Trauma Sensitive Practices Discussed At Fulton BOE Meeting

Woman gives presentation
Geri Geitner gives a presentation. Photo by: Kassadee Paulo

FULTON – During Fulton School District Board of Education meeting last night, Tuesday, Nov. 12, Director of Student Support Services Geri Geitner gave a presentation on a training 374 district employees have received.

During 12 hours of professional development, Fulton teachers learned about trauma sensitive practices to find the best way to handle students in their classrooms who may have experienced some form of trauma.

In the district’s strategic coherence plan, they aim in 2024 to have 90% of respondents in the Student Voice Survey to agree or strongly agree that they feel welcomed and part of their school. 

In order to achieve this goal, they decided to provide professional development in positive school culture and trauma sensitive practices.

Taking inspiration from “Fostering Resilient Learners,” by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall and a study group on it, the school district formed a three year plan in adopting these practices. 

During the first year, the goal was to “develop a system-wide understanding of the impact of trauma on learning and the need for school-wide and district-wide approaches to address the needs of students.”

During the second year, the goal was to “explore, adopt and apply evidence-based strategies for addressing the academic and social-emotional needs of students impacted by trauma. Develop capacity of staff to train, mentor and coach other staff.”

Finally in the third year, the goal was to “measure the impact and adjust practices to reflect the unique needs of the students in the district.”

By today, 374 teachers have gone through 12 hours of this training.

A team of presenters including Geitner, Liz Tiffany, Samantha Swayze, Michelle Briggs and Bridget Caprin provided this professional development. 

Geitner then gave an abbreviated version of what the professional development training looked like. 

During level 1 training, the learning goals for staff members were to be able to define trauma and demonstrate an understanding of its impact on learning and to identify and apply classroom and school-wide strategies to build resilience and mitigate the impact of trauma on learning.

“A traumatic event is any situation that a person subjectively experiences as distressing or frightening,” Geitner said in the presentation. “Trauma is the response to an experience or event that overwhelms the ability of an individual to cope in a healthy manner.”

She said these events can be different for everyone; what might be distressing for someone, but another might not have an issue with it.

Geitner showed a video that explained what an Adverse Childhood Experiences score is and how one’s score impacts their health. Experiences that add a point to this score include: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, mother treated violently, substance misuse within household, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and an incarcerated household member.

The higher the score, the more health and social issues are likely to be present. Geitner said in a classroom of 30 students, it is statistically likely to have six with a score of 0, five with 1, six with 2, three with 3, four with 4, three with 5, two with 6 and one with 8. 

“Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between a 0 and an 8 or a 2 and a 6,” Geitner said. “The behaviors might look the same or might be undiagnosed. We might not have any insight of the type of trauma that our children have experienced when they walk through our classroom doors.”

Geitner said teachers often look at students who act out in the classroom as sharks, but underneath the surface, they are vulnerable goldfish. She also said schools perceive themselves as welcoming, like a goldfish, but students with these traumatic experiences can see it as shark-infested waters.

Geitner said teachers do not need to know the details of a student’s trauma, but they do need to understand that whatever has happened has lead them to a certain decisions and behaviors, and their responses should reflect that understanding. 

The six principles in these trainings include: Always empower students rather than disempower them, show unconditional positive regard, set expectations that show a student is not “too damaged” to behave or work, question and observe rather than make assumptions, be a relationship coach, and to provide opportunities for helpful participation. 

“Trauma does not have to define our kids, but we have a tremendous opportunity, as educators, to apply these practices and this knowledge that we now have to make them feel safe and to develop those resilience factors with our students,” Geitner said. 

Geitner said it is also important for teachers to practice self-care. During the training, she encourages them to assess their compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, burnout and vicarious trauma. She then gave teachers in the training self-care strategies as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We have experienced positive feedback from the learning that has occurred and [the teachers] have asked for more,” Geitner said. 

Geitner’s full presentation can be accessed here.

The board then continued their meeting and passed all agenda items unanimously. The next meeting will be held Tuesday, Nov. 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the Board Room at Fulton Junior High School.