Leading trauma-informed education in schools – key issues and strategies

Year: 2021

Author: Stokes, Helen, Brunzell, Tom

Type of paper: Individual Paper

This presentation will focus on key issues and strategies for leaders when implementing trauma informed educational practice in schools where many of the students are identified as trauma affected. School leaders (i.e., principals and their leadership teams) initially self-report they are crises fatigued.  Consequently, school leaders, particularly in communities contenting with systemic educational inequity, require ongoing practice development to lead the education of trauma-affected students, many of which arrive at school with significant unmet learning and social emotional needs.  In the current geopolitical environment of arising uncertainty within communities, the importance of bolstering school leadership practice takes on greater urgency.  Particularly in the Australian context wherein communities are still recovering from the devastating impacts of bushfires and the significant disruption Covid-19 to ‘school as usual’, the role of school leadership has quickly become even more complex beyond the normal day-to-day crises and triage resulting from students’ escalation, resistance and dysregulation.Trauma-aware perspectives prompt both leaders and teachers to reflect on the impacts of trauma on learning, the underlying causes of student behaviour, and then to embed whole-school strategies to support the learning and growth of their students. We will draw on a body of work we have developed, delivered and researched over the last five years. This work was based a systematic literature review of trauma-aware practice models and of the student wellbeing literature. A new evidence-informed conceptual model was developed to meet dual-concerns within the classroom for healing and growth: trauma-informed positive education (TIPE; Brunzell, Stokes, & Waters, 2016) The aim of this conceptual model is that leaders, teachers and staff in the school should have opportunities to understand the impacts of childhood trauma on learning and to apply this learning as strategies across the school aimed at creating consistent and predictable environments in which students can effectively learn (Stokes and Brunzell, 2019). This conceptual model has been adapted to become a practice model of trauma informed positive education which sits in a broader body of trauma aware approaches that have been researched and evaluated (Berger 2019). From the research based on the practice delivery of this model in schools (Stokes & Turnbull, 2016; Stokes, Kern, Turnbull, Forster, & Farrelly 2019, Stokes et al., 2019) we will draw out the issues facing leaders and teachers. We will then draw together some of the key strategies that leaders can implement to move their school from being trauma affected to trauma aware.