OKLAHOMA CITY (February 19, 2019) – The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) on Monday hosted Continuing the Conversation: Trauma-Informed Instruction, a half-day summit and workshop highlighting student trauma and how educators can help lessen its impact. A follow-up to last October’s It Starts Here: Trauma-Informed Instruction summit, the event gathered more than 550 educators from around the state to learn practical and effective strategies for teaching through a trauma-informed lens. A number of nonprofit partners also offered services to the educators in attendance.
“Trauma impedes academic success for hundreds of thousands of our students,” said Joy Hofmeister, State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Research shows us that a caring adult can make a positive difference in children impacted by trauma. Educators, equipped with empathy and trauma-informed practices, are often the person who can reach them and create a safe and secure foundation for learning. By training our teachers in trauma-informed instruction, we are helping to move our children from trauma to hope.”
The summit was part of an ongoing effort by OSDE to combat student trauma by giving educators tools to implement trauma-informed practices in the classroom and build student resilience. Nearly half of all Oklahoma children have experienced three or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which are used to assess childhood stress and have been shown to create lasting health and social consequences well into adulthood.
Children exposed to trauma often exhibit learning difficulties, depression and poor decision-making in the classroom. Students with ACE scores also accrue more absences, show decreased reading abilities and graduate at lower rates when compared to their peers.
First Lady Sarah Stitt, who plans to use her position to advocate for those suffering from mental health issues, shared a personal story about the lasting effects of childhood trauma.
“This is a crisis,” said Stitt. “All of us have known or have a family member who struggles with mental illness, abuse or drug addiction. These are the things we have to change in our state if we want to give our children hope. I am living proof that there is hope and a future for everyone.
Held at the Reed Center in Midwest City, the summit featured a workshop for educators with Dr. Robin Gurwitch, a clinical psychologist and professor at Duke Medical Center. A former Oklahoman who worked with children impacted by the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Gurwitch led participants through the tenets of Child-Adult Relationship Enhancement (CARE), a set of skills for adults who interact or work with children. CARE emphasizes building positive relationships with students while decreasing challenging behaviors in the classroom.
The workshop also focused on how educators can improve their own resilience and reduce the risk of “compassion fatigue.” Also known as secondary traumatic stress, compassion fatigue refers to the emotional strain caused by caring for others and exhibits symptoms similar to PTSD, including difficulty sleeping and depression. Schools and educators were encouraged to provide opportunities to discuss wellness initiatives and create self-care plans.
Gurwitch emphasized the importance of schoolwide buy-in when fostering hope and coping skills in children exposed to trauma.
“We don’t get to pick who students choose to talk to, so every person needs to be prepared,” said Gurwitch. “In a trauma-informed school, you need to step up and be that person. Learning can’t take place unless they know you care.”