BY MATT MACKINDER
Clarkston News Staff Writer
For a team from North Sashabaw Elementary School, last month’s mid-winter break was a chance to keep learning.
Principal Jennifer Johnson, Social Emotional Coach Kristina Hoover, Social Worker Kayle Parker, fourth-grade teacher Molly Hothem and kindergarten teacher Maddie Spencer joined hundreds of other educators in Washington D.C. to learn more about trauma-informed education at the 2019 Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools Conference.
According to traumainformedschool.us, “a trauma-informed school is characterized by an understanding and a commitment of all teachers and staff to an awareness of how trauma affects students of trauma (which according to recent studies are 40% of all students). Trauma-informed teachers and staff are aware of trauma’s impact on students’ behavior, their relationships, their ability or inability to self-regulate behavior, and how that affects their classroom behavior.
“An important shift in trauma informed schools is that instead of labeling and engaging in “battle” with non-performing” and “non-compliant” students, questions are asked regarding possible reasons for explaining the students’ behaviors. This results in a school that understands and recognizes that a student’s behavior is shaped by their former life experiences; and drives a response for addressing, (in a positive and affirming manner), the students’ needs and challenges.”
Johnson said going to the conference is part of the district’s efforts to educate the “whole child.”
“One way we can do this is to increase our knowledge and understanding of what it means to support and grow students’ social, emotional, and academic skills so that they have the tools to be healthy and positively engaged,” Johnson said. “At NSE, we have been taking a deep dive into understanding child mental health, neurobiology, and how variant levels of stress can impact learning or a student’s ability to be present for learning. Along this learning journey, I became connected to the Michigan Ace Initiative and have since become a Master ACE Trainer. Often times, conferences and learning opportunities will be shared across this network and so I became aware of this conference through this connection.”
In the nation’s capital, the basis of the conference was very appealing to Johnson.
“The conference focused on several things from learning about the impacts of toxic stress and chronic adversity, to how these kinds of traumas can impact students’ sensory systems and how a student may approach relationships with peers and adults,” said Johnson. “We know that understanding how to manage stress is a critical life skill for kids, but we also know that sometimes that stress can reach an intolerable point and if it is pervasive, that kind of stress, over time, can impact neurobiology, brain development, health outcomes, and learning.
“What we also know is that we can buffer and mitigate the effects of toxic stress through kind, caring relationships with kids, supporting families during difficult times, and through the design of our school environment so that kids not only are safe, but feel safe with predictable routines and systems.”
Johnson is looking to begin implementing knowledge she took from the conference soon enough.
“We brought back so much information from this conference and we made a few connections with other schools around the country who are doing this same work,” Johnson said. “One of the things we will be looking to introduce to students is learning about their own brain and what happens to the brain when it feels stress and how can we calm our brains if we start to feel so stressed, worried, or anxious about something to the point that we are no longer in that zone for learning.
“The staff at NSE is a committed group who seek to understand and grow professionally so they can provide the best opportunities and evidence-based practices that will help our kids develop resilience, positively contribute to our world, and attain critical academic skills that will help them to be successful now and in the future. “