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The Personal Growth Necessary for Educators to Implement Trauma-Sensitive Practices

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Personal Growth

From my research, the essential practices to include in teacher education and professional development require a safe context in which teachers and candidates can engage in processes that require a level of vulnerability with which most are not comfortable. In these emotionally safe settings, teachers and candidates can engage in honest self-examination and self-reflection, which will increase their efficacy and self-awareness and their ability to self-regulate.

While engaging in these practices, it is equally important to teach self-acceptance and self-compassion. The exercise of self-reflection is not designed to criticize or punish oneself but rather as an opportunity to learn. To accomplish this, teachers must learn to accept and feel compassion for themselves so they can choose to move forward.

Developing the willingness to uncover labels educators have created in their minds or bought into from other sources, accompanied by negative biases, assumptions, and beliefs, is frightening for many. However, this discovery process is what allows candidates and teachers to choose to look through a new lens and eliminate old biases, assumptions, and beliefs that can harm both educators and their students.

In this setting, candidates and teachers can identify specific behaviors and situations that trigger them and develop the ability to depersonalize with compassion. Through this process, educators can learn to self-regulate so they may choose their responses to students rather than overreacting in the moment. In addition, teachers require assistance understanding the natural state of human fallibility that requires ongoing self-forgiveness. "Failure" is something we are all afraid of, so it is up to teacher educators and school professionals to reframe the concept as a data-gathering method to inform the next attempt.

Simply acknowledging the extreme discomfort of adopting new lenses and understandings, letting go of old beliefs and assumptions, and learning new practices and methods can normalize the experience for candidates and teachers alike. In a safe setting, teachers are more likely to share which skillsets are more difficult for them to adopt and where they need more support. By letting go of old, limiting beliefs without self-judgment and empowering educators to look through new lenses at their students and the teaching and learning process, educators will become more effective. In addition, they are less likely to become overwhelmed when faced with the reality of today's classrooms.

The CASEL 5: Copied and Adapted for Educators

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is a leading organization in bringing social-emotional learning (SEL) into schools and classrooms. In 2020, the President and CEO at that time, Karen Niemi, wrote an article quoting the updated version of the definition of SEL, stating that: “the updated language pays attention to personal and social identities, cultural competency, and collective action as part of SEL. It also emphasizes the skills, knowledge, and mindsets needed to examine prejudices and biases, evaluate social norms and systemic inequities, and promote community well-being” (Niemi, 2020, par. 8).

Briefly, in their discussions of SEL application, CASEL mentions that SEL is crucial for adults. However, I have adapted their five areas of SEL to make them more applicable to educators. Through the CASEL 5, teachers and candidates may find guidance in the areas of personal growth on which they need to focus. In addition, the process of self-reflection when interacting with these five areas of social-emotional learning can provide opportunities for clear pathways to improvement.

Self-Awareness: the ability to understand one's feelings, thoughts, and values and how they influence one’s behaviors across contexts. The capacity to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

(a) Integrate personal and social identities
(b) Identify and name one's emotions,
(c) Link feelings, values, and thoughts
d) Examine prejudices and biases
(e) Demonstrate honesty and integrity
(f) Build self-efficacy
(g) Build a growth mindset
(h) Rebuild a sense of purpose

Self-Management: The ability to manage one's emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and achieve goals. This ability includes the capacity to manage stress and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.

(a) Manage one's emotions
(b) Identify and use stress management techniques that work for you
(c) Exhibit self-regulation
(d) Set personal and collective goals to benefit the classroom community and the collegial community
(e) Plan and organize efficiently
(f) Show the courage to take the initiative
(g) Demonstrate personal agency

Social-Awareness: the ability to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This ability includes the capacity to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

(a) Take students' perspectives
(b) Acknowledge strengths in all students
(c) Demonstrate empathy and compassion for all students
(d) Show concern for the feelings of all students
(e) Understand and express appreciation for students
(f) Identify diverse social norms, including unjust ones
(g) Recognize situational demands and opportunities
(h) Understand the influences of organizations and systems on behaviors

Relationship Skills: The ability to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This ability includes communicating clearly, listening actively, cooperating, working collaboratively to problem-solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigating contexts with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, providing leadership, and seeking or offering help when needed.

