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Inspire/Harmony Webinar: Building a Climate of Trauma Responsiveness

               For the May webinar, Harmony and Inspire presented on how social-emotional learning could be used to improve climate and mitigate the effects on trauma in a student’s life. This presentation was led by Dr. Barzanna White, a child psychologist of Caddo Parish School District in Louisiana, who also acts as the prevention coordinator and lead staff on climate transformation. In this presentation, she covered some of the basic information on trauma during childhood, the effects of trauma on learning, and practical strategies for educators to utilize.
                One of the first pieces to the webinar was a discussion on what trauma is and some important characteristics of childhood and adolescent trauma. The talk focused on how real or perceived trauma can have similar effects on physical health, as the brain responds with stress hormones to deal with the situation at hand. For children who are exposed to multiple types of trauma or a consistently unstable environment, this can drastically alter their perceptions on safety and their lifelong health. A previous landmark study centered on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) found that multiple long-term mental and physical outcomes could be correlated with these experiences children had before the age of 18. During this portion of the presentation, complex-Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was explained as a mental health response that can arise from the consistent introduction of stressful events throughout a child’s environment.
                From there, Dr. White discussed how trauma influences the student’s learning capacity. When a student perceives consistent threats due to trauma, they are utilizing the limbic brain (feeling/acting) rather than the neocortex (thinking). In this way, the student is not able to fully comprehend what is taught to them as the brain is prioritizing one’s safety over any incoming material. Students may also be exhibiting a variety of emotional responses to the threat of danger, which can instill a reaction that can also hinder the student. For instance, students may be seen as defiant or distant which may cause a teacher to punish the student or to categorize the student as uninterested or unmotivated. Lastly, the impact of consistent trauma can affect one’s executive functioning which is crucial to the organization of information received and the development of strong decision-making skills.
                There were some strong strategies discussed for those who want to make meaningful strides in supporting students who experience trauma and preventing future trauma. One of the first things Dr. White encouraged people to explore is reframing how students are viewed and question what is going on with them rather than emotionally responding with anger/dismissal due to decisions they are making. Another key aspect to this discussion is developing emotional intelligence by focusing in on activities that improve each of five key competencies: relationship skills, self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and effective decision-making skills. In addition, administrators can work with educators to build social-emotional learning activities such as breathwork and mindfulness into their school year planning as this has been shown to improve assessment scores and academic year outcomes. Daily activities that can be conducted by educators include spotting and planning for triggers in the classroom, taking other people’s perspective to better understand emotions present, and working with students to develop personal goals and self-awareness through self-reflection activities.
                Trauma is part of many students’ lives and the outcomes can be quite different based on personality, preventive risk factors, and the presence of positive experiences/supports. Educators can make a difference in the life of a student who is experiencing trauma so that they can succeed in the classroom and beyond. For more information on other Inspire/Harmony monthly webinars, please click on this link: Link. To see the full webinar and the variety of resources presented by Dr. White, please click on this link: Link.
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