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Guest Contributor Jul 8, 2021 9:23:00 AM 4 min read

How We Talk Trauma in Our School Communities

By: Jethro Jones

About two months ago, I released a whitepaper on Trauma and, when I released it, I asked for phone numbers so I could call and talk to educators. The results have been amazing and insightful.

I've talked with principals, counselors, social workers, and teachers all across the globe, and each person had their own interesting story. There are some common themes, some surprising, some rather obvious. I'd like to share what I've learned with you. And, if you would like to share what you're experiencing, I'd love to hear it.

Collective Trauma

What we've all experienced in the last 18 months is collective trauma related to the coronavirus pandemic. We've all experienced an intense disruption of our lives regardless of whether or not we were directly, personally affected by Covid-19. But, while we have all experienced disruption, that doesn't mean that we have all experienced it in the same way. 

For some families, 2020 was a great year, a year to be remembered and cherished for how it brought them closer. One leader in San Diego shared that she has never seen so many dads and grandpas around. It's bad they're not working but good for their kids to have adult male role models around when that has not been the case for her community.

Remember back before 2020 when at the summer and winter breaks, people would post things about how some kids weren't looking forward to a break, that school was their safe place? Well, we've now had nearly a full school year in many places of kids not coming to school.

Some families have had a completely devastating 2020 (and part of 2021) and cannot wait to get back to how things were before.

In your school, you have someone on each end of that spectrum and everywhere in between.

Still Overwhelmed & Private

Another common theme I heard in my discussions focused on the overwhelm teachers and principals are still feeling. Kids in Michigan are getting sick of the cohorts. Kids in South London were just getting back into the swing of things when the second lockdown over there caused them to feel like the rug was pulled out from under them.

Parents are feeling desperate and are talking about how they just need things to go back to normal because they are struggling.

A few school leaders expressed that teachers were not talking about how they're doing. These leaders are worried that teachers and kids aren't handling this well and they want to have more support for their learners, but they're also afraid of some things.

Fears

While nearly everyone I talked with had some kids in school at some point, there are still people around the world that have not been to school since February 2020!

Behavior

When kids come back, what is behavior going to look like? Certainly kids (and teachers) are not going to be accustomed to being around so many people and sitting through lessons all day. There is a real need to adapt to the needs of our students and teachers.

Trauma responses

Since everyone has experienced collective trauma, what is this going to look like for us when it comes to teaching our kids how to self-regulate?

Honeymoon period

Those who were in school, experienced a honeymoon period, where kids were doing well and happy to be back. How long is that going to last in the fall before people can't keep it together anymore?

Coming back at all

Many expressed a fear about coming back in general. What if the virus has not run its course yet? What if we have another outbreak, and need to shut down schools again? What if we are yo-yo'd back and forth without consistency?

Training teachers

Professional development in most schools this year has been about survival, not about developing skills. And certainly there has been a dearth of teaching about how to help kids who are struggling with trauma. How are we going to train all the teachers effectively? Do we even have the skills to do so?

Can we learn from this?

It may sound silly, but there has been some trauma around changing technology. Early on in the pandemic one teacher lamented to me that teaching online was sucking the life out of his soul. He absolutely hated it. He got his energy from being around kids and interacting with them.

Some teachers and students have really struggled with connecting virtually, both emotionally and technologically.

Melanie Kells, a chemistry and technology teacher in Riga, Latvia questioned whether we could actually make better pedagogical decisions after this. Will we rush to get back to where we were, or will we implement effective strategies?

Some book recommendations

There were a few great book recommendations that I got, so I'm sharing them here:

Bruce Perry & Oprah Winfrey's new book: What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing

Melissa Sadin - Dr. Melissa Sadin and Nathan Levy's Teachers' Guide to Trauma: 20 things kids with trauma wish their teachers knew

Pete Hall & Kristen Souers - Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom

The Body Keeps the Score

Mindsight

The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog

And, either of Edith Eger's books  

About Jethro Jones

Jethro Jones is a long-time school leader and consultant who helps schools and districts in the US to find simple solutions to complex problems.

He was named the Digital Principal of the Year in 2017 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, has been hosting the Transformative Principal podcast since 2013, and is author of the book School X: How principals can design a transformative school experience for students, teachers, parents – and themselves.

Learn more about the Transformative Principal Podcast and follow Jethro Jones on Twitter @jethrojones

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