The role of teachers in trauma-informed networks can be elusive. In this post, I consider how knowing the resources in your community can help you find your place in a trauma-informed network. We’ll look at the work of Alex Shevrin Venet on building bridges to resources, discuss how I built bridges in a residential treatment setting by understanding the roles of others in the organization, and consider how that might translate to a public school setting.
A Note About the Teacher's Role
Alex Shevrin Venet is one of the scholars doing some amazing work on clarifying teachers’ roles in the trauma-informed system. She emphasizes that teachers should not dive into and seek out details of students’ trauma. Venet stresses that teachers should “avoid questioning students about the details of their traumatic experiences, either directly or as prompts in writing or other class activities” (Venet, 2019, p. 2).
Teachers also should not take on the role of treating students’ mental health. They can and should strive to be trusting and safe adults in students’ lives, focusing on developing and maintaining humanizing relationships with students.
They also should establish clear boundaries with students to make themselves and their classrooms predictable and consistent.
Venet encourages teachers to act as bridge-builders, understanding, destigmatizing, and connecting students to often stigmatized mental health services and resources.
Venet calls on teachers to be familiar and in contact with the mental health services in their communities. Doing so can allow teachers to provide authentic and specific direction based on their own connections to support students' connections (Venet, 2019).
In what follows, I’ll take a deeper look at how being familiar with my community's resources helped me know my boundaries and when it was time to refer students or collaborate with others.
Roles in Residential Treatment
As a teacher and then school principal in a residential treatment facility, it became pretty clear to me when my boundaries with students were being pushed and I needed to collaborate with the students’ therapist, the leadership team, the childcare staff, or the director of our program. The reason it was clear to me when I should tap into each (or all) of these avenues was because I understood how each one worked.
I knew that the therapist was super familiar with students’ triggers, families, and personal goals. I would connect students with therapists, for example, when they were consistently shutting down in class, if they shared something with me that I didn’t feel was appropriate for me to work with alone, or if I found they were struggling in school on issues connected to their personal therapeutic goals.
The leadership team was a great place to go when a students’ overall program or the community at large were in question. For example, if I was concerned that they were unproductively “stuck” in a certain stage in their program or that there were some issues of bullying going on community-wide, I would consult with the team.
Childcare staff would get pestered by me if there were problems that seemed to stem from the daily living space. For instance, if students’ were all consistently late in the morning (meaning the staff might be struggling to get breakfast out on time or something like that), if someone’s feet smelled really bad everyday (meaning they weren’t wearing socks and either needed a gentle reminder or they just needed some socks), or if students needed to leave the school for a little while to reset.
Finally, the director got a call if I worked with any or all of the other avenues multiple times and no actions were taken or I needed help working with an outside agency regarding a student.
As I wrote the last section, I realized that the parallels to your school or community resources and the resources I had access to might not be direct.
But let’s attend to one role in particular that does run parallel: the therapist or mental health care provider. As Venet (2019) explained, knowing the mental health resources in your community first-hand (not necessarily from your own treatment, but from your outreach efforts) can work wonders for connecting students.
It would be wise to connect with your school mental health providers first and foremost to know where your job ends and theirs begins. Know what they do!
Know what the experience of going into that office would be like. Also, tap them to learn where they typically send students for therapy in the community. Then, connect with those folks and learn what that experience would be like for students, what services they offer, and how students can get connected.
Just like with supporting trauma-affected students in your classroom, making the most of the resources in your community will happen more effectively when you have relationships with the practitioners.
Venet, A. S. (2019). Role-clarity and boundaries for trauma-informed teachers. Educational Considerations, 44(2).
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.