This mixed methods study examined the impact of a university-public school partnership incorporating a “train the trainers” model in which 11 teachers learned and then taught trauma-informed strategies to 220 students, grades K-8th, in a K-8 Title I public school located 1 block from the urban university campus. Youth from high poverty communities and youth of color are at greater risk of being exposed to adverse and traumatic events which may impact their learning in the school setting (Balisteri & Alvira-Hammond, 2016; Halfon, et. al, 2017). Teachers working with such youth need trauma-informed strategies to impact adverse learning effects; however, such professional development is often lacking. The study’s research question included: What impact did trauma training have on teachers, students, and classroom dynamics?
Classroom selection was decided upon by school administrators. Teacher training occurred during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years. Training procedures included three in-person training modules, 2-hours each, delivered over 12 weeks. Modules included trauma-informed psychoeducation and strategies on stress reduction, emotional regulation and cognitive coping. All resources, including classroom support by doctoral students, were provided by the university. Teacher implementation occurred once per week for one 45-minute class session. Data collection included weekly teacher journal entries, weekly completed student in-class homework, student exit rating scales on activity helpfulness, and an exit focus group with the teachers.
Descriptive statistics and thematic analysis indicated the implementation of trauma-informed strategies allowed the classroom experience to be a safe place for students to process their life experiences and to equip teachers for the challenges their students face in navigating their lives. Students rated activities based on perceived helpfulness on a scale from 1 (Did not do) to 4 (Very Helpful). All activities were perceived by the students as helpful with the highest being Personal Goal Setting (M=3.25, SD=1.01), Breathing Exercises (M=3.19, SD=0.88), and Learning How Thoughts Impact Feelings and Actions (M=3.18, SD=0.95). 93% of students reported short- and long-term academic goals.
Regardless of grade-level, all students enjoyed expressing themselves through art activities. The use of art was beneficial in the following ways: 1) allowed students an alternative avenue to share and process; 2) allowed all students to participate, particularly those who were quieter; and 3) allowed for teachers to gain a window into their students’ experiences and worldviews.
Thematic analysis indicated that teachers experienced improved student empathy, understanding, and support. They were less likely to be reactive and instead were more to be responsive as they considered what students may be experiencing. In addition to professional benefits, teachers experienced increased stress management, problem-solving, and self-awareness in personal areas such as parenting.
Teachers are impacted by their students’ experiences with adverse childhood experiences. This study’s findings highlight how learning and implementing trauma-informed strategies positively impacts teacher efficacy as they are better equipped to address their students’ adverse experiences. Such a training model allows for social work educators, researchers, and students to impact the social ecology of learning for traumatized youth and the teachers who serve them.