trauma

What Does It Take To Make A Great Teacher?

November 13, 2015 – What does it take to make a great teacher? An expert group of educators, policymakers and others had been working for quite some time to answer that question and came up with a better, more consistent system in Michigan for making sure that our teaching force is the best it can be, for our most advantaged and most challenged students alike. One of the takeaways from that process demonstrated in the teacher evaluation legislation recently signed by the Governor is that better training and support is necessary so that teachers can use their talents to the best of their abilities.

What supports a great teacher? Certainly the ability to have time in the classroom to use what they have spent years learning – to help students build knowledge and skills. For some, that is in specific topic areas; for some, that is about fostering and supporting a love of learning for younger kids; for some, it is about getting kids who are struggling back on track; and for some it is about making sure we continue to challenge the imagination and creativity of those who excel. Not surprisingly, teachers report that they can better utilize their skills when kids come to school ready to learn. Unfortunately, there are a host of things that prevent kids from optimal learning in the classroom that are impossible for teachers to address on their own. Teachers are better able to teach and students are better able to learn when:

  • – kids don’t come into the classroom hungry, or when they don’t come in with a toothache as supported by integrating nutrition and health services in the schools;
  • – kids are not feeling intimidated by other kids or school staff, or feeling unsafe at home and on the way to school, which is improved by utilizing positive behavior supports and other evidenced discipline strategies;
  • – older students have a manageable job after school that they want and need, and when students have had the opportunity to catch up when they fall behind and stay motivated after school and in the summer, made possible through investment in community partnerships and expanded learning;
  • – young people have been able to manage their addictions, mental health or other special needs and other members of their family have been able to do the same through access to those services in school buildings and in the community;
  • – student behaviors are managed well in the school system by recognizing behaviors borne of trauma and addressing them through that lens; and
  • – their parents are able to build their own skills to help and encourage them at home and have the time together at home to use those skills, as supported through adult and community education programs and family friendly work supports.

Everyone knows that educational, career and life success are not built in the classroom alone. Because all of our systems, not just the K-12 system, don’t work as well as they should and often don’t work together, disparities in literacy emerge as early as nine months of age.  Those gaps can continue to grow throughout educational careers without appropriate attention and intervention. In addition, future state budgets will be stressed by recent road funding decisions and inadequate revenue putting other critical state investments at risk.

Despite these challenges, Michigan must find a way to commit investments for teachers and the children, youth, families and communities they serve. To do otherwise would fail to move ahead in the work started by this teacher evaluation legislation. As we better evaluate teachers, we must also ensure that they have the support they need to succeed.

– Michele Corey

Students, Living with Trauma, Struggle in School

October 12, 2015 — John Green, award winning young adult author, recently gave a TEDx Talk in Indianapolis entitled, “The nerd’s guide to learning everything online.” He explained how he was a terrible student and felt education was a series of hurdles he didn’t care to jump. He said teachers would threaten him by saying he couldn’t get a good job because his GPA was too low and it would go on his permanent record. “As far as I could tell at eleven or twelve years old, people with good jobs woke up early in the morning and the men with good jobs, one of the first things they did was tie a strangulation item of clothing around their necks,” he said. “That’s not a recipe for a happy life. Why would I want to jump over all of these hurdles and have that be the end? That’s a terrible end!”

John Green’s example may seem exaggerated but it is the perception of many students and as experts say in the world of sales and advertising, perception is reality. Students who struggle with trauma in their lives often see little to no importance in attending school. They see it as a hurdle, a hurdle that by law is required of them and a hurdle someone other than them cares more about. Why should a student who is burdened by the crushing weight of poverty, hunger, abuse, having to be the main source of income, living in a crime-infested neighborhood, loss of family and friends to violence, being a teen parent, being the parent to their parent(s), and having intermittent heat, electricity, or running water want to attend school? When life is about survival, school is an unnecessary hurdle.

School should not feel like a hurdle, should not feel like something one has to do for someone else. Students have mastered the basic economic principle of opportunity cost without realizing they have. Many students living with trauma see the cost of attending school as greater than the benefits. By being at school, they see the lost opportunity of getting a job, making money, parenting younger siblings, and having the freedom to make their own choices. They don’t see nor value the future benefits promised of an education because they are focused on trying to survive the present.

According to the 2009 New York Times article, “Large Urban-Suburban Gap Seen in Graduation Rates,” the urban-suburban school attendance and graduation gap is due to the inequality of teacher quality from classroom to classroom. We have to start at ground zero, in the classroom, with increasing the quality of teachers and teaching if we are to motivate students to attend school. The teacher ultimately holds the power to motivate students to attend school and the classroom is ground zero for inspiring students. If teachers create a safe and nurturing environment in the classroom, if they differentiate and individualize instruction based on the needs, wants, and learning styles of students, students will want to attend school. If teachers provide students extended learning opportunities such as guest speakers, field trips, contests, simulations, projects, character building workshops, and college and career fairs, students will attend school.