(a) Communicate effectively with students, families, and colleagues
(b) Develop positive relationships with students, families, and colleagues
(c) Demonstrate cultural competency with students, families, and colleagues
(d) Practice teamwork and collaborative problem-solving with students, families, and colleagues
(e) Resolve conflicts constructively using de-escalation and co-regulation techniques
(f) Show leadership with groups of colleagues
(g) Seek and offer support and help when needed
(h) Stand up for the rights of your students, families, and colleagues

Responsible Decision-Making: the ability to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and interactions with students, families, and colleagues across diverse situations. This ability includes the capacity to consider ethical standards and safety concerns and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

(a) Demonstrate curiosity and open-mindedness
(b) Engage in nonjudgmental analysis of information, data, and facts
(c) Identify solutions for personal, and school problems
(d) Anticipate and evaluate the consequences of one's actions
(e) Recognize how critical thinking skills are helpful in challenging situations
(f) Reflect on one's role to promote personal, classroom, school, and community well-being
(g) Evaluate personal, interpersonal, community, and institutional impacts on students and families (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, n.d.-b)

By elevating young people's perspectives and experiences, SEL affirms who they are as individuals and helps students and adults understand how their unique identities support and shape their learning. By offering opportunities for students to use their voice, examine social problems, and work alongside adults to co-create solutions, SEL can help cultivate change agents and leaders who will meaningfully contribute to their communities and the world. By fostering deeper connections and meaningful relationships, SEL can help create a sense of belonging and more inclusive learning environments and communities (Niemi, 2020, par. 7).

SEL-Focused Classrooms
  1. A supportive classroom climate helps students to feel emotionally safe, part of a community of learners, motivated, and challenged. This type of environment creates a strong foundation for students to engage fully and take academic risks. This includes: community-building, belonging and emotional safety, and student-centered discipline.
  2. Integration of SEL into academic instruction weaves academic learning with opportunities for students to practice and reflect on social and emotional competencies, such as perspective-taking and developing a growth mindset. For example, teachers might incorporate partner and group activities that promote relationships, communication skills, and effective teamwork.
  3. Explicit SEL instruction provides consistent opportunities to cultivate, practice, and reflect on social and emotional competencies in ways that are developmentally appropriate and culturally responsive (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, n.d.-a, par. 6)
Social, Emotional, and Cultural Anchor Competencies Framework

The Center for Reaching & Teaching the Whole Child (CRTWC) has moved forward from the CASEL 5 to create their Social, Emotional, and Cultural Anchor Competencies Framework specifically for educators and teacher educators. The Framework has many interactive levels to consider, and all are valuable.

The central point to emphasize, noted with two asterisks at the bottom of the Framework, is that building relationship is the foundation for all learning. The rest of the competencies, goals, personal growth, or professional work educators may do all hinge on this one factor: teachers must learn to build relationships with all students.

I focus on traumatized students in my work because there are complexities in building trust with students who have been abandoned, betrayed, neglected, and abused that may not exist with other students. However, as this organization is so named, it is possible to reach and teach all children. I have witnessed and accomplished this.

The CRTWC Anchor Competencies Framework is pictured below. The book by Markowitz and Bouffard (2020) provides extensive explanations about each ring of the Framework.



Building relationships under these conditions takes work, effort, and a different kind of knowledge and awareness. But, without the foundation of trust, the rest of the practices will not be effective; the building will crumble before it is even begun.



Center for Reaching and Teaching the Whole Child. (n.d.). Educational change starts with educators.
This webpage contains a link to a PDF file of the Social, Emotional, and Cultural Anchor Competencies Framework which can be viewed and downloaded.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (n.d.-a) SEL in the classroom.
This webpage contains links to many resources: supporting research, methods for implementation of the three components of SEL in the classroom, guides to schoolwide SEL Programs, guides to specific practices, a research brief on the effects of Transformative SEL practices with Latinx youth, and the Building Equitable Learning Environments Framework.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. (n.d.-b) What is the CASEL framework?
This webpage contains the Interactive CASEL Wheel, which provides information and guidance for each part of the CASEL 5 Wheel when selected.

Markowitz, N. L., & Bouffard, S. M. (2020). Teaching with a Social, Emotional, and Cultural Lens: A Framework for Teachers and Teacher Educators. Harvard Education Press.
This book contains a detailed description of the Social, Emotional, and Cultural Anchor Competencies Framework and how to apply the competencies in practice.

Niemi, K. (2020). CASEL Is Updating the Most Widely Recognized Definition of Social-Emotional Learning. Here’s Why. The 74.…

Posted:  4 April, 2022
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Author: Jennifer De Lapp

Jennifer Everett De Lapp is a former high school special education teacher for students with mild /moderate disabilities including learning disabilities, autism, and emotional and behavioral...

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