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This post was published by MAC’s Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, a collaboration with Harvard Law School whose mission is to ensure that children impacted by family violence and other adverse childhood experiences succeed in school. Click here to see the original post.

Are we ready to become a trauma-sensitive school?

We recently shared with you the TLPI Trauma-Sensitive Schools Descriptive Study conducted by researchers from the American Institutes For Research (AIR).  This month’s blog post explores one of the key findings of the report related to readiness or the extent to which the school is both willing and able to undertake the process of becoming trauma sensitive, safe and supportive. Readiness (or lack of) influences how well a new effort will take hold and be sustained. When readiness is high, the organization is better able to initiate and sustain a major change. Taking the time to evaluate and build readiness was found to be a key implementation factor in creating a trauma-sensitive school.

Key Finding: Readiness

AIR researchers found that six key factors need to be present for schools to engage effectively in the inquiry-based process of becoming a trauma-sensitive school:

  1. A commitment to a whole school approach and the need for a process for creating a trauma-sensitive school 
  2. A sense of urgency and motivation to become trauma sensitive
  3. Awareness of  barriers and/or supports to implementation
  4. Time to engage in the process
  5. Alignment with other initiatives that support or compete with the work
  6. Leadership commitment

Below we provide a few questions that may be helpful in thinking through the key readiness indicators to determine (1) if your school is ready to move forward; (2) what steps might need to be taken to get more ready to begin; 3) what factors may be getting in the way of making progress and need more attention in order to move the effort forward more effectively.

Readiness Questions

  1. Leadership
    1. What are the school leadership priorities?
    2. How does becoming trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive align with these priorities?
    3. Who will actively take the lead in this process?
  2. Motivation
    1. What is our urgency to become a trauma-sensitive school?
    2. What do we hope to achieve from taking on this work?
  3. School based capacity
    1. What resources (community-based, etc.) are available to our school?
    2. How will we create the time and space for this work?
    3. What major initiatives/programs have we recently started? Do any compete/compliment this work?
    4. Have there been school-based resource changes that have occurred or will occur in the near future that will impact this work (e.g. staffing changes, resource addition/depletion, etc.)?
  4. District Support
    1. How does this work align with the District’s priorities?
    2. How does the District support our work to become trauma sensitive?

Answering these questions may help your school determine if the critical elements of readiness are sufficiently in place to be able to successfully move forward with the work of creating a trauma-sensitive school.

Readiness can change over time

The AIR researchers found that readiness proved to be a developmental and dynamic process that evolved over time and that, due to a variety of factors (e.g. change in leadership, changes in resource allocation, time constraints), readiness can change as the work moves forward.  This also means that changes in readiness factors in the positive direction can have beneficial impacts, and that schools can focus on one or more readiness factors to get ready and/or increase the impact of their efforts to become trauma sensitive ( e.g., by increasing leadership commitment, increasing time available to engage in the process, deepening the understanding about why a whole school approach is needed). This valuable learning enabled us to develop a more nuanced understanding of the readiness-related issues that must be thought through, not only when schools are preparing to undertake the process of becoming trauma sensitive but also as the process unfolds over time.

To read more about TLPI’s Trauma-Sensitive Schools Descriptive Study, please see our Research Snapshot.