May 18th, 2020

Balancing Resiliency & Trauma

Starting with a strength-based lens allows us to see how we can support our students and families in leveraging their resources. As a clinician working directly with students, family, and staff as well as a school leader who creates and implements systems, we hold hope for those around us. What does this look like when we are all experiencing an unprecedented society level of trauma? While also recognizing how years of structural inequality have caused the impact of this trauma to disproportionately impact communities of color.
We are a school community that holds SEL as a fundamental alongside academic rigour. Throughout distance learning we have continued to support the SEL and mental health of our students and the basics have emerged in the clinical work again and again - basic needs, validation, normalization, coping strategies.
When we return to school, keeping SEL and mental health front and center for staff, students, and families will be the priority, as we contend with learning loss and holding high academic expectations. I believe the question we need to keep asking ourselves as school leaders is - How do we support school staff, so they can be fully present and compassionate with our students? So they can see our students resiliency and support and also be empathetic for the traumas they have experienced.
How can larger systems recognize and support schools in being the first line of support for children? Covid-19 has highlighted the support network that schools provide on multiple levels, and we will try to provide school staff the training, budget, and time to provide that support effectively. How can policy support this work on the front-lines?

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Comments (2)

Comments (2)

Hi Soundhari:
Thanks for joining our conversation. You raise some intriguing questions. If you were in charge, how would you answer them? How would you support school staff? What policies would you create to support this work on the frontlines?

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Thanks Cindy for your question. The pandemic has highlighted for our broader society the important roles that schools play in students and families lives. It seems that recognition for the fundamental role of strong relationships and supporting the emotional development and well-being of students, as well as their academics, is happening at a wider scope than has traditionally been true. This is true for schools serving communities that are incredibly different from each other. At our school level, I have been fortunate to see the strong foundation of relationships and SEL pre-pandemic resulting in more engagement in distance learning and our students using the tools and coping strategies they have learned before crisis. For example, our Vallejo community is incredibly diverse with the majority of families qualifying for free and reduced lunch and our engagement is high, because we recognize that families are doing their best in hard economic times, we provide emotional support, and hold high standards for academics. I think it would be important for policy makers to leverage the aha moments and insights that the broader society is having to promote change to iterate school models to prioritize relationships and SEL. Seizing this moment in time to shift the understanding of the general public from schools solely being academic institutions to the comprehensive support systems they are could support the allocation of resources in ways that support the whole child.

Educators on the front-lines often want the time and space to cultivate and enjoy relationships with students and more support in understanding challenging behaviors. They want the time to build on best practices curriculum to create engaging, creative lessons that they are excited to teach. They want to be valued as professionals and need the space to recover from the fulfilling but draining emotional work that is being with children everyday. As an individual school we will continue to allocate resources (monetary, intellectual, time) in recognition of this and support our staff in these ways, so they can do best by our students. I am fortunate to have helped found a school that puts students first by supporting teacher social-emotional competencies, but I aspire for the impact to be much broader so many more children benefit.

I think policy makers can guide and influence school and district leaders to use this time of flux and uncertainty to shift school schedules and professional development time to respond and plan in novel ways. We have seen what is possible and what the fundamentals are in this incredibly challenging time and after the pandemic we won't be able to go back to 'normal', because of this societally altering experience. Policy makers with vision, foresight, and influence can innovate and support shifts that create better contexts for educators and students, because 'we've always done it this way' has never been called more strongly into question.