Canby schools bring trauma informed strategies to the classroom
At a recent in-service training, Canby School District welcomed keynote speaker Dr. Mandy Davis, co-director of Trauma Informed Oregon; and she seems to have left an impression.
She discussed the need for trauma informed practices in schools. This involves understanding, recognizing and responding to the effects of all types of trauma, according to 3-2-1 Insights, a training resource that Canby schools will be using throughout the year.
Davis, who holds a bachelor's, a master's and a doctorate in social work, devoted much of her academic studies to understanding effective ways to intervene and prevent violence and to help those who experience trauma.
"I may not be able to prevent what has happened to someone but I can sure change how we provide support so we do not cause more harm," Davis said. "This is what Trauma Informed Care is: helping us to recognize and address from within our organizations and systems."
Students in Canby School District have experienced a number of different types of trauma according to Sheryl Lipski, the director of teaching and learning.
"We have kids who have parents who are incarcerated," Lipski said. "We have kids who experience domestic violence. We have kids who experience homelessness and survival needs. And we have kids who experience abuse on many levels—both physical and emotional. And there's more."
Trauma can be devastating for kids. It can cause social impairment, lead to health risk behaviors and impede learning.
"What we know about students and what the research shows us that kids who are hungry have a hard time concentrating, kids who are concerned about safety have a hard time concentrating, kids who don't feel like they belong or that they are connected have a hard time being present and learning," Lipski said. "So the more that we can incorporate strategies into our everyday work with students…then the better they're going to access those lessons that we want to teach them."
The problem is that teachers can't always pinpoint the victims of trauma in a classroom full of students.
"We may not know what has happened to a student and there are different sources of toxic stress from experiencing systemic oppression, a natural disaster, or witnessing domestic violence," Davis said. "Trauma Informed Care asks us to take a universal precaution approach – meaning we assume those we are working with have experienced adversity and trauma."
This universal approach is a safe bet since research shows that trauma informed practices not only benefit those who have experienced trauma, but they're are supportive for all students.
Of the strategies she teaches, Davis noted that a critical component is simply providing a safe place for students.
So Canby School District's staff members are taking the new strategies back to their schools.
At Canby High, English teacher Gretchen Benner has implemented little tweaks in her day to day dealings with students. Now, instead of offering two choices to students who are having behavioral problems, she throws out a third.
"One of the things that she pointed out is that some students, because of trauma, feel like two choices actually isn't enough because they can be trying to figure out too much: like what's the right choice, what do I want people to see?" Benner said. "And actually, to add a third choice helps lower the anxiety of making a 'right' choice versus the choice that will actually work."
At Carus Elementary, they've implemented a school-wide morning meeting focused on connecting with each student. Even staff members who don't have classrooms visit the meetings.
"Every classroom starts their day with up to a 30-minute morning meeting where they're very purposeful about connecting with each kid, being really purposeful about a greeting and a sharing opportunity and activity just to make kids feel really safe the moment they walk through the door," said Carus Principal Sam Thompson.
At Knight Elementary, they've shifted some of their practices.
"Things like…a student comes a little late to school, instead of handing them a tardy slip (they already know they're late, right?), the little note says, 'We're glad you're here,'" said Knight Principal Christine Taylor.
Changes are already happening in the schools, and the district is committed to ongoing training for staff members. Lipski hopes that the impact is seen not only in the schools, but in the broader community.
"On a broad level, I feel like school districts in general reflect their communities, so as we grow in our education and understanding of different issues that are in front of our students today, it can't help but permeate the community."