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.

School Building Leadership’s Role in Creating a Trauma-Sensitive School

Last month, we shared a video addressing District Leadership’s Role in supporting the work of trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive schools at the school building level.  In this month’s post, we turn our attention to the vital role of school building leadership — principals or headmasters — in creating a trauma-sensitive school. New research from the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research found that principals most influenced student learning by fostering safe and supportive learning environments with high, consistent, and clear expectations of students.  The evidence strongly suggests that school climate and culture affect student learning, and for many school leaders this translates to an urgency around improving their school’s culture.

Creating a trauma–sensitive school can be the vehicle to improvements in school culture. By holding the vision, making trauma-sensitivity one of the school’s priorities, and being a key member of the steering committee, a principal or headmaster plays an indispensable role in making sure that trauma-sensitivity is woven into the fabric of the school and aligns with other important initiatives on campus (e.g. bullying prevention, PBIS, Social Emotional Learning).  School leaders can also play a critical role in setting the conditions for the work of creating a trauma-sensitive school to move forward.

Below, we share just a few of the ways school leaders advance and support the work of creating a trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive school:

Leaders balance action and reflection

Principals create an environment where educators and staff not only engage in trauma-sensitive action planning and action steps, but also build in time for reflecting on the actions taken to assess where things are going well and where different or additional action is needed.

Leaders develop a shared vision

By developing a shared vision for trauma sensitivity among all staff, the building leader helps to establish a shared purpose and to create a learning community among the staff, inviting everyone into the work and to take ownership of the work.

Leaders tap into the power of the community

Leaders set the tone for a strong and supportive professional community that shares responsibility both for each other and for all students. The staff works collaboratively to create a safe and supportive school based on a shared set of values, this focus extends to partnering with families.

Leaders foster collaboration

Strong collaboration and collaborative relationships among staff develop over time. School leaders play a crucial role in setting the conditions for these relationships to be nurtured and to grow. Setting aside time for teams to meet together, participating in professional learning communities, building in structures that support sharing and dialogue among staff are a few strategies that help foster collaboration.

Leaders value inquiry

To promote new ways of thinking and new possibilities, leaders create a culture of inquiry among staff and also ask themselves: What do I pay attention to?  What are the next steps?  What professional development is required?

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