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How do we know whether we are becoming a trauma-sensitive school?

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.

In previous blog posts we explored elements of the inquiry based process including importance of establishing a steering committee, identifying urgencies, designing actions that address the urgencies in a trauma-sensitive way and creating the action plan.  We now turn our attention to thinking about measures of success that can help schools answer the question “how do we know we are becoming a trauma-sensitive school?”

The inquiry-based process encourages schools to identify their own measures of success in order to assess the effectiveness of their school’s action plan. Key to assessing effectiveness is making sure that tracking progress is an on-going process and that the steering committee think creatively about the kinds of data that they might look at to chart their progress toward trauma-sensitivity. We encourage steering committees to pay attention to two types of data. The first of these is the qualitative changes in the practices and behaviors of faculty, staff and students. A second type of measure involves outcome measures and measures of individual student success.

Below, we share a few examples of qualitative and quantitative measures that schools have used to track their progress toward becoming more trauma sensitive.

Qualitative Changes

  • Shifts in mindsets (e.g. moving away from reactive to more proactive approaches or moving away from punitive disciplinary approaches toward teaching social and self-regulation skill building)
  • Shifts in the way staff are talking about students and families
  • Shifts in the way it feels in the school (e.g. “our school feels calmer”)
  • Noting emergent behavior(s) among school staff (e.g. more curiosity around trauma-sensitivity, staff asking questions about practices, etc.)
  • Increased opportunity for faculty and staff to listen to student voice
  • Moving toward problem-solving more quickly after identifying a concern
  • Increase in trauma-sensitive problem-solving (e.g. increased curiosity and discussion about the underlying causes of challenging behavior)
  • Teachers sharing effective strategies with one another more frequently
  • Observable shifts in interactions between staff and students – more positive interactions, evidence of positive relationships
  • Increased consistency across the school building
  • Increases in leveraging expertise within the school building to help ensure consistency of effective practices
  • Improvements in collaborations among school staff (increased teamwork)
  • Active participation from school staff in efforts to redesign existing policies/procedures to make them more trauma-sensitive
  • Increased advocacy efforts as needed with district staff for additional resources to support the trauma-sensitive work
  • The school’s goal to develop a trauma-sensitive safe and supportive learning environment is reflected throughout the core aspects of the school (e.g. mission/vision statement, PBIS matrix, behavior reflection forms, parent engagement activities, etc.).

Quantitative Measures

It is important to note that most schools collect a wide range of quantitative data and the existing data can be used. It not necessary to generate new quantitative measures.

Examples include:

  • Staff and student surveys
  • Decreases in crisis calls
  • Decreases in numbers of office referrals for punitive disciplinary reasons
  • Decreases in frequency of office referrals for students who are often sent for disciplinary purposes
  • Reductions in chronic attendance issues/ improvements in attendance
  • Tracking data from student support meetings
  • Decreases in reports of bullying

As the process of becoming trauma-sensitive moves forward and evolves, it helps for the steering committee to be open to outcome data – positive and negative- that it did not set out to observe, and to be nimble and flexible in responding. Based on the data gathered, the steering committee can refine the action plan or identify new priorities to address.  If the school determines that new priorities need to be addressed, the inquiry based process begins again.

What qualitative and quantitative data do you collect to measure progress toward becoming a trauma-sensitive school?

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