Making The Shift To A Trauma-Informed School: Part II

In our last post on trauma-informed practices in Tennessee, Mathew Portell, principal at Fall-Hamilton Elementary, shared how his work in this area has impacted students at his school in Nashville.

Hayley Cloud

This week, Hayley Cloud, a third grade teacher and instructional coach at West Chester Elementary in Henderson, TN, shares the beginning of her school’s journey with trauma-informed practices what they hope to learn along the way.

By Hayley Cloud

For six years, I taught third grade. Each year, I learned a bit more about the particulars of teaching. I worked to develop caring relationships with my twenty-something students, and I did what all teachers do: I modeled, guided, questioned, provided feedback, and assessed. In year seven, my role shifted from full-time teacher to a hybrid role, where I now serve as a teacher for part of the day and our school’s instructional support coach for the other part. This shift has allowed me to go from looking through a narrowed lens at the twenty-something students in my classroom to seeing our entire school through a much broader lens. This wider view includes highly-qualified teachers, dedicated leaders, high expectations, effective disciplinary practices, and classrooms full of students with the desire and ability to learn. What I’ve also noticed is that many of them have something obstructing their learning path.

Our school, West Chester Elementary School, is located in Henderson and serves a high percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Of the 285 students we serve, 55% of our students fall below the poverty line. In recent years, we have seen a definite uptick in the numbers of our kids who have experienced trauma and display negative behaviors, frequent outbursts, depression and anxiety, lower attendance, and lack of social skills. These types of behaviors resulting from trauma are directly impacting our students’ ability to learn, as well as that of the students around them.

Living in a small town has its rewards. There’s a strong sense of community. You really get to know students and families, because chances are you knew them before they ever stepped foot in your classroom. However, as a rural district in Southwest TN, our geographic distance from big-city opportunities can sometimes feel as if we are teaching in an education desert. West Chester faculty, staff, and students’ families don’t have access to the high-quality resources and training we need to better educate stakeholders and implement trauma-informed approaches. That’s why our school applied for the Trauma-Informed Schools Training Grant offered by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE).

After applying and being selected as one of 70 schools across the state to receive the grant, we began our journey to being a trauma-informed school. TDOE is providing training and supports to assist our school in helping students reach their full potential through conducting regional trainings, providing curriculum and resources, collecting and managing data, and providing technical support over a two-year long process.

As we begin this work, we have some clear lessons we want to learn:

  • How can we use the strategies we learn to support students’ social-emotional health while also providing the academic instruction they need? Trauma can make it difficult for students to learn, and our school has recognized that. The next step is to learn how to meet their social-emotional needs so that we can meet their instructional needs.
  • How do we get our community involved? An advantage of living in a rural community is that schools are typically at the center of it. Community engagement is a significant part to supporting students’ social-emotional health. Therefore, it is important that as we learn, we get our community involved.
  • How can we create structures and systems that support relationship-building? Strong relationships are key to building effective schools, and I’ve witnessed relationships impact both kids and adults. However, finding the time to build them can be a challenge.
  • Is there a place for considering teachers’ social and emotional health as well? As with any profession, there are emotional and physical demands of teaching. Teacher well-being is important too, and it is often overlooked. If we want to support students’ social-emotional health, we must model the behaviors that we want for our students.

Our school’s motto is “Every kid, every lesson, every day.” We know reaching every kid every day becomes a much harder task if they are struggling with traumatic stress. Through this grant opportunity, our school will have access to interventions and supports to become a trauma-informed school, ensuring our teachers are able to deliver instruction with minimal interruptions and can employ a variety of strategies to teach effective communication, empathy, respect, and understanding for “every kid, every lesson, every day.”