OUR WORLD IS CHANGING, WHY AREN'T WE GIVING OUR TEACHERS THE TOOLS NECESSARY TO CHANGE WITH IT?
The Trauma in our Systems
National data indicate a high prevalence of children’s exposure to trauma and to adverse childhood experiences within their community and family systems. One of four children will experience or witness a traumatic event before he or she turns four (National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention, 2012). Sixty percent of youth 17 and younger have been directly exposed to crime or abuse and 40% reported experiencing physical assault at their home (Finkelhor, Turner, Shattuck, & Hamby, 2013). Traumatized children and youth struggle with emotional regulation and stress, often resulting in their displaying behaviors that increase enmity and tension in all corners of the school environment. According to the U.S. Department of Education, K-12 public schools nationally experienced, in one recent year alone, well over one million violent events on campus, including fights, with or without weapons, threats of physical attack, and various forms of bullying behavior. Such behaviors have a profound influence on the dynamics within the school system, and create a highly stressful and toxic environment.
Working in a highly stressful environment on a daily basis exposes school personnel (e.g. teachers, administration, nurses) to, at minimum, burnout, and, worse, to vicarious trauma -- a silent phenomenon that afflicts those who frequently work with traumatized populations.
Studies affirm the detrimental effect of vicarious trauma on school personnel, with staff reporting high levels of stress (Borntrager et al., 2012) and severe emotional consequences, including symptoms associated with PTSD (Collie, Shapka, & Perry, 2012). When considering that some adults have their own trauma history, vicarious trauma and toxic stress become critical occupational hazards for school personnel in our school system. Symptoms of toxic stress and of vicarious trauma often manifest at all levels the person’s daily functioning: physically, cognitively, emotionally, behaviorally, and spiritually.
There is an urgent need for understanding the cycles of trauma and of vicarious trauma and toxic stress so that students and faculty do not continually re-traumatize one another, despite all good intentions. Schoolteachers and faculty need to be able to self-identify the symptoms of trauma and to have the correct intervention strategies to reduce toxic stress in the school environment. Neglecting to intervene through the use of trauma-informed methods, and using punitive or traditional disciplinary or other interventions aimed at modifying behaviors -- predisposes school personnel to re-traumatizing their students and to being re-traumatized themselves. Moreover, adults who attempt to mitigate their own feelings of stress without being correctly guided through the lens of trauma-informed care may, in fact, experience increased symptoms of distress.
As such, this training is aimed at educating teachers, faculty, administration, and school nurses on the effects of trauma and of exposure to toxic stress on the individual and on the school system; at guiding school personnel on how to self-identify trauma-related symptoms, and; at providing school personnel with practical hands-on skills to enhance self-care, wellbeing, and informed leadership.