A trauma-informed school is one in which the adults in the school community (administrators, teachers, staff, parents and law enforcement) are prepared to recognize and respond supportively to those students who have been impacted by traumatic stress. However, a trauma-informed school is not simply about providing intervention strategies aimed at helping individual students recover from trauma. Such a school focuses on addressing the trauma at the systems-level, that is the entire school ecosystem.
A promising example of a school-based trauma-informed systems model is the Trauma Informed Systems (TIS) program, that has been adapted with leadership from the 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children & Youth and T2 Trauma Transformed, to train teachers, administrators and non-certified staff in 4 pilot schools in the Berkeley Unified School District in 2016-17. Adapting a TIS model that was successfully used to train the San Francisco Department of Public Health workforce, the Berkeley TIS model begins with a “TIS 101” half-day training followed by a series of “Learning Circle” communities of practice sessions.
The HEARTS program at the University of California, San Francisco is an influential example of a comprehensive, multi-level trauma-informed school model that targets children and adolescents with intervention and prevention work; trains the adult workforce in schools in trauma-sensitive practices; and works to improve school- and district-level policies and procedures.
Incorporating trauma-informed approaches into a school’s culture requires strategic planning on the part of administrators, training of the entire workforce (certified and classified staff), and implementing direct cognitive-based intervention strategies to help affected students.
To support these efforts, the school’s administration works to:
- Educate the school workforce on the effect of trauma and chronic stress on students’ ability to learn and retain information;
- Foster a safe and supportive school environment for the workforce through trauma-informed training, supportive counseling, and ongoing professional development for teachers and classified staff;
- Conduct annual comprehensive threat assessments; and
- Maintain open communication with students, families and the school workforce.
In addition, teachers can do their part by working with their students in developing healthy stress management and coping techniques, like deep breathing and meditation exercises; ensuring a positive and supportive classroom environment via desk arrangement, color, light, music, and scents; and finally, supporting a culture of community and respect in the classroom.