Steps are being taken to improve the quality of teachers and teaching in the alternative and urban schools; however progress is slow and infrequent. Hamtramck Public Schools is one of the few school districts in Michigan to have a person dedicated to teacher evaluation and instructional improvement, which is my current position with the district. The University of Michigan –Dearborn is one of the first and few universities to have a concentration area in Metropolitan Education for their Education Specialist and Doctoral degree programs. More secondary schools and institutions of higher learning should develop programs and plans specifically to improve the quality of instruction within urban and alternative education schools. By doing so, students living with trauma will receive the emotional, social, and academic support they need and will be motivated to attend and stay in school.

– Tim Constant, Director of Teacher Evaluation and Instructional Improvement, Hamtramck Public Schools

Michigan’s Children invited Constant to write a blog about the importance of trauma-informed practices in education and the need for integrated school services to help all students achieve greater academic success. Tim has been involved with Michigan’s Children for many years, ensuring that the young people he serves have a voice in the public policy process. We were glad for him to share his thoughts about recent work to include components of trauma informed practice into expected outcomes for the educators he supports.

Helping vulnerable children early is key to closing achievement gaps

September 9, 2015 – No longer a top tier state for education, Michigan today has larger gaps in student outcomes among its diverse populations than many other states, jettisoning our state to 37th in the nation according to the National Kids Count project. These learning gaps start early and persist and grow throughout educational careers without appropriate intervention and support, threatening our state’s future and the futures of thousands of our children.

New State School Superintendent Brian Whiston has begun his tenure focused on asking groups (many with competing interests) to talk with the State Board of Education about fixing that, and restoring Michigan to a top 10 state in education within 10 years.

At Michigan’s Children, we believe the answers lie in shrinking these achievement gaps and reducing student disparities through known evidence and practices that works best for children, youth and families, and their schools and communities. Positive change can happen even as state decision makers face unique pressures to fund costly road fixes while determining investments in the most struggling schools and districts.

We shared our recommendations that support students within and beyond the classroom to assist with their eventual success in a presentation to State Board of Education and School Superintendent Brian Whiston this week, outlining a strategy that includes several specific areas for attention.

Start early. Education is a lifelong process beginning at birth with differences among children becoming evident as early as 9 months. By 6th grade, children from low-income families have 6,000 fewer hours of learning than their peers due to fewer opportunities for early, consistent and expanded learning. The education system must continue to focus early to head off future problems by increasing parent coaching and supports through voluntary home visiting options, building state investment and maximize federal investment in Early On, and continuing to improve our child care subsidy system.

Because children succeed when their parents do well, the education system must support parents’ role in children’s learning. The evidence on this is clear, particularly for early literacy skills and retention in the early grades. Today, four out of 10 Michigan schoolchildren aren’t reading proficiently by third grade, and the rates are much higher for children of color. The education system must expand support to help parents reach their educational and career goals through investments in Adult Education, workforce supports and family literacy options, and promote effective two-generation programming where families can learn together.

Trauma from family stress, mental and behavioral health issues, violence and loss, abuse or other social or emotional issues can undermine a child’s ability to learn and grow academically. Yet, we don’t fully recognize its impact on learning gaps and educational achievement in our policy and practice. The education system must implement good practices in schools and provide educators with the necessary tools to deal with symptoms of student and family trauma. Improving connections with community partners who can help is vital.

When schools are able to unite families with other community resources, there are more chances to find and address the causes of school absence, behavioral issues and academic problems be they caused by health issues, unstable housing, bullying or disengagement by parents or students. There is ample evidence that after-school and summer learning programs help to integrating community services for students and families, and support their academic progress by getting students motivated and engaged with their learning, helping them get caught up when they get behind and keeping them on a successful trajectory.

Finally, there is no one-size-fits-all for student success. Because children are inherently different and come with an array of challenges, young people need multiple pathways to success beyond the traditional, arbitrary four years of high school. Therefore, we must invest in second-, third- and fourth-chance programs for high school completion. In addition, we must prevent unnecessary expulsions that leave too many students adrift from college and career by promoting school attendance and adjusting school discipline policies.

It is clear that the Superintendent and School Board are uniquely positioned to provide needed robust leadership for this difficult work by taking into account the expertise of many sectors of work, including family and community resources. To do so recognizes a universal truth: A child’s ability to succeed in school and life relies on multiple factors, most that aren’t exclusive to what happens inside the classroom, but extend far beyond that learning environment. Improving the state’s ability to build success in more students is possible and essential, will require a commitment from many partners. We encourage our educational leadership to join Michigan’s Children and many others to put all of our children and families at the forefront of what it takes to make Michigan’s education great again.

– Matt Gillard

This blog first appeared as an opinion piece in Bridge Magazine on September 8, 2015.

Want To Stop Kicking Kids Out of School? Start Earlier

August 21, 2015 – Renewed attention has been placed on the disproportionality in school suspension and expulsion rates, and efforts here in Michigan and nationally to reduce suspension and expulsion continue to take shape.  The White House is leading a national push to rethink school discipline with a focus not only on general discipline practices but also as part of their My Brother’s Keeper efforts to improve outcomes for boys and young men of color.  These conversations, thankfully, have included the need to better understand the role of trauma, as schools are demonstrating that providing trauma-informed training to teachers and school personnel is a highly effective way to reduce inappropriate school discipline.  Research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) has played a clear role in these efforts as more and more is known about how to properly identify children who have experienced trauma and to best support them.

