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Featured Fellow: Jaime Ela, a Maine Principal Implementing Trauma-Informed Learning in the Classroom

By Kelsey Remeis, CEI Intern

Jaime Ela, a C-TLC Fellow, is a Pre-K-2nd Grade Principal at two Maine schools, Libby Tozier and Sabattus Primary Schools.

Jaime, a second year principal in her Maine district, has continually worked to educate teachers about the benefits of building relationships within the school community. She has been shifting away from some of the traditional approaches to behavior challenges and working towards more effective strategies. Jaime is cultivating an environment that promotes learning and makes students feel safe by taking small steps, such as introducing calming corners in classrooms, that yield big rewards.

Steps to Success

Jaime has learned that change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build trust and relationships with students, parents, and even staff. As she integrates the knowledge she’s gained from the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC) into her vision for her school, Jaime keeps the importance of relationship-building at the forefront of her mind. She begins by building trust with students. Once that trust is established, she has seen improvements in both academics and behavior for students who have struggled with traditional reactions and interventions. Jaime has tried to focus on the need for making a connection with each and every student. She says, “Otherwise, you have nothing to work from.”

Jaime makes it a point to work closely not only with students and staff, but parents as well. The feedback and input of parents is key. Parents must be heard, and they must also feel that their input is valued. Jaime builds positive relationships with parents and instills trust by giving them the space to express themselves. She helps parents realize that everyone’s parenting is different and that it’s okay to admit that being a parent is hard.

She also ensures staff understand that trauma is complex and goes far beyond “bad parenting.” Placing blame on parents—many of whom have experienced or are currently experiencing trauma themselves—only creates more issues and is ultimately unproductive in the efforts to support students and their families.

Using Trauma-Informed Practices

In her new position as principal, Jaime came to realize that recent graduates from teacher preparation programs are continuing to learn the same materials and methods as she did years ago. The lack of change in preparation was surprising, since the rapid change in society and the issues schools face are apparent to her. Jaime believes that there needs to be a larger focus on trauma in teacher education programs. Raising awareness and having training on trauma can jumpstart the conversation about creating connections.

To close this trauma knowledge gap, Jaime works closely with her student support teams, special education teachers, and social work staff to infuse trauma-informed approaches within the classrooms. Together, they develop ways to focus on social emotional learning (SEL) skill building. Once this is achieved, Jaime says, “Academics will come.”

Next Steps in the C-TLC and Beyond

Jaime will be presenting a workshop this spring to 14 districts with about 1,600 educators on ways to “Connect the Dots with Trauma to Classroom Relationships.” She will explain to educators a few specific practices to use, how to fine tune them for specific populations, and the importance of keeping it simple. She believes that once you start to make small changes, the rest will follow, eventually completing the entire picture.

Prior to becoming a part of C-TLC, she says that she wouldn’t have thought she would need to attend—much less present—something like this. The C-TLC has changed her perspective on the importance of continuing to learn and adapt to the best practices that not only benefit students, but the community as a whole.

One of the most profound discoveries that Jaime has come across through her fellowship with the C-TLC is understanding that so many people are dealing with the same issues, at different scales. It’s important to know that there are support groups out there that are passionate about delivering resources and support to those who need help for a variety of issues. Hearing others’ experiences is comforting, so she feels that “being able to reach out and network is a huge help.”

Jaime continues to implement small steps towards trauma-informed learning in both of her schools. She is beginning to see positive changes as she cultivates stronger relationships throughout her community. There is still much work to be done, but Jaime is optimistic about the positive changes that will come in the near future as the foundation she has laid allows her school community to deepen its compassion and expand the positive practices that are being implemented.

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