The subject of student mental health overflows on Twitter, educational for leadership conferences. It doesn’t seem that this trend will be dying out any time soon. More and more, we are reminded that our students have stressors that influence them outside of our school hallways. Sometimes they are dark things that wreak havoc, leaving students all but emotionally spent by the time they reach their desk in the morning on any given school day. Of course, we have always known that life troubles can exist for some of our students, maybe we’ve even been in touch with a social worker or two regarding the welfare of one or more of our students. What we may underestimate though, is how many of our students are operating attempts to socialize and interact with ACEs hindering their ability to do so successfully. The idea that adverse childhood experiences are more common than not, calls for a need in trauma informed schools going forward if, ESSA is going to stay true to its name.
The list of nine adverse childhood experiences are:
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
- mental illness of a household member
- problematic drinking or alcoholism of a household member
- illegal street or prescription drug use by a household member
- divorce or separation of a parent
- domestic violence towards a parent
- incarceration of a household member
Most people have dealt with at least one of these in their lifetime as a child. In fact, the study done in Minnesota by Dr. Anda and Dr. Felitti in 1997 showed that 67% of the 17,000 participants in their study had one or more. How we emotionally deal with any kind of trauma in our lives affects us physically and emotionally. It especially affects how we deal with everyday stress, like being able to take a test, and how we perceive our peers and people in authority.
Most would agree this is true, but this common knowledge tends to go right out the window when we are dealing with a surly student who refuses to be respectful and join the flow of the classroom. What if most, if not all, of your “problem kids” were challenging because of distressing situations they were facing at home? If you knew your chief classroom troublemaker was acting out because he was being physically or emotionally abused by a parent, would you change how you react to him or her? Are you able to focus and pay attention when you have worries on your mind? How does stress affect your ability to deal with other adults? These are all the things your students are trying to live with when they enter your classroom. We shouldn’t expect that children should be able to deal with stress and emotional distress better than your average adult.
Trauma Informed Schools And Their Success Starts With Leadership
Our students don’t have signs hovering over their heads to tell us what ACEs they might be dealing with. But how adults in the building deal with students who are being challenged by them needs to change. All around America, our school districts are buying into the need to get trained on how become a district who has trauma informed schools. Mental health issues and trauma go hand-in-hand. If we want to impact one, we must deal with the other. For today’s educator, that means no longer disciplining the behavior but helping to understand the offender and make them feel safe in our environments. For some students school may be the only time they do feel safe despite their actions.
Children dealing with more than one ACE can be working with social workers, services, your state’s Dept. of Social Services, or any other organization that intervenes on behalf of children facing trauma. Since children thrive in consistency, being linked with the other entities working with your students needs to happen in real time if any lasting effect is to take place. How does your district handle inter-service collaboration now?
Strategies, Collaboration, And Continued Measurement Of Progress = Success
Once a school district is properly fitted with trauma informed schools, strategies need to be put in place at a policy level as to how to identify students with ACEs, what needs to be done at the school level once one is identified, and how the educational team in place intends to help the student succeed. The challenge for trauma informed schools will be how to provide and share the information on the student with the appropriate parties assigned to help the student deal with adverse childhood trauma and how it affects their educational experience. The secondary consideration is centered around how progress will be monitored by school administration and how reporting on the data will be derived from most effectively.
What will matter the most is written strategies and goals, along with proper collaboration by all parties involved and the continued measurement of progress. School districts will also need to identify when strategies are not working and decide what the next level of intervention will be if they don’t. All this takes intentional commitment to helping those students with ACEs succeed in an educational environment, knowing that the trauma in their life will affect how the student sees their ability to do so.
Is your school district moving in the direction of trauma informed schools or has it already? How do you handle collaboration and measurement of progress now? eCare Vault is the first solution of its kind to help educational leaders, teachers, providers of services, and educational professionals come together to make something happen for their students. Being able to share documents, progress and challenges is a very real way that educators and students dealing with ACEs can win in the battle for success in education.