Are Trauma PDs Pure Nonsense?

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Success with a student victimized by trauma would require becoming an expert at detecting multiple, virtually undetectable triggers, within multiple students. It is not quick or simple or instinctive…A teacher must become an expert at defusing all those students’ fear triggers, and all in advance of any “fight or flight” response. All day today. All week this week. All month this month…We are trying to scoop water out of a boat which has gaping trauma-holes in the bottom.

These are the words of Philadelphia’s trauma Yoda Daun Kauffman. Daun has spent several years blogging himself into expertise on childhood trauma at lucidwitness.com. Or as Daun modestly says, “into a modicum of understanding.” Presently he has been investing a year + in the much-misunderstood concept of “resilience”. His own personalized learning effort outside the Philadelphia School District edicts.

Daun’s blog writing is correct. More on him and that in a bit.

Last year, my school hosted a professional development focused on trauma. For 90 minutes a presenter discussed how to serve our students in a trauma informed way. We aren’t dissimilar from a lot of schools around the country hosting similar PDs. In the fall of 2017 I even hosted my own trauma PD where I presented some facts and facilitated a subsequent discussion at my school.

The work folks are doing in helping us better understand how trauma affects our young people is monumentally important. Finding resolution in most efficiently working with trauma affected students may be the biggest issue in education today. If you aren’t aware of the research being done on trauma you should stop wasting your time with my ramblings and read Daun Kauffman’s blog or watch the Opraaaaaaaaaaaah special. As educators we should be aware that we ourselves and many of our student are trauma affected. We should know that childhood trauma has a lifelong impact on neurology, and that should influence the choices we make in working with young people. If you have attended a trauma PD, and it provided increased awareness on the topic which you’ve folded into your existing pedagogy that makes me glad. Truly.

But as I sat in our trauma PD doodling an emotional bird (because that’s what I doodle right now) I couldn’t help but feel like we weren’t addressing the issue. I was sitting in a room full of K-8 educators. By nature our empathy skills are generally fine. We’re the demographic that keeps shows like This Is Us on the air. If you’re a K-8 teacher I know you watch This Is Us, I don’t even have to ask. And if you don’t it’s probably because you’re a sweetheart you go to bed before 9pm. A trauma PD for us is kinda like wearing glasses and contacts at the same time. We’re not achieving any additional clarity, just doubling down on an already refined skill.

That would ordinarily be fine, I double down on ordering from food delivery apps most weekends. The danger with Trauma PDs is that they reduce the inhibiting factor in educators becoming trauma informed to one of Opraaaaaaaaaaaah’s “Aha moments.” As if a realization and a few rounds of TRAUMA bingo (which we actually played during this our PD) is all it takes to properly equip educators in navigating the labyrinth of trauma’s impact on student achievement. These PDs give permission to trivialize the gut-wrenching, heart-searing helplessness of a single, lived trauma experience making it seem as if simple knowledge of a child’s “upstairs and downstairs brain” (another things we discussed in the PD) is the only thing standing between a student and academic excellence. This is far from the case. If it were as simple as 90 minute trauma PDs every educator I know would be trauma informed af. But it isn’t.

I know this because I’ve spent time being a fanboy of Daun Kauffman and his writing at lucidwitness. If you’re an educator, you should spend some time being a hypebeast of this blog. It is a worthy binge-read. Seriously, stop reading this, and check out what Daun Kauffman is doing. He’s a better writer and person than Jason and I put together.

I asked him to get coffee with me last summer because I wanted to ask him what he had learned about trauma. I got lucky, he didn’t think me seeking him out was too odd and didn’t care when my first words to him were, “Oh! I thought you were going to be a woman!” What I found out in meeting with Daun, aside from that he is a man, was that he isn’t the kind of guy who naturally fits the role of classroom teacher, but the kind of guy who has earned it through years of work. He’s the kind of guy who visits every one of his students at their home before the school year. He’s the kind of guy who has an MBA from Harvard yet chooses to teach in Philadelphia Public Schools. He’s the kind of guy who would rather drink Wawa coffee than any of the single origin blends La Colombe drip pours. Daun gives off the vibe of a steady and patient Dad. The kind that lets you wrestle with a fish rod for a while before stepping in and calmly untangling the mess. Daun is efficiency minded and adept at solving problems by looking at them from all angles. Fortune 500 companies would pay a guy like Daun a lot of money for his skill set. Yet everyday, for 19 years, he has put on his black jeans and black sneakers, and walks into his classroom. The dude is about as radical as they come and I wish we could all be closer to what he is.

Daun is the embodiment of what a solution to educating young folks afflicted by trauma looks like. He says that being trauma informed in a meaningful way means:

A paradigm shift that changes everything. From the beginning of the “I wanna be a teacher” process, to studying, to meeting the families (on their own turf ), to learning together, alongside a community of trauma-impacted kids. A community you helped form. The process will be unique in each community, each year. It is a slow careful communalizing process, not one more to-do list item. It is the central purpose, allowing meaning-making to be shared authentically.

I want to be more like Daun but usually am often more gullible. I buy into trends and gadgets more consistently than than I’ve ever admitted or will ever admit. Sometimes believing that a purchase may change my entire world. It’s lazy logic and at least two strikes against who I am as a person but I want to believe as much as anyone that I’m one 90 minute PD away from being trauma informed.

Adequately addressing the issue of trauma in our schools requires much more than awareness. It’s a massive issue deserving of massive attention. It will require a massive investment of time in money in the very places that we have ignored for decades. The wave of concern in public education has never centered around the schools that are most impacted by trauma, but their adjacent suburbs. Many of our young folks are calloused by trauma, and beginning to soften the callous will require an ambitious and layered approach beyond what our schools and 90 minute PDs are currently providing. It will likely require conversation and systemic change.

Trauma-impacted children are losing their right to equally access their education, while adults, school districts, and states stand by. Budget cuts for public schools each year translate to fewer Teachers/Counselors/Nurses with fewer resources to accomplish trauma-informed education, year after year.

For teachers to effectively deal with trauma, if that is even possible, it takes preparation, planning, and a seasoned presence in the classroom. Instead of fostering that kind of adult, our systems work against it.

I hope we can get better.

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