There were excellent topics in our reading this week and I had a hard time deciding between focusing on project based learning and helping traumatized kids learn. I chose the latter because this is an area that has impacted my teaching since I was student teaching and one that I feel I have grown to be an “accomplished novice” in.
I taught 3rd grade during my student teaching and one of my students was the type of lost little soul that makes you want to bring them home and save them. This little girl would come to school dressed like a rebellious teenager going out for an all nighter (or worse). Sometimes she would have on a full face of make up. She, at the age of 8, was already provocative and knew how to show off to the boys who thankfully were clueless. CPS knew this family well. My mentor teacher and I worked closely with the school counselor, nurse, and principal to try to help this girl, to teach her, and just let her be the sweet little girl she could be.
The nurse would catch her most days before school and bring her to her office. Our nurse would help “B” wash her face, brush her hair, and even have her change into appropriate clothes from the giant clothes closet that she kept for our kids that needed it. (being right next to a shelter and low income housing, this was about 30% of our population) Then it was off to breakfast. Before “B” could come in to learn academics these things took place.
Then came the day that “B” came to school and announced that her sister was pregnant…with twins! The family was so excited, they were throwing a baby shower, buying two cribs, “B” wanted to know if she could bring the babies for show and tell…her sister was 13. She had been raped by two men who lived upstairs, ages 19 and 20. The guys had split once they found out they were caught and the police were seeking them. “B” said her sister was sad that her “boyfriends” had moved. CPS was involved and we were all horrified. “B” was just wanting to have them for show and tell.
How can we teach kids like this? How do we reach them to help them and bring them out of this life that they come to us from each day? In Helping Traumatized Children Learn, the authors show us that the impact of trauma and abuse in children clearly impacts their ability to learn. Not only in the learning and retrieval of information, but in social and emotional learning and development, problem solving and analysis, social relationships, attention, regulating emotions, executive functions, and engagement in curriculum. (Cole, et al., 2005) Basically every area of these children’s education is impacted due to their trauma.
So what can we do? The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) Complex Trauma Task Force published a paper which outlines steps schools and communities can take to support these students. “Among this Task Force’s proposals is their “ARC” model for working with traumatized children through both psychological intervention and school and community supports.” (Cole, et al. p.43-44) The ARC model consists of:
1. building secure Attachments between child and caregivers(s);
2. enhancing self-Regulatory capacities; and
3. increasing Competencies across multiple domains.
Schools are uniquely positioned to help children reach their potential in each of the three areas identified by Masten and Coatsworth and the NCTSN. In particular, schools can:
1. partner with families and strengthen traumatized children’s relationships with adults in and out of school
2. help children to modulate and self-regulate their emotions and behaviors
3. enable children to develop their academic potential (p. 44)
Helping Traumatized Children Learn goes on to describe a “flexible framework” that schools can provide to wrap around these families to support them. I believe this starts with the classroom teacher. The Washington State Teacher Evaluation Criteria (The State 8) is based on Charlotte Danielson’s work on teacher evaluation. Under many of the criteria a teacher is distinguished by knowing their students and engaging them in their own learning and growth. Specifically, Criterion 3, Domain 1-b – demonstrating knowledge of students calls for the distinguished teacher to “actively seeks knowledge of students’ levels of development and their backgrounds, cultures, skills, language proﬁciency, interests, and special needs from a variety of sources. This information is acquired for individual students.” (Washington State Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project, 2013.)
In my own classrooms I have had many since “B”. There was “T”, mom was dead and he lived in a single wide trailer with his dad, three brothers, and alcoholic grandpa. He wore the same dirty clothes each day and I just wanted to give him a bath. Today he is a successful high school graduate I am happy to say. Then there was “J”, his family had fled Eastern Washington to escape drug violence. Unfortunately it followed them here. There was a shooting in his apartment, he “slept” through it, but came to school each day in tears and many times feel asleep on his desk. I am sure he wasn’t able to sleep at home. We, myself, the school counselor, and our principal, reached out to the family. We used our flexible framework to provide a safe, caring environment where even the mom would come to “escape” when needed. Our school secretary kept close eye on them, if they were absent she would call and if they didn’t answer our principal or counselor would go visit. Those kids were not going to slip through the cracks.
It is not enough to know how our kids read, how they write, and how many basic math facts they know. We need to know them; the good and the bad, to truly teach them.
Cole, Susan F., Jessica Greenwald O’Brien, M. Gerone Gadd, Joel Ristuccia, D. Luray Wallace, and Michael Gregory. Helping Traumatized Children Learn. Rep. no. 2005933604. Boston: Massachusetts Advocates for Children, 2005. Print.
Danielson, Charlotte, and Thomas L. McGreal. Teacher Evaluation to Enhance Professional Practice. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2000. Print.
The Jossey-Bass Reader on the Brain and Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008. Print.
“Washington State Teacher/Principal Evaluation Project.” Washington State TeacherPrincipal Evaluation Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013.