“As an educator, you don’t have a choice about being in the trauma business. You do have a choice in what you do about it.”
Christopher Blodgett, Ph.D
Washington State University, Summer 2015
Is there something about the first sentence of this quote by Dr. Blodgett that surprises, stuns or is possibly of relief to you?
Trauma may be expected in low socio-economic communities with high poverty and significant English Language Learner (ELL) populations, yet this quote does not differentiate. This is a broad statement about education, period. For me, professionally and personally, I am relieved to see this idea in print.
I began teaching in 1990, shepherding one of eight first grade classrooms in a small border town in Texas, San Elizario. The school is literally in the middle of a cotton field, acres and acres across. Though only 30 minutes outside of a major metropolitan city, El Paso, the community had no running water and was primarily migrant farm workers’ families. Since then, I have taught Kindergarten, and pre-Kindergarten at public schools near military bases in Texas, first graders here in Washington on a Native American reservation, Spanish to pre-K through 5th graders in a private school, Kindergarteners literacy, science, social studies and health in Spanish – in a dual languge program, and now serve the Kent School District as an ELL teacher by pushing into classrooms for small group work, co-planning and co-teaching with classroom teachers. In each of these communities I witnessed what I thought of as stress in children, but now know to be trauma.
Throughout 27 years plus years in my career, populations shifted leaving communites and their children in flux. Kindergarteners arrive to school more stressed than ever – at five years old. Children and the communities they live in lack access to basic resources such as water, experience separation in families through military service and divorce, witness drug and alcohol addiction in their environment, see the effects of immigration policies and refugees arriving in their communities. Yes, of course – you may be thinking – but what about students and communities without much of this? Research studies show that all schools, regardless of socioeconomic status, poverty or culture, include children with trauma.
School-wide Book Read
Our elementary school elected to focus on trauma informed teaching to foster resilient learners, shifting the mindset and the culture of our school. Our administrators chose the text Fostering Resilient Learners as part of our process in this endeavor.
Souers, K., & Hall, P. (2016). Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom.
Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
The author lays the foundation for us to understand trauma: the definition, its implications and common language used when discussing trauma and students. The definition for trauma she poses is “Trauma is an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope. (Rice & Groves, 2005, p.3)” (Souers p.15). Adverse Childhood Events, or ACEs, much like the ones I have seen and continue to see, negatively impact a child’s attendance, behavior, coursework and health. For example, a student with 2 ACEs is 4.3 times more likely to have issues with behavior. (Blodgett 2012) (Souers, p. 21)
This book is a fascinating dive into trauma, what it is, how it affects students and educators, and acknowledging how educators can respond positively instead of reactively.
Here are some of the questions directly from the book (Souers pp 24-25). An important part of our process as educators is reflection, therefore I’d love to hear feedback from you regarding these questions and how your answers to them may impact your Next Steps as an educator and advocate for children.
- The authors refer to trauma as an epidemic. How much “airtime” has the topic received in your trainings, either pre-service or in the field?
- What steps can you take to bring this important topic into your professional conversations? How might that provide an avenue to better support our students?
- Take a look at your class list or case roster. Based on the facts that you know, how many of your students have an ACE score of 1? Two? Three or higher?
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