At least 60 percent of students that enter our classrooms daily have been impacted by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Many of these students are impacted by chronic stress that impacts their ability to function successfully at school.
These kids and young adults are at a great disadvantage in their social development and ability to regulate healthily. They need caring adult relationships to help regulate their nervous system and provide opportunities for their brains to calm down so that they can learn and problem-solve within and beyond the school environment.
Research tells us that a higher percentage of kids who experience chronic stress may fail in school and struggle in life without a caring adult in their lives to model and teach the skills that will help these students move from hopelessness to HOPE (Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences).
When we look at the schools that have had the courage to change their mindset from a traditional approach rooted in fear and punishment, we see students making significant changes in their behavior and academic achievement. When we review the data, positive development clearly happens within a trauma-responsive school model
Research also shows traditional practices contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline for students of color and students who do not have a caring adult providing resilience and hope in their lives. The data is consistent with schools that have committed to becoming trauma-informed: discipline office referrals significantly decrease, attendance rates increase, student engagement increases, and graduation rates rise.
Why wouldn’t we attract more support for these daily practices and cultures of compassion? And yet, despite the research, we continue to hold tightly to our traditional practices, which I call riding the dead horse. When we dismount from the dead horse, we realize that we have experienced no growth and are at the same spot as before. Following the research, trauma-responsive schools succeed in areas other schools do not seem possible.
From my professional experience, if we do not make the necessary changes, then we will continue to fail students and staff. It is time to take a hard look in the mirror to see how we can make a difference in the lives of the kids we serve.
Former Principal, Lincoln High School, Walla Walla Washington