Building Trauma-Informed Systems

Trauma-informed principles should be applied in schools at the student, staff, and organizational level to support student success.This fall, SMCOE will assist local educators in creating trauma-informed systems to support their students, especially those who have experienced trauma in their lives.
 
A trauma-informed system is one that realizes the impact of trauma and pursues strategies and practices to reduce these effects. It is guided by six key principles: understanding trauma and stress, cultural humility and responsiveness, safety and predictability, compassion and dependability, empowerment and collaboration, and resilience and social emotional learning.
 
In order to create a trauma-informed system, these principles must be applied the organization as a whole, including students, school staff, and leadership.
 
“Ultimately, we have more and more students who have been impacted by trauma, whether it is the result of an adverse childhood experience or a current situation that is trauma inducing,” said Associate Superintendent of Student Services Jeneé Littrell. “Our students experience a lot of stressors, and our school environments can either reduce the impact of that trauma or induce it.”
 
According to a Center for Youth Wellness report, 61.7 percent of adults in California have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, which could include any type of abuse, neglect, or household dysfunction. Across the Bay Area, this number is 53.8 percent, indicating a potentially high level of trauma among our students. Unless school policies and practices are aligned with the trauma-informed principles, a school could inadvertently trigger a student’s trauma and cause negative behaviors or learning experiences.
 
On September 28, SMCOE along with the San Mateo County School Boards Association (SMCSBA) and the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) is co-sponsoring an educational conference, How Educators Can Create Trauma-Informed Systems in their School Communities, where attendees can gain a deeper understanding of trauma and stress, discover how trauma impacts their lives, and learn how school systems can better address trauma among their students.
 
“We want to create a space for our policymakers and leadership to really understand these principles, and understand that schools will never be able to achieve their goals without these principles in place for all students,” said Jeneé.
 
After the conference, districts will have an opportunity to go through a deeper training as a cohort, assess their policies and practices, and start doing things differently with an expert on hand to help. There are also plans to develop a training of trainers so that districts can own the concepts and go deeper into a program customized for their culture.
 
Another initiative that has a long history at SMCOE is RESPECT! 24/7, an annual event focused on creating positive school climate environments that are respectful, bully-free, and help students feel safe and connected. This year’s theme is restorative practices, which is “an effective way to disrupt how schools can at times be trauma inducing,” said Jeneé. “You are still holding students accountable, but you are creating a community where they are not going to be disengaged or sent away. They are going to be supported.”


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