The Center for Educational Improvement in the Next Decade: Focusing on Alleviating Childhood Trauma and Toxic Stress for School Staff through Heart Centered School Communities

By Dana Asby, Director of Innovation & Research Support

The demands of the 21st Century, and the resulting stress that affects students, staff, and the greater community, have left many educational leaders pondering a key question: How to balance state and federal standards and requirements with their instinctual understanding that what children—and the adults who serve them—most need is love? At the Center for Educational Improvement (CEI), we spent the last decade advocating for the use of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) education, a better understanding among staff and parents of the neurobiology of stress and trauma, and an infusion of mindfulness into the fabric of the school building and classroom. As we begin this new decade, we still think all of those things are important, but we want to focus on empowering school leaders to do this work in the context of compassionate, heart centered school communities. We’re dedicated to providing action tools and resources to guide school leaders as they implement programs to alleviate trauma, infuse compassion into classrooms, and use mindfulness and heart centered practices to strengthen cognition and accelerate academic learning.

The Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative: A Place for Learning Together

In 2019, CEI partnered with Yale’s Program for Recovery and Community Health and the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center (New England MHTTC) to launch the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC). Through the C-TLC, we’ve been working closely with 24 educators, our C-TLC Fellows, to guide them through the visioning process using the School Culture Analytical Tool for Educators (S-CCATE), which will soon be released and available to educators throughout the U.S. Our C-TLC Fellows helped us bring this compassionate school climate survey to over 1,000 educators in the New England region. The C-TLC will continue to be a large part of CEI’s work throughout 2020 as we use the valuable feedback of our core group of school leaders to refine our Five Cs of Heart Centered Learning framework.

Please contact ipadgett@edimprovement.org if your New England school is interested in participating in the C-TLC.

Providing Free Resources to Educators through the New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center

Our work with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the New England MHTTC has not only facilitated great conversations and collaborations with leaders at the school, district, and state level of education, but also allowed us to create some products we hope will be useful to you and your staff as you prepare your students for an increasingly demanding world that requires the direct teaching of social emotional and self-regulation skills.

CEI collaborated with SAMHSA and the New England MHTTC to create the following products in 2019:

Stay up-to-date on future events, like Jeff’s Donald’s webinar about Mindfulness Implementation in a Secondary Setting on Tuesday, February 7 at 4:00 p.m., by subscribing to our newsletter, which has been renamed “Compassion Action” and has a new look, and visiting our Events page. To see new archived webinars, please subscribe to CEI’s YouTube channel.

Disseminating our Message More Widely

Thanks to our networking opportunities through SAMHSA and the New England MHTTC, CEI has been able to connect with educators not only in New England, but throughout the country as well. We’ve had the opportunity to share our work with the C-TLC at several conferences this year, where we introduced more educators to how to use the S-CCATE to identify areas of strength and potential growth, form Core Learning Teams, listen to stakeholder voices, and take part in an iterative visioning process to transform their schools and districts into trauma-responsive, compassionate, heart centered communities.

In 2020, we’re following up the successful Mindfulness Practices: Cultivating Heart Centered Communities Where Students Focus and Flourish (Mason, Rivers Murphy, & Jackson, 2019) with two new books being released this February. In Mindful School Communities: The Five Cs of Nurturing Heart Centered Learning (Mason, Rivers Murphy, & Jackson, 2020), Drs. Mason, Rivers Murphy, and Jackson continue the conversation about the neurobiology of toxic stress and trauma and urge school leaders to go beyond individual, classroom, or school-wide mindfulness practices to intentionally build a community of learners with the same goals. A companion book, Visioning Onward: A Guide for All Schools (Mason, Liebnow, & Patshke, 2020), gives leaders examples of schools, companies, and individuals who exemplify the transformational mindset of a successful leader and a framework for taking their school or district on the journey towards becoming more compassionate, intentional, and heart centered.

All of these publications ask the question, “What is the measure of success in a school?” We believe the answer lies in both rigorous academics and well-being of staff and students. In 2020, in addition to also releasing a yoga manual for schools and a book about approaching children’s mental health from a compassionate viewpoint, CEI will continue to explore how the increasing popularity of universal screening of mental health issues in schools has transformed how educators think about behavior and academic difficulties, how neuroscience research supports the use of mindfulness for improving academics and well-being, and how we can support all students—whether or not they receive a diagnosis.

Read more about the work CEI completed in 2019 and our plans for 2020 in our Annual Report.

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