For too long, teachers have been told to simply do the best they can with what they have, untrained and under-resourced to address the sometimes serious mental, social and emotional health issues of their students.  Finally, education and health leaders have begun to come together to address trauma, violence, and other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that research now proves do indeed impact learning heavily – but also can be successfully mitigated.


Addressing trauma may not be what all educators, school staff, and administrators signed up for, but unfortunately, in meeting students where they are, effectively addressing trauma is a necessary part of doing the job well.  The good news is that educators don’t have to do it alone.


More than a buzzword approach to educating and caring for the whole child, trauma-informed practice promises to help school communities effectively address adverse childhood experiences.  ACEs are defined by the CT Department of Public Health as “traumatic events within the household that are widely believed to increase susceptibility for poor outcomes in adulthood”.


On May 24th, the Trauma-Informed School Mental Health Symposium at UConn’s Neag School convened Connecticut experts, advocates, and leaders from multiple sectors to share key learnings on how to better address trauma in schools and beyond.  The event was co-hosted by seven partner organizations:  the Child Health and Development Institute (CHDI); Capitol Region Education Council (CREC); UConn Neag School of Education; Clifford Beers Clinic; UConn Collaboratory on School and Child Health; the Ana Grace Project; and the CT State Department of Education. Over 100 experts came from across the state.


Here are some key learnings from the Symposium, noting that, given the complexity of the problems, some lines of reasoning lead to answers … while others only raise more questions:


Silos Don’t Work in Addressing Trauma.  Despite advances in research and practice (and a trending interest in trauma-informed practice), we have not yet accepted a different role for education to address barriers to learning.  Bridges must be built between schools, mental health providers, families, and communities to address trauma in K-12 students.


Changing How Teachers Teach Requires Changing How Teachers Learn to Teach.  What impact will changes to how teachers learn to teach have on how students learn and grow?  How can we better support and prepare educators coming into difficult-to-impossible-to-succeed circumstances – when success for our children is necessary but remains impossibly elusive?

Educators can’t do this alone, and they should not be under-resourced, under-trained or otherwise left to fend for themselves.  How might the partnerships leading to new modes of teaching and managing schools alter the balance of resources and change the system forever, not just on a program basis?



The Bottom Line


The big question driving current concerns is “How will Hartford ensure both proper care and quality education for the whole child – reaching every single one?”


The big idea presented at the UConn Symposium was that the path to proper care for the whole child must travel through the land of trauma-informed practice.  Not only is this the case, but the need to move on this is urgent.


Yet our sense of urgency cannot overcome the need to get it right.


If we have any hope of living up to the HPS tagline of “every student thrives and every school is high performing,” really smart and effective implementation will be needed.  When Alice Forrester of the Clifford Beers Clinic says, “This is a movement, not a program,” we realize that the opportunity here is to change culture, not just provide more training.  But, do we know how to do that?  Time will tell.  Let’s all prepare to get on board.