What I want to do is to storm into the school, throw books at each person in the building demand that all teachers, administration, & support staff read The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis & The Whole-Brained Child by Dan Siegel. Then I’d insist on a week-long training on how to support children from hard places. After all, every child would benefit from a trauma-informed classroom, right?
After teaching in the public school system & seeing others struggle with the teacher/parent dance, I know that would get me nowhere. My child needs me to build a team - we need allies in the schools where we are entrusting our children each day. It’s a process to bring awareness & education to what a trauma-informed classroom could look like.
It means starting with one teacher, administrator or support staff to get on board. It may be slow - so slow that you and your child might not see the fruit of your work to lay the foundation. You have to be ok with that. Sometimes it’s for the children that follow. So how do you do it? I reached out to several teachers that I know that are also adoptive or foster parents for their insight into how we can better work together.
Respect your teacher’s time. I believe in getting teachers on board with trauma-informed classrooms, however, I’ve learned my first interaction is best when I’m not handing the teacher a book to read or a whole packet of information on my child. The first week of school is BUSY & exhausting for teachers & our children. Cornering them at orientation or open house is a poor use of your time & energy - you want them to remember what you said, right?
Give the teachers at least a week or 2 to settle into the routine.* Keep up with what’s happening in the classroom through your children & observe how they talk about their teacher. Then make a connection with the teacher. (Sometimes it’s a meeting, other times it’s a phone call.)
*Again - every child & situation is different. Some teachers need to have information about your child before school even begins. Set up an appointment with the teacher before school if necessary. The idea is to first respect teachers & to create an ally not an enemy.
Communicate. Share positive things you’ve heard from your child or have seen in your child since the start of the school year. Build a relationship, ask questions & share in small doses about your child. In any interaction (until proven wrong) assume the teacher as the expert of their classroom, while you are the expert of your child. Walking in with a book for them to read or an agenda to push is a surefire way to burn bridges that aren’t even built yet.
Communicate SPECIFICS of how to make your child successful in their classroom. Don’t assume that they know anything about your child, other than what YOU communicate with them. (Even with a 504 or IEP - assume they don’t know anything.). If there are specific triggers for your child - tell your teacher early!
Let your teacher know if your child calls you something other than Mom or Dad.
**If your child has a 504 or IEP, teachers may not get them right away so be sure to communicate early (NOT at orientation or open house though!).
Model respect. If conflict arises with your child’s teacher, remember you have little eyes watching & listening. You are teaching them how to respond to authority, be sure your actions encourage & model respect every step of the way.
Follow up with teachers. Teachers have 20+ students (100+ if an older grade) keeping tabs on our children is our responsibility. If they know you will be contacting them on a regular basis, they are more likely to follow through.
Set reminders in your phone to check in with teachers: weekly, bi-weekly or monthly - however you see fit. It doesn’t have to be a big meeting & can be as simple as an email.
Sample Communications for teachers will be posted in Part 4 of this series!
Drip trauma-informed resources. Be the slow drip not a firehose of trauma-informed resources. These regular check-ins are great times to “drip” information to your teacher. Send a short blog post or video of something you’ve learned about your child. Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development shares these resources for schools.
By checking in with the teachers, you are providing accountability & showing teachers you are a part of what happens at school.
I love this resource written by a LoveMovesUs mom. It's a 2 page pdf to share with your child's teacher with 10 things to know about adoption. It's short & hits the big points for teachers.
Here is a link to a letter to teachers from Robyn Gobbel. Robyn is LCSW, founder of CTATC, is a therapist specializing in adoption, attachment, and trauma. Trained in EMDR, TBRI, and The Alert Program. (It's very thorough & lengthy.) Great info for teachers that want to learn more.
The Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development has this article for Trauma-Informed Classrooms. (Again, it's long & used best when teachers WANT more information.)
Ask questions. Be specific. When I have a specific question for a teacher, I find a get a much better response. How is she doing socially? How is this project coming along? Did you have a chance to watch that video I sent you? Any thoughts? How is this accommodation working for her? For you? Only ask if you are willing to hear feedback if YOU are willing to support the teacher's ideas or find compromises that best support your child.
Be proactive on projects. After school is underway, ask about specific projects, subjects that may trigger your child. Some triggers may include: Family tree, hereditary traits, genetics, family of orgin/cultural background research , “Star of the week” (my family, day I was born, baby pictures, ), timeline or autobiography of student’s life. Find out if/when those projects will take place & put it in your phone. Contact the teacher a few weeks before with alternative ideas for how to navigate the project for your child. This is another great way to drip more information on “the why” (trauma) behind the project. Having projects in your calendar can be a great tool for you to recognize & understand behaviors.
A few years ago, we were about half-way through the school year & my oldest had a really, really hard week. He was more emotional than usual, had trouble focusing on homework & was starting to get sick (the way his body processes stress). About a week into it, we found out they were talking about heredity traits in science & it really upset him. He wasn’t able to process & tell us but once we connected the dots we could talk it through with him. Now I know better & ask teachers!
Here is a great video for teachers on potential triggering projects: https://vimeo.com/111772432
For specific ways to adapt projects, check out @trauma_informed_montessori on Instagram. She has ideas for family trees, personal timelines, how I spent my summer, and more.
Pray for your teachers. Teachers have a hard job. The best thing you can do for them is PRAY. Pray that they can meet the needs of ALL the children in their class. Pray that you can become allies for your child & the children that will follow for the years to come.