Trauma Took Me to School

Trauma Took Me to School

Raising Traumatized Minds
I didn’t set out to become an expert on childhood trauma. But I did choose to adopt. And this journey, taken together with my wife and children, has led me into deep, deep waters. I’ll be more clear:  Trauma took me to school.

Like all parents, I want the absolute best for my kids. I want to see them thrive. As a loving father, I am charged with guiding and teaching and supporting my kids. For our family, this has required far more than rides to soccer, help on homework and a balanced diet.

Because our children experienced significant, nay horrific, childhood trauma, our supportive efforts look much different. In addition to soccer practice, we’ve kept regular attachment therapy a priority. Along with annual well check-ups at the doctor, we’ve spent time with neuroscientists, interpreting brain maps. In addition to Fruity Pebble multi-vitamins, we’ve had to monitor psychotropic medication. And alongside teaching respect for elders, we’ve worked hard to give our kids skills for self-regulation.

In my own home:

  • My learning around this trauma and kids has approximated graduate level action-research.
  • My kids have functioned as master teachers.
  • Evenings of reading books about childhood trauma and attachment and brain functioning, have felt like cramming for finals.
  • Office hours with clinicians. therapists, and residential treatment staff have given our family hope, and taken us to school.

Impact on Teaching and Learning
And now, I bring this earned perspective and developing expertise to the world of education. Here, scores of children and families face similar challenges. The effects of trauma aren’t isolated to a child’s home experience, of course. Our kids, not just those fostered and adopted, bring trauma into our classrooms.

In fact, two million youth in our country are abused and neglected in our country each year. 1 in 5 children and adolescents suffer from mental illness. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, calls trauma, our most urgent public health issue.

Here’s how it plays out: We know (via the Ace study) that early abuse and neglect disrupts healthy functioning of the physiological systems. It ends up ravaging the physical and mental health of young people. It cripples their ability to function well socially. And it rewires the brain, seriously impairing areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. With only limited capacity to stay self-regulated, learning in our classrooms suffer.

But van der Kolk reminds us that, “…we [now] have the knowledge necessary to respond effectively” (358).

The Charge
As educators, we have a responsibility to be trauma-informed. Beyond being informed, I believe that our school communities should be trauma-equipped. That is, we should employ practices, that we know to be effective, with kids who have faced early life trauma.

In the words of van der Kolk, “The greatest hope for traumatized, abused, and neglected children is to receive a good education in schools where they are seen and known, where they learn to regulate themselves, and where they can develop a sense of agency” (353).

I want to play a role in helping learning communities like mine accept the challenge to be #trauma-equipped. Will you join me on this journey of preparation and understanding?


Photo by Ian Burt via Flickr.

Six Administrative Moves that Encourage Co-Teaching Brilliance

Six Administrative Moves that Encourage Co-Teaching Brilliance

Administrators have a critical role to play in the setup, support, and celebration of exemplary co-teaching on their campuses.  Here’s why:

When teachers collaborate effectively, students are the real winners!


If we are serious about reaching all students, then we need to set up teachers (and co-teachers) for success.  As administrators, here are some concrete action items you can employ to increase the chances for co-teaching brilliance on your campus!

1. Become a purposeful matchmaker.

As a college basketball coach, a central challenge I faced was putting the right mix of 5 players on the court, at the same time. Decisions weren’t always about talent or seniority. Chemistry and decision-making were critical factors too. As school leaders, we should use a variety of factors before we pair co-teachers together.

2. Crank that master calendar.

The master calendar, at any school, can be a bear. Competing priorities, current staffing, and enrollment demographics can create some serious challenges. I am suggesting that administrators take extra efforts to make the most promising teacher pairings a reality.

3. Prioritize a shared prep period.

In the world of sports, we would never put players on the field/ court together, who have never practiced together. Our teachers deserve the chance to plan together, assess together, and be together (without students). With strategic scheduling, we can make this happen.

4. Consider campus location in classroom assignments.

Location. Location. Location. If shared planning time is limited for co-teachers, we can at least do our best to put them in the same region of campus. When teachers share physical space, they are more likely to share updates about students and function as a team.

