By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support
The Center for Educational Improvement (CEI) has been working closely with 24 school administrators, teachers, psychologists, and social workers who are leaders in their states working to advance the understanding and use of trauma-informed practices in New England. The Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC)—a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)-funded project—was created by Yale University’s Program for Recovery and Community Health (PRCH) and CEI to address the needs of schools in responding to trauma and promoting practices to buffer against trauma’s negative effects while building resiliency for all children.
Since the inaugural meeting of the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative in April 2019, Fellows have been attending high quality virtual learning events led by nationally recognized experts to learn more about evidence-based, trauma-informed practices and interventions that address the needs of children with serious emotional and behavioral challenges and accessing up-to-date research, practical advice, training opportunities, and more via an electronic resource database. Fellows have also learned about Heart Centered Learning® through book studies, taken the S-CCATE school culture assessment to monitor their progress in cultivating compassionate school communities, and participated in meetings with state level officials to advance the use of trauma-skilled practices. They came into the C-TLC as leaders and we have seen their leadership further blossom as they feel more confident in their understanding of trauma, mindfulness, and community.
Leaders Supporting Leaders
Through a competitive application process, we selected just 24 school leaders from a pool of highly qualified, experienced, and motivated educators. A dynamic group of district level administrators, principals, school psychologists, social workers, and other educators joined the C-TLC staff in a year of learning together. C-TLC staff wanted to share the expertise they and the other researchers, authors, and educational consultants working with the project have gained through experience and research, but we also wanted to learn from educators on the ground. We wanted to better understand the needs of New England schools and design an adaptive program to help these capable leaders make real and lasting change in their communities.
The inaugural class of C-TLC Fellows did not disappoint us. They have taught us so much about compassionate best practices for school-based mental health. At in-person meetings, Fellows have shared their schools’ successes in developing a compassionate school culture, using trauma-informed mental health screening, and developing systems and protocols to ensure each child has a caring adult to mentor them. Each school community came to us at a different point on their journey towards becoming a trauma-skilled school. They shared their strengths and needs with one another and each took back valuable pieces of learning to share with their staff, students, and school families.
Building Relationships, Sharing Sorrows, and Growing Together
Although we were impressed with the leadership of each of our Fellows, what impressed us even more about this group of incredible educators was their willingness to be vulnerable with us and each other. From the first time we met in person in April of 2019, school leaders from the farthest corners of New England who had never met before were building relationships and letting down their guard to let each other in from the moment we began our courageous conversations about the intersection of trauma, equity, and education.
A leader, first and foremost, is human. Only when we have the strength to show our vulnerability can we truly lead.-Simon Sineck
Since that heartfelt initial meeting, the Fellows have continued to show up for themselves and each other to engage in tough discussions that not only pluck heart strings and illuminate what we are doing to support our school communities, but that also expose the inadequacies of continuing to do things the way they’ve always been done, the way that might feel most comfortable or easiest. We know that sharing evidence-based best practices and resources for school-based mental health gave these Fellows valuable knowledge to inform their work in ameliorating their mental health support systems. We also know that the courageous conversations that Fellows had with us and with their school communities are where the true change took place. As we grew as our own C-TLC community, we confronted some harsh realities about what we can do individually to support our schools and what we must collectively work towards changing—slowly and with much concerted effort—even as we continually come up against barriers.
We are honored to work with each and every one of the Fellows in our inaugural class of the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative. We are grateful that you have chosen to work with us to help educate more people about the importance of cultivating compassionate school communities to address the mental health needs of children most at-risk for trauma. We are enthusiastic about the work you are doing now—even in uncertain times like these—and we are excited to see the visions you have shared with us for your school communities to come to fruition.
To the inaugural class of C-TLC Fellows, thank you!
For more information on our work to bring compassionate school practices to New England and to review feedback from our Fellows, read our 2019-2020 Survey Report.