By Vien Nguyen, CEI Intern
This August, the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC) is celebrating its first Featured Fellow! We’d like to introduce Lisa Parker, who inspires students every day as a high school social worker in Rhode Island. Earlier this year, Lisa presented at a very successful Mental Health Summit hosted by the National Education Association (NEA). The event, sponsored by the Rhode Island NEA, was attended by 150 educators and other union members from across the state. At the summit, Lisa opened the LGBTQ inclusivity workshop, advocating for gender-nonconforming and transgender students.
Alongside her advocacy for LGBTQ youth, Lisa teaches special mindfulness skills to her regular caseload of students, giving them a safe space to be with their own emotions during a Relaxation Strategies group. She uses mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral strategies to give her students tools to soothe their anxiety. Lisa says, “Modelling vulnerability by sharing my own experience meditating has been very helpful to get students to begin sharing their experiences as well.”
Lisa will speak this August at the annual Rhode Island School Safety Conference on trauma-informed care. She gave us an insider’s peek at selected issues on her mind as she prepares for the conference.
Trauma-Informed Care: Early Prevention to Enhance School Safety
With limited resources, school safety trainings often prioritize the short-term. While planning for emergencies and drilling lockdowns saves countless lives, many more school safety concerns could also be mitigated if trauma-informed care was ubiquitous. We’ve all heard of policies to ‘toughen up’ our schools by arming teachers with firearms or staffing schools with more police officers. Although well-intentioned, these policies can ironically keep students on edge by creating emotionally harsh environments (National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Schools Committee, 2017). Lisa explains “If you don’t feel safe emotionally among your peers and teachers, then your guard is up. You’re more easily-triggered.”
On Creating Compassionate Climates: Children Need to Feel Heard
This summer, Lisa is working at a therapeutic camp for elementary-aged children referred for behavior problems. Even in the most challenging environments, Lisa’s effusive compassion shines through. She explains in a warm tone, “Kids need to be heard, even if they are wrong… Afterwards they must take responsibility and make amends for hitting a peer or breaking something.” With a sparkle in her eyes, Lisa emphasized “but that can’t happen until they are heard.”
The C-TLC and Career Development
When asked how the C-TLC is supporting her career development, Lisa highlighted the practical benefits first. She knows the notoriety can help her gain traction to advocate for trauma-informed care in her own schools. Lisa noted that the C-TLC has helped her solidify her network with mental-health professionals in New England. Before becoming a C-TLC Fellow, Lisa had coincidentally attended a mindfulness training facilitated by Jacqueline Ash, another C-TLC fellow, in Pawtucket, RI. However, implementation has been harder than Lisa first thought. This will take some time and Lisa is looking forward to additional support from the C-TLC.
Advice for Prospective C-TLC Fellows
Lisa shares the School-Compassionate Culture Analytic Tool for Educators (S-CCATE) results and professional development recommendations with schools and core learning teams in person. That way, she can better acknowledge and understand the schools’ cultures and experiences, thereby focusing her recommendations.
Lisa sees trauma-informed care happening in many small pockets all around her state. Some teachers begin indirectly by developing a mindfulness practice of their own. Others take the social justice lens and emphasize restorative practices. No matter the route, teachers can get exposure to the principles of trauma-informed care. Lisa sums up her approach with two words: creating connections. She observes poignantly that “People are less likely to shoot someone they have a positive connection with.”
National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Schools Committee. (2017). Creating, supporting, and sustaining trauma-informed schools: A system framework. Los Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.