This text assists educators in the development of trauma-informed competencies required to transition to a trauma-informed educational environment. The principles informing Trauma-Informed School Practices (TISP) are detailed in Section I, “Foundational Principles.” It begins with an overview of the struggles facing students and educators, grounded in the reality that many students experience unmitigated stress and trauma, and this has undermined their ability to be successful in the school environment. To understand this link between trauma and school functioning, we revisit factors contributing to healthy development and resilience. We then explore how unmitigated stress and trauma can overwhelm coping resources and undermine our capacity to function. This includes explaining the concept of integrated neural functioning, as the heart of trauma-informed care is understanding the neurological impact of consistent attunement and mentoring versus unmitigated stress and trauma. This section concludes with an in-depth presentation of the Trauma-Informed School Practices Tri-Phasic Model, detailing the trauma-informed competencies needed to transform an educational system.
Section II, “Implementing Trauma-Informed School Practices,” applies the competencies identified in the TISP Tri-Phasic Model to the education system transition process. This section addresses both systemic and practical day-to-day tasks and challenges designed to help districts and schools make wise use of training resources and strategically transform school cultures and practice. It also provides practical steps to implementing trauma-informed knowledge, skills, and dispositions in the classroom. Here we focus on scaffolding a process that allows the educator and student to grow in partnership as this new school and class method unfolds. While providing concrete examples and testimonies from educators, we also provide insight into how to evaluate pre-existing programs, such as a school’s discipline policies, for trauma-informed congruency.
Section III, “Sustaining Trauma-Informed School Practices,” concludes our work by exploring how to nurture and build enduring trauma-informed learning environments. For many professionals, trauma-informed competencies make sense; there is a logic that touches a place in us that says, “It is actually quite simple.” When we provide communities of care, life thrives. But learning how to provide that care requires effort as we wade through myriad cultural influences that divert our attention. Trauma-informed practices require diligent attention, not half-hearted application. And they are inclusive of all stakeholders.
To that end, Section III focuses on tending to three different parts of the larger system that enable trauma-informed schools to become a reality. First, we examine the need to include parents and guardians as part of the trauma-informed team. A systemic understanding of the reasons why our students suffer such extreme degrees of unmitigated stress and trauma reminds us to not scapegoat parents, as family stress and student difficulties are a manifestation of culture-wide distress. And, most important, parents are most influential in the life of the developing child, and therefore should be central trauma-informed team members.
We then shift focus to university teacher-education and mental health training programs. Until we revise bachelor- and graduate-level training programs to place trauma-informed competencies as a foundational outcome expectation, educational settings will be spinning their wheels re-orienting each new hire to get on board with trauma-informed expectations. Likewise, congruent with trauma-informed competencies, cross-discipline collaboration is key to advancing our trauma-informed knowledge and ensuring effective response.
The text concludes with a focus on the importance of evaluating the efficacy of our efforts. Here we examine data gathering not just to satisfy documentation requirements, but to facilitate encouragement and further growth in strengthening school as a nurturing community for students and staff. It provides a nice touchpoint for revisiting why this text has focused on the Person of the Educator, as well as the well-being of our students.
TISP identifies educator perceptual, conceptual, executive, and professional competencies—the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that form the foundation for safe, effective, and appropriate application of trauma-informed principles in educational settings. TISP identifies educator competencies—the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that form the foundation for safe, effective, and appropriate application of trauma-informed principles in educational settings. This new educator content domain invites a significant overhaul of how educators are trained and evaluated in their roles as teachers, administrators, and support staff. This may feel like a daunting task, and we invite you to name your initial skepticism. As we walk you through this new competency, we hope you resonate with the conceptual elements informing trauma-informed practice even as you begin to see hope on behalf of your students, the education profession, and yourself as an educator.