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Mar 19, 2020 |
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This is the first of a three-part series about emotional and behavioral regulation in learning environments.

One of the newer movements in education over the past decade is trauma-informed education. Why is it necessary to be aware of what this phenomenon looks like? 

It’s our job, as practitioners and educators, to create a safe space for students—as much as we can—so they can focus on learning. And let’s face it, today, almost everyone has trauma in their past—if not their present.

We’ll start by defining what trauma is and why we need trauma-informed education. 

Trauma can be physical or emotional. Or both. It’s easy to see physical trauma, but psychological trauma depletes our ability to adapt emotionally, cognitively, physically, spiritually, and socially. Both physical and emotional trauma have activated the fight-or-flight mode in our bodies. It can be caused by a one-time event or a series of events. Check out Psychology Today for more information on trauma.

One thing we know: School districts can mitigate the effects of some trauma by implementing Family Literacy programming. In NCFL’s publication, Defining Our Work, practitioners are able to see the impact Family Literacy has on families. Parents increase their skills and are better able to support their children's education as well as increase their employment opportunities. It may not be a quick-fix for trauma, but it’s a step in the right direction. Building positive relationships is a partial solution; that’s something practitioners can—and should—do in the classroom. Without solid relationships, working with trauma survivors can be superficial. Someone with childhood trauma could struggle with even the most basic of skills--such as writing a sentence with a noun and a verb—without a positive relationship. 

Collective trauma affects a community or country and can also be a one-time or series of events. Family Service Learning is one way families can identify problems in their neighborhood and create a plan to address them. In this way, adults and children working together build their 21st century skills and develop the ability to be flexible and adapt. They also show initiative and self-direction, improve social and cross-cultural skills, and demonstrate productivity and accountability as well as leadership and responsibility per NCFL’s Family Service Learning Brief. This investment in community can be part of the healing process for this type of trauma.

If we use human-centered design (HCD) and other learner-driven theories of instruction, we are taking into account trauma. HCD is a powerful tool that brings in three important perspectives: getting to know learners, developing new ideas to meet learner needs, and planning and testing new solutions. Empathy is the key. Both as students and teachers, adding empathy to the mix is essential. In this article, the benefits of HCD in a family engagement setting are discussed. However, HCD can be applied to the PK-12 setting as well. Other classroom instructional design strategies that are beneficial for students—in general, as well as those with trauma—include Understanding by Design and Layered Curriculum

The days of the talking head in front of the classroom are over. Students don’t need us to deliver instruction as much as they need us to share ideas reciprocally. By taking into account learners’ experiences, we validate them as people. There are definitely areas in which a student can be an expert and share their knowledge—even youngsters.

Do you use trauma-informed practices in your classroom? Have you adapted any strategies that could be considered trauma-informed? Sound off in the comments about the pluses and minuses. 


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota Family Learning Program

Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to reach the 35.7 million adults ages 18-64 who do not have a high school diploma by guiding them to better-paying, more stable jobs.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Go to Dollar General Literacy Foundation's website

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994 to advance early literacy and learning resources for vulnerable families. Current efforts supported by PNC include a collaborative initiative in two at-risk Detroit communities that engages families to support vocabulary development for children under age 5.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

PNC Grow Up Great

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

NCFL has partnered with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation since January 2016. The Foundation is currently supporting a dynamic two-generation family engagement initiative that expands NCFL's Family Learning model into select Head Start programs nationwide. NCFL's model presents an innovative way to support Head Start programs in meeting outcomes aligned with the Parent, Family, and Community Engagement Framework.

Visit the Foundation website

Better World Books

Better World Books selected NCFL as its domestic literacy partner in 2005 and has raised more than $1 million to support NCFL’s work and donated more than $15 million to support literacy and education efforts worldwide. Better World Books is a triple-bottom-line online bookstore, working equally for people, planet and profit. Each book purchased powers literacy across the world.

Better World Books’ support of NCFL has provided books and workshops to families after Hurricane Katrina, donated large book donations to literacy programs and families nationwide and fueled innovative family literacy and learning programs and resources in libraries, schools and community-based organizations. In addition to their work for literacy and education, Better World Books diverts books from landfills and offers carbon-balanced shipping.

Better World Books

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

In 2013, NCFL began a partnership with the Gates Foundation to ensure that our network of students, teachers, and families thrive among recent shifts in standards-based education. NCFL will leverage the unique strengths of our award-winning Wonderopolis® platform to build upon the growing teacher network that uses the resource for core daily instruction and as a basis for professional growth.

Foundation Website

Goodling Institute

NCFL has partnered with the Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University since 2001, working collaboratively to further research, professional development, and policy efforts for family literacy and intergenerational learning.

The work of this partnership includes, but is not limited to, a strong research strand at NCFL's national annual convening, the Families Learning Summit; advocacy for family literacy and learning to further support for and inclusion of family-focused education in new and ongoing legislation; and dissemination of the latest research, resources, information, and professional development opportunities for literacy and learning practitioners and advocates, including the Certificate in Family Literacy provided by the Goodling Institute.

Goodling Institute for Research and Family Literacy at Penn State University