Trauma-Informed Educators Contribute to Safe, Effective School Culture

Posted on February 15, 2024

a student takes an online course

New online continuing education course from UNCG’s NCA-STAR fills vital need for addressing mental health needs of school communities 

In Spring 2024, UNC Greensboro’s North Carolina Academy for Stress Trauma and Resilience (NCA-STAR) launched the Trauma-Informed Professional Practice K-12 Educator (TIPP K-12 Educator) Certificate Program. Based on the TIPP Certificate Training Program originally designed for mental health professionals, counselors, school counselors, and psychologists, the virtual program is adapted specifically for educators to help them recognize the signs of trauma in their classrooms and among their colleagues. TIPP K-12 Educator is an interactive, 16-module online training program that equips educators with an understanding of trauma’s impact on the lives of students, teachers, staff and families.  

The need for trauma training in schools 

In North Carolina, the statistics on mental health among children are alarming. The NC Child Health 2023 Report Card revealed that suicide was the leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 in 2019. In 2020, an unprecedented 67 children ages 0-18 died by suicide in North Carolina, and in 2021, one in ten high school students reported making a suicide attempt. In 2020, more than one in 10 children between the ages of 3 and 17 was diagnosed with depression or anxiety – a 49% increase from 2016. 

Specific and timely, TIPP K-12 Educator trains participants to recognize what trauma looks like in the classroom and to apply trauma-informed principles to issues including school safety, classroom strategy, resilience, and educator wellness. The impetus for the program was community-driven and need-based. 

“School districts reach out constantly to us for in-person training related to trauma and mental health with their students,” says Anita Faulkner, director of NCA-STAR. “There is such a need, especially in rural schools who don’t have consistent access to mental health providers. This program helps educators and school systems by providing some understanding of trauma. We are training them to notice what’s going on in their classrooms and introducing tools to effectively communicate with students and their parents.” 

Through TIPP K-12 Educator, participants gain tools and strategies to navigate trauma among students in the educational setting, effectively creating a trauma-informed approach to the classroom and to their interactions with students and families. 

“The program includes eight new modules targeted specifically to educators,” Faulkner says. “We built it based on our research and conversations with K-12 educators from across the country who shared samples of the situations they encounter in their schools. The modules are based on real situations educators face.” 

The goal: a community of trauma-informed educators that are better equipped to understand their students’ behavior, de-escalate incidents and help get them the services they need to address mental health challenges.  

Support teachers need to create safe school cultures 

“We created this because of how much we value the role of the educator and how much we want to support them,” says Dr. Rebecca Mathews, clinical assistant professor in UNCG’s Counseling and Educational Development (CED) program. 

One of the training modules is designed to help educators acknowledge when they or their colleagues are experiencing trauma responses.  

“Professionals who recognize when they are activated in a trauma response or when a colleague is, and then know how to regulate themselves and return to a place of emotional grounding, is extremely helpful,” Mathews says. “The training focuses on what trauma looks like in relationships with students, colleagues and administrators. We facilitate thinking through resiliency strategies that educators can utilize themselves.” 

Those strategies include taking care of their basic human needs around hunger and rest, and building a routine with students where they check in as they arrive at school, and creating a foundation for trust and connection. 

“A trauma-informed teacher or administrator helps the entire culture of the school,” Mathews said. “It dials down the emotional intensity of experiences the students may have when they walk into the school. It’s about teachers and staff getting curious – instead of getting reactive or angry – so that they can respond in a calm and helpful manner.” 

Designed with educators’ schedules in mind, TIPP K-12 Educator is online, asynchronous, and available to participants for a full year. Educators can make the program work for their schedules and go at their own pace. They earn 14 hours of professional development that can be utilized to meet some of the requirements for state licensure.  

“This is a time where a lot of educators are feeling really isolated and really alone, and we want to help offer and be part of the community that surrounds them and upholds them during these challenging times,” Mathews says. 

Story by Alice Manning Touchette 

Photography by Sean Norona, University Communications

Person writes in notebook at their desk. Camera angle is from above.

Learn more about NCA-STAR training.


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