, but importantly, should know they are also valued as a vital member of the school community – do they also see themselves in the displays & celebrations, the activities offered, the way parents are engaged, and more? These things are important for all students, but especially for populations that have been marginalized.
And, of course, putting the structures and supports in place takes intentionality by the adults.
- Professional Learning – How will you best support me?
Re-imagining how educators deliver Tier I takes training beyond learning a new curriculum or teaching strategies (though yes, those are KEY). It takes digging deeper so adults can reflect on their own practices and acquire the skills and knowledge to help support all students, most especially students dealing with the lingering effects of trauma that may not be readily seen. Professional learning in Implicit Bias, Restorative Practices, SEL, Trauma Informed Teaching, and a school-wide picture of CRE are just some of the “dig in” learning happening with educators across the country. Educators are making the internal shift to ensure their teaching aligns with appropriate external practices that better align with the students they serve. And along the way, they are also the ones now challenging long-standing curricula choices, ensuring that students not only see themselves in the curriculum they implement and the literature they promote, but they also are providing students with a fuller picture of history – the challenges and the contributions that better reflect the diversity that make up our country and world.
It’s a beautiful cycle of hope. When we know better, we do better.
We realize this work takes time and there is still much to do. There are no quick-fix solutions to overcome the pain of poverty, violence, hunger, and ism’s associated with race, identity, gender, and difference. There are societal shifts that must happen beyond schoolhouse doors and there are individual shifts that must happen, to both the heart and mind. But caring educators who are intentional with systemic supports for their students while also allowing students to be affirmed and seen, are shifting the life outcomes for their students for the better. And that, ultimately, will benefit us all.
Supports in Action – A deeper dive
Other Transformational Measures Happening
Written By: Tammie Workman, Education Consultant and Former Urban Schools Leader with Stacey DeWitt CEO of Connect with Kids Network.