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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, 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

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

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 guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

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®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

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, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

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.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website