However, much more needs to be done to put what we know into practice in schools in Michigan, particularly since traumatic experiences that are exhibited through difficult school behaviors begin far before kindergarten.  With the increased focus on ACEs, attention is being placed on how to prevent and mitigate adverse experiences in early childhood.  Critically important in this discussion is a recent report by Child Trends that sheds light on how prevention efforts can and should focus on better supporting families with young children to prevent bullying behavior – clearly tied to later school discipline issues.

As the Child Trends report indicates, young children are developing social skills in those early years, and early aggressive behavior is a potential indicator of anti-social behavior later.  Michigan’s Children and others have been concerned about recent data on the extent of expulsion from early childhood education settings.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Education put out a joint policy statement on reducing suspension and expulsion rates in those settings.  Clearly kicking young kids out of child care or preschool is not the way to go, but rather we must identify the root cause of early aggressive behaviors and address those underlying issues.  The brain science that undergirds current focus on preventing the academic achievement gap before kindergarten-entry also points to the need for earlier efforts to mitigate bullying and aggressive behavior, taking advantage of the time when young children’s brains are developing most rapidly and brain structures to promote pro-social behavior can be built.

How does that happen?  With a focus on the family and ensuring that parents have the supports they need to be their child’s first and best teachers.  ACEs experienced in those early years – like child maltreatment, witnessing domestic violence, or having a parent with mental health challenges – shape early experiences and potentially long-term outcomes in ways that may result in aggressive behavior.  Since parents serve as role models to their children, what they do leaves a lasting impression on what young children perceive as appropriate or inappropriate behavior.  For families identified as having unstable or unsafe home environments, providing intensive family-focused supports that promote positive parenting while addressing the root causes of violence or maltreatment – like mental health or substance abuse issues – are essential to not only ensure family stability but also to reduce behaviors leading to bullying and school discipline problems.

Michigan is piloting in several communities efforts to improve trauma-informed practice through the Great Start systems to better recognize early signs of trauma and to intervene more appropriately in early childhood settings.  Connecting the outcomes of this work with local and statewide efforts to reduce bullying, suspensions and expulsions is critical to improving education outcomes to prevent and mitigate trauma so that all Michigan children, youth and families can succeed.

-Mina Hong

Ensuring All Students Have Community Connections

June 2 – Raising kids isn’t easy.  All families need support to take care of their children, regardless of socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, or geography.  And we know that all kids need the support of the community around them to ensure that they are healthy, developing appropriately, and learning the skills they need to succeed in school and in life.  For the average family, this means regular appointments with pediatricians; regular communication with child care and k-12 teachers; confiding in a family member, close friend or member of the clergy when times are particularly challenging.

But what happens when parents are so incredibly challenged that they can no longer provide for their kids?  What happens when their children no longer have access to that community support to ensure their well-being?  Unfortunately, this is what happened to Stoni Blair and Stephen Berry – the children whose story we all know from their tragic deaths when their mother used homeschooling as an excuse to keep them away from important community supports to abuse and ultimately murder them.

In response to their deaths, Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) introduced HB 4498 that would provide some level of oversight for families who choose to homeschool their children.  This bill would require families to register with the Michigan Department of Education so that their children would be counted on the homeschooling registry.  This would put Michigan on the same level as the rest of the nation, as one of the few remaining states that doesn’t require homeschooling families to register with their education system.  And the bill would require twice-a-year in-person check-ins with a community support person of the parents’ choosing that could range from a doctor to a social worker to a child care provider to a member of the clergy.  This would help families and kids – regardless of whether they are educated in a school building or at home – connect to the supports they need to receive healthy, safe, and enriching educations.

The tragic deaths of Stoni and Stephen and the subsequent introduction of Rep. Chang’s bill has spurred a lot of conversation at Michigan’s Children – as the state’s co-chapter lead of Prevent Child Abuse America – about what families truly need to provide safe, stable and nurturing homes for their children.  What happened to Stoni and Stephen are the anomaly.  But any child’s death is a stark reminder that Michigan needs to do more to support its most severely challenged families.  This means ensuring that parents have what they need to provide safe and stable homes including access to mental health services for kids and parents alike; ensuring that when families are identified by Child Protective Services as Stoni and Stephen were, that the child welfare system has sufficient resources to provide families with adequate and appropriate wraparound services; and truly acknowledging the trauma that parents and children experience and how to appropriately intervene with both in a trauma-informed way.  To do this, Michigan needs adequate investment in the intensive community-based services that CPS case workers could refer families to that would help families address things like mental health conditions, deep and persistent poverty, trauma and other major stressors.

Rep. Chang’s bill is a small step to make sure all kids and families have consistent connections to community support.  And we must take a closer look at the successes and challenges faced by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education to ensure that they have what they need to do their jobs well so that all families have the tools they need to adequately provide for their kids so that all children can succeed.

-Mina Hong

© 2018 Michigan's Children | 215 S. Washington Sq, Suite 110, Lansing, MI 48933 | 517-485-3500 | Contact Us | Levaire