Bulldog Bark

Jim Paterson has been a newspaper and magazine editor and an award-winning writer for The
Washington Post, USA Today Weekend, the Christian Science Monitor, Parents magazine, and
a number of national and regional publications. During a break from writing he worked as a
school counselor for seven years and quickly became head of a counseling department and
"Counselor of the Year" in Montgomery County, Md. He now writes about education primarily.
The following is an article from Mr. Paterson.
Troy is smart, but disrupts classes all day and is in detention at least once a week. He’s
regularly the topic of disparaging talk among teachers and administrators, and is
well-known by office personnel for missing school. He mutters “I don’t care” in response
to the lectures he frequently receives. Ellie sits behind him in class and throughout her
day teachers get very little work or response. Dale, on the other hand, who is required to
sit in the front, just can’t stop talking and disrupting class.
These three middle school students will often get extra attention in school, but won’t
succeed because the real reason for their behavior isn’t addressed: trauma.
According to a federal Trauma and Justice Strategic Initiative, “trauma results from an
event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as
physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on
the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” It
generally overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, and often ignites “fight, flight, or
freeze” impulses, and produces a sense of fear, vulnerability, and helplessness, and
later can cause people to act anti-socially or irrationally.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that one out of every four children
attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can hamper their learning -
and affect school and class culture since they will likely be disruptive or need extra
attention. The organization reports that research shows these students typically have
diminished reading skills, lower GPA’s, higher rates of absenteeism, suspension and
expulsion, and are much more likely to drop out.
Schools that have implemented trauma-informed policies, meanwhile, find they get
positive results. Research also suggests that the trauma-informed schools are making
gains, and that professional development should be combined with a school-wide policy
shift to make new approaches work. Often, school counselors are trained to help
students deal with trauma, but often have large caseloads, which means all staff should
be trained to help identify students who have suffered trauma.
S.M. Rissler faculty and staff will start the journey towards becoming Trauma-Informed by
hosting an initial trauma training on January 30, 2019. Effective trauma programs require clear
planning with input from all stakeholders and specific expected outcomes, ongoing coaching
and support for staff, and a monitoring system for useful data. If you are interested in hearing
more information on trauma-informed care of students, please contact Leslie Woodard or Terri
Critten at S.M. Rissler Elementary School.
References: Patterson, Jim. (2018). Education World. “Why Your School Should be
Implementing Trauma-Informed Practices.”