Journey of Becoming Trauma Informed: How a Norm of Collaboration is Changing Things One Situation at a Time

When given the task of leading five buildings in our district to become Trauma Informed, it excited me to have the opportunity to influence the system in such meaningful work. We are a district that serves approximately 6,400 students, and I knew we needed to begin by working with the adults in the school community. Our District had the benefit of creating a partnership with the University of Missouri for our work through a grant, and that partnership helped to get the ball rolling. I went directly to my Adaptive Schools Sourcebook to get my thinking around leading a team around trauma, and was invigorated by the words of Garmston and Wellman, “Self-organization develops through meaningful adult interactions about students, student work, and the purposes and processes of schooling. To be productive, such interactions must be infused with and guided by shared values and norms of collaboration….At times the work is messy and non-rational. Habitual, linear ways of thinking will work for some issues but not for the increasingly complex and ill-structured problems that beset many schools today.”

Our team of 23 people, comprised of counselors, teachers, and administrators, has leaned heavily on the work from trauma experts: Dr. Susan Craig, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and Paul Tough. We have relied equally as heavily on Adaptive Schools strategies to do the learning and many of the strategies can be utilized in the classroom setting to work with students who are not self-regulating. Our journey, really, has been a double track agenda!

We are working with teachers to be more cognizant of the Norm of Collaboration skill of pausing. The more we collectively discover situations where the pause can be so powerful, the more people are seeing its value to de-escalate behaviors and diffuse potential blow-ups in classrooms. Teachers are seeing the importance of the pause when working with students struggling to self-regulate. The team is working with other adults in the system so they can show students the power of a pause to help in self-regulation as they layer that with breathing techniques. A place in the building or in a classroom where students can have a moment before going back into the hustle and bustle, the commotion of everyday life—is a tangible place for the pause. We need to reflect on how we do business and use this norm to better connect with our students to help them be more successful in our system.

Although the pause is taught as a norm of collaboration, I like to think of it also as a skill that can be used for situations that are heavy laden with anxiety and fear for our students of trauma. Explicitly teaching pausing to both the adults in the system and students in the system can truly be life altering.

Garmston, Robert, and Bruce Wellman. The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2013.
Books on Trauma that have been helpful in our work on becoming trauma informed:
Craig, Susan. Trauma-Sensitive Schools for the Adolescent Years. Teachers College Press, 2017.
Harris, Nadine Burke. The Deepest Well. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
Tough, Paul. Helping Children Succeed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.