Examples of mindfulness activities, youth programs that include yoga, restorative circles and other strategies utilized in various classrooms fill education news articles across the country. These are what we are likely to hear about when we look for trauma-informed practices – the focus is on what is being done with the kids. However, becoming a trauma-informed organization is a process that runs much deeper and is much more than a few strategies. The Nine Facets ensure the training and adopted practices are more than a flash in the pan, but enduring, positive change. The comprehensive plan I describe here compared to the well-intended, but isolated tactics that the media features is as different as two forms of elemental carbon: A diamond endures forever while coal is easily incinerated.
As a consultant, I utilize these “Nine Facets” to comprise the map that will guide your District through the complexities of implementing significant change. The Nine Facets ensure your staff arrive at their destination together and become a highly-effective trauma-informed organization. In this blog article I explain what these Nine Facets are and why these overarching processes lead to a more comprehensive and sustainable approach for school organizations.
Facet Number One – Build a Task-Group or Steering Committee with Community Partners.
In New York State, this type of community-school planning team has been mandated for many years. The stakeholder model is still important and especially so when we are talking about the process of leading a school to new practices. There is quite a bit of research on the difficulties of change and school reforms. The process of becoming trauma-informed is no less difficult and requires much of the same best practices involved in other comprehensive reforms. The difference with efforts in trauma-informed implementation is the urgency of addressing a rising mental health crisis in our children. This task group with school officials should include liaisons from community partners in law enforcement, judicial, and/or legal services, mental health, medical/pediatric representation, pre-schools, youth organizations, wrap-around childcare, and local community leadership. My approach to this task group is to ensure those who serve in this capacity receive an orientation and in-depth training so each member understands well beyond their own area of expertise that they bring to the table. Once their orientation and initial training is complete, this leadership group has three tasks to perform.
The first task before beginning any training for staff, is to gather facts regarding the state of student mental health and trauma within your school and community. What is gathered should paint a picture of how students are impacted by trauma. In addition to school reports on attendance, discipline referrals, suspensions, and disaggregated student academic performance, a community scan should include reports on youth and crime, number of referrals to mental health, suicides, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and family dysfunction. I recommend schools include a school data manager with the skills and capacity to lead data analysis and have that data person also serve as a team member. A Nine Facet plan requires on-going data gathering and analysis. Monitoring your progress and measuring the impact of the training you put in place is essential to your successful implementation and crucial for a paradigm shift toward a truly trauma-informed culture.
The second task is to conduct an attitudinal survey of all adults in the organization to reveal any misinformation or biases that are detrimental to providing a trauma-informed school environment. This step includes surveying the initial team members themselves before their training. The survey I recommend is the ARTIC Scale Survey developed by the Traumatic Stress Institute with Tulane University. In my opinion, there is no other equivalent survey tool for measuring the effectiveness of training staff in becoming trauma-informed.
This survey is so important to the process, that I will only work with organizations who agree to administer this survey. Why? Because “Our Beliefs Shape Our Actions”. Most mental health organizations recognize that staff biases, misinformation, and assumptions have an impact on how they interact with the clients in their care. Misunderstanding can negatively shape expectations staff have for client behavior and how staff responds. There is no margin of error when working with traumatized youth and therefore measuring attitudes of staff must be part of the process to truthfully call your organization trauma-informed.
The third task is the decision-making and planning of training. The training calendar should span more than one year to ensure follow-through and seamless ongoing training. The team should review various training materials, determine which best serves their goals, find a provider and determine dates and logistics for the training. Yes, having been a district-level staff developer, I can tell you there’s a lot of work involved. I have invested years looking at training resources and can share the options and merits of each of the resources. Or I can just give them my preferred resource recommendations. Either way, a consultant can whittle the decision-making process down considerably saving both time and money.
Imbedded within this third task is the ongoing, sustainability factor of addressing incoming new staff and assessing training needs. I recommend identifying significant intervals to re-administer the ARTIC Scale survey of all staff about a year apart. Additionally when the team prepares a multi-year training plan, this naturally ensures the paradigm shift sustains momentum to become trauma-informed. When the entire organization is informed of the multi-year plan rather than a one-year cycle, staff will understand this is not another new flavor of the month. Everyone will realize this training is the fundamental basis for every aspect of school culture and how this organization will function from this point forward.
End of Part I – Build a Task-Group or Steering Committee
Go to Part II – Universal Precaution Approach