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Trauma-Informed Leadership Training with DPS

Creating big changes with little lessons at Parkwood Elementary

CCFH has worked with Durham Public Schools for many years as a resource for meeting the mental health needs of students. In 2016, our partnership began to shift from providing school-based services to training teachers and staff to incorporate trauma principles into their work and engagement with students. The cornerstone of this new collaboration is Trauma-Informed Leadership Training (TILT), which provides long-term coaching and consultation to teams from individual schools as they create and implement the trauma-informed practices they believe will work best in their unique contexts.

Parkwood Elementary, located in south Durham, joined the TILT initiative in the spring of 2020. During the first few weeks of COVID-19 closures, the school’s leadership was looking to make the best of unused time by finding opportunities for teachers and staff to sharpen their skills. Their social worker brought up the new TILT cohort being offered by CCFH, and two teachers who had already had some trauma-related training advocated for how valuable that perspective could be for the full staff. So, led by Assistant Principal Kimberly Fearrington, they created their TILT team and applied.

TILT provides the school teams with a thorough grounding in the fundamental principles of childhood trauma, but what make it distinctive is the expectation that each school develop its own approach to putting those principles into practice. Once they have completed training, CCFH provides each TILT team with four hours per month in consultation that the school can use however it sees fit.

Parkwood decided to focus its first efforts on creating a Circle of Courage™ curriculum, which would equip every teacher with short lessons on four social-emotional learning components – belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity – that could be worked into classroom instruction over a nine-week period. They chose this approach because it emphasized strengthening relationships among teachers and students and built on work they had already done in restorative practices.

They also saw that bite-sized lessons would be easier to deliver in the fully online learning environment they were learning to navigate. So, they prioritized making the content accessible and easy to use in a virtual classroom. Naeemah Brooks, a kindergarten teacher on the TILT team, even went the extra mile, creating a step-by-step instructional video on delivering a Circle of Courage lesson via Zoom.

And now she is seeing real results from what the TILT team created and her fellow teachers have put into practice. She has noticed that her students are calmer and more aware of their behavior. “One of my students had a break down just today,” she says, “and I saw her really trying to use the breathing skills we teach in Circle of Courage.”

“ Our teachers are seeing crisis moments with a student resolve, rather than persisting all day. The training in trauma principles has given teachers questions to ask that help break the cycle and get to the experience that is causing those responses in a child. ”
- Assistant Principal Kimberly Fearrington

Their work creating and implementing the Circle of Courage curriculum also set the stage for Parkwood teachers and staff to focus on racial trauma when they returned from the holiday break. “The basic principles of trauma, how it affects a child’s body and brain, that was information our teachers could just take in,” says Kimberly. “But when we began to look at systemic racism [as trauma], it really began to personalize the work for many of us.” This new phase is more difficult, often calling on teachers and staff to process their own fears and anxieties, but it is also allowing them to see the children they teach in much more complex ways.

For the present, Parkwood’s focus will be on fully incorporating the Circle of Courage perspective and practices into their work with students and each other. This is just the beginning, though. With courage – and trauma-informed principles – as their foundation, there is no limit to where they may go from here.

Posted on May 18, 2021