5. Host a meet up.

Leading up to the first day of school, administrators map out time for their staff to include professional development, classroom prep, and team building activities. Co-teacher pairings should not come as a surprise on the first day of school. Instead, administrators should roll out the pairings, with some rationale, and even more relational runway. Prospective co-teachers should have the chance to get to know one another, on both personal and professional levels. This might take some prompting from administrators through orchestrated activities. Whatever efforts are taken, the benefit will be apparent. Co-teachers, like parents, work most effectively when they: 1) know one another well 2) take advantage of one another’s strengths and 3) share mutual respect for one another.

6. Check-IN and resource-UP.

Many co-teacher pairings will thrive without much support. We work with passionate and skillful teachers who want the best for kids. But administrators can also expect some challenges to collaboration. As leaders, it is our job to keep a pulse on these partnerships. We should be prepared to help teachers work through conflict and toward better collaboration. And we should always be asking, “What do you need to maximize learning for your students?”

Administrative actions make a marked difference for teachers who are asked to co-teach.  What are “moves” you made this school year to benefit students and support teachers?

Image by Campaign Bootcamp via Flickr.

Getting ‘Set Up’ with a Co-Teacher

Getting ‘Set Up’ with a Co-Teacher

Co-teaching can feel a bit like an arranged marriage at first.
Administrators (like parents) set you up. The partnership is purposeful in nature, namely to support students.  And…it has to work.

He burst into my door, right along with the kids, shortly before the first school bell of the new school year. “You and I are going to be working together this year,” he stated matter-of-factly, hand stretched out to shake. It wasn’t a choice.  Without warning.  Without a runway.  Without fanfare.

Just like that…we became an instructional couple. 

In an honest moment, I knew this was a good thing for my students. I needed the help desperately. Thirteen, of thirty students on my roster, had special needs and formal Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).  This ratio (43%) of students with special needs in a single class, is high by any standard (I’ve since learned that 33% is the upper threshold in our district). Students deserve quality support. To deliver for them, I had to get over some relational awkwardness, territorial tendencies, and inexperience, real fast.

As the lead teacher of record, I had a whole new set of questions to answer in the coming days.

How could this look in our classroom?  Multiple models exist for support of students with special needs in the general education classroom. The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, highlights five models. Each has its own benefits and challenges associated with it.

  • Team Teaching is a model where teachers share the instructional role, playing off one another in real time.
  • In a One Teach/ One Support model, one of the teachers leads instruction, while the other teacher supports students who need additional help, gathers data, or assists in the management of the classroom.
  • Parallel Teaching happens when a classroom is split into two and both teachers are teaching the same lessons in different parts of the classroom.
  • Station Teaching features both teachers, working in small groups of children who rotate.
  • In an Alternative Teaching format, one teacher works with students in a small group while the other teacher leads whole class instruction. The small group of students in this case are engaged in either remediation or enrichment.

How/ when will we communicate best?
It seems obvious that having a shared prep period would be most advantageous, allowing co-teachers to plan, assess, and reflect together. In a short exchange, we realized that our prep periods do not line up. Big bummer.

How much co-planning will precede the co-teaching?
Since we do not share a prep period, we will need to collaborate before or after school. While effective teachers assume that work exists outside contract hours, some teachers resist collaboration outside traditional school hours. Administrators cannot, by contract, demand it. Uh-oh.

How are other teachers collaborating in a way that maximizes student benefit?
I made a beeline to the most experienced and effective teacher on campus, during my lunch. “You’ve worked with this teacher before. What approach do you guys take in your Math class? What is working for you?” This conversation was helpful, for sure.

But I still had other questions, like:

  • How will I get to know this teacher?
  • Is the co-teacher highly qualified in my content area?
  • What strengths does this teacher come to our classroom with?
  • What will I need to just “get over?”

As an aspiring school leader, I have an additional question that should be answered well.
How can administrators facilitate the cooperation of co-teachers on their campuses?

I intend to take my best shot at this in my next post.

What are your experiences setting up and supporting co-teachers?


Image by Scott Webb via Unsplash.