Adaptive Schools and Trauma Informed Practices

Author: John Matich, Training Associate and member of the Thinking Collaborative Futures Team

The Center for Disease control defines Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as preventable and traumatic early experiences; they can range from exposure to violence, poverty and neglect, to physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Nationally, more than 46 percent of U.S. youth—34 million children under age 18—have had at least one ACE, and more than 20 percent have had at least two.

In a trauma-informed school, the adults in the school community are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress (ACEs). In addition, students are provided with clear expectations and communication strategies to guide them through stressful situations. The goal is to not only provide tools to cope with extreme situations but to create an underlying culture of respect and support.

Garmston and Wellman say that “the quality of adult interactions mediate outcomes for students.” As adaptive educators, we also know that this is true for interactions with and among students and it must exist on an ongoing basis if we are to create a respectful and supportive school culture. As collaborators, inquirers, and leaders, this is part of our DNA.

Adaptive teachers strategically use Adaptive Schools strategies and explicitly model and teach the Seven Norms of Collaboration to students because they are the foundation for creating an underlying culture of respect and support. When teachers implement Adaptive Schools strategies with fidelity and model them, they are creating the conditions for civil discourse, equity of voice, safe learning environments, and they are showing that they value students.

Over the past three years, I have had the opportunity to co-design and co-present professional development for k12 teachers in Los Angeles with trauma-informed school experts. As I designed the professional development and learned more about ACEs and trauma-informed practices, it became strikingly clear that the Adaptive Schools strategies along with the Seven Norms of Collaboration perfectly aligned with the goals of trauma-informed schools because they create the conditions for mutually respectful discourse in a nurturing environment.

Garmston and Wellman point out that “clear intentions, the ability to read groups, and flexibility are the keys to selecting processes to facilitate groups” (Garmston and Wellman, p. 171). This applies to adults and students.

Trauma-sensitive practices are not just “another thing,” they are the thing. When we employ Adaptive Schools strategies with the intention of creating safe and robust learning environments, we are living a philosophy of care and respect.

I’m imagining students using the Seven Norms of Collaboration along with Adaptive Schools strategies to not only uplift themselves, but to uplift their classmates. These strategies can empower the passive, build confidence in the passive aggressive, and provide space for the aggressive to effectively express themselves. It’s imperative that we teach students ways to be respectfully assertive as they collaborate, inquire, and lead–just as we teach adults.

What added value might Adaptive Schools strategies have to educators who are already practicing trauma-informed practices?

What might be some ways in which Adaptive Schools strategies support schools and educators in becoming a trauma-informed school?

Which of the Seven Norms of Collaboration might be most influential in creating an underlying culture of respect?

How might we become more explicit with teachers about how to create a culture of respect and support by using the strategies and Seven Norms daily in their classrooms?