Trauma workshop offers strategies

Dr. Marcia Weseman on Tuesday presented “Trauma Smart: The Journey to Become a Trauma-Informed School Community,” to a capacity audience of school social workers, teachers, superintendents and other school leaders at KASB.

The day-long workshop offered strategies to help teachers and others understand the impact of trauma on children and how to help those children recover and become successful. Weseman has more than 30 years experience as a teacher, principal and district administrator.

Trauma is any event that places overwhelming demands on the body’s psychological systems, resulting in a profound sense of helplessness and lack of control. Children who’ve experienced trauma exhibit behaviors such as “spacing out,” tantrums, withdrawal, inability to get along with others, hopelessness and school truancy, all of which impact school behavior and academic and social success, Weseman said.

“Trauma-informed schools are good for all kids, not just those with a trauma history,” Weseman said, because trauma affects student behavior which in turn impacts the learning of everyone in the classroom. “When a traumatized child’s brain is in survival mode, they can’t learn,” Weseman noted, and while teachers aren’t in charge of identifying the specific stressor, their response to the behavior is critical to helping children succeed in spite of trauma.

Workshop participants learned about how the human brain processes trauma, the factors that trigger student behavior and the importance of moderating adult stress in response to childhood trauma.

“The number-one thing I wanted participants to take away from the workshop is that a teacher or educator’s own emotional state, mood and energy level is the most important thing” for coping with student behavior. We want to change the lens of how teachers look at students from ‘what’s wrong with this kid’ to ‘I wonder what’s happened to this child’ and how that affects students’ relationships with others, both in school and out,” Weseman said.

Kathy Mickelson works for the Three Lakes Educational Cooperative, which provides special education services to students in West Franklin USD 287, Osage City USD 420, Lyndon USD 421, Santa Fe Trail USD 434, Burlingame USD 454 and Marais des Cygnes Valley USD 456. The information presented at the workshop, Mickelson said, “explains a lot of behaviors we’re seeing. We realized our schools needed more information and we want to be proactive in helping students, parents and staff” deal with the impact of trauma on children.

Mickelson, her Three Lakes colleague Michele Lukas and Lyndon USD 421 Superintendent Cheryl Cook said the strategies they learned at the workshop will help them even in the short time that’s remaining in the 2017 school year. “We see behaviors sometimes ramp up as the school year ends” because of anxiety on the part of students and parents over the approaching summer break from school, the educators said.

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