UNP Partner Jess Cleeves has written a beautiful report, documenting her Trauma-Informed Pedagogy course. For the last two years, Jess has worked with Salt Lake-area school teachers to learn how to care for themselves and their students through humility, kindness, and a trauma-informed lens. Read on for a short introduction from Jess, and download the report to the right to learn more.
Trauma-Informed Educators for Supported Educational Pathways
By Jess Cleeves
Schools; Important, and Intense, Places
Close up, schools house the classrooms and playgrounds in which our children figure out how to interact with each other. As we ‘zoom out,’ we see schools’ historical and current role as battlegrounds for broad-scale political and ideological conflict. Public schools are one of the few places where students from all kinds of experiential, socioeconomic, ethnic and racial, linguistic, and politically informed backgrounds come together, usually to spend days that look remarkably similar from one to the other, and in groups where acceptable behavior is narrowly defined. Teachers know the intensity of schools, as teachers bear daily witness to schools as both crucibles and consequences of dominant culture.
The intensity of the classroom experience impacts all teachers differently. Some discover how neighborhood segregation leads to wild variability from one school to another and choose schools with more resources. Some commit to working in poor communities and communities of color (which predictably overlap in the USA). For those who work in underserved communities, the opportunity to over-work is constant, as an individual can always do more against structural oppression. Teachers deal with this intensity in one of three ways: figure out how to be fully alive in their work anyway, stick with the job via numb disconnection, or leave the classroom.
I Left the Classroom
After 10 years of teaching in Title I, III, and IV classrooms, I was unable to sleep through the night without a school-related anxiety dream. My relationships in my personal life suffered. My body stopped making the stress hormone cortisol — I had run out. On leaving the classroom, I pursued a Master’s in Social Work, in part to understand what happened to me and how to prevent it.
The Trauma Informed Pedagogy program described in this report was inspired by the “Blessing the Paradigm” trauma-informed domestic violence training I took at the Urban Indian Center in 2018. 100% of the Native panelists mentioned public school as a source of trauma. This struck me; my teaching practice had hurt me, but I truly thought it had served students. Did my practice actually harm students? Understanding how “helping” practitioners cause harm pushed me to explore trauma neurophysiology, how harmful dominant culture can be disgused within “trauma-informed” ideas, and how to combine these ideas with liberation pedagogy for classrooms that heal instead of harm.
What followed were two years of working with UNP, educators, and community leaders to understand trauma, including cultural trauma, the role of schools, and the power educators have to regulate both their internal and external environments towards maximum student safety and liberation.
To learn more about the structure and impact of this work, please download the report.
The Trauma Informed Pedagogy program is a partnership, led by Jess Cleeves, that includes University Neighborhood Partners, the Urban Institute for Teacher Education, the Center for Science and Math Education, the College of Social Work, the National Ability Center, and local community leaders.