Principal at Bridgewater-Hebron Village School, Supports the Whole Child Through Compassionate Leadership
By Hailey Jordan, Research Assistant, New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center
Supporting the whole child to improve physical, social, and emotional well-being is not new to Stacy Bachelder-Giles. As an elementary school principal in the C-TLC Fellowship program, Stacy has brought more attention to the importance of being trauma-informed to her district. She has also grown into a living example of what it means to be a compassionate leader for her staff, students, and families.
Stacy's main priority each day is to keep teachers and children safe, while ensuring they feel supported. You can find her visiting different classrooms and checking in with staff to make sure they have the needed resources to support the whole child. On days of the month ending in zero, Stacy is wearing a cape and riding a scooter throughout the school disguised as 'Zero the Hero.' Her office is also a safer space where students can read to her and visit Monty, the new therapy dog. As principal of a growth mindset school, she works with teachers to host growth mindset assemblies and give students trait cards to recognize outstanding efforts toward growth mindset—students can collect trait cards during the school year to help remind them of their strengths.
The Journey to Trauma-skilled Practices
Stacy's journey investing in trauma-skilled practices started at a previous small elementary school where she was the principal. The school was involved in a district-wide program for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities. Initially, any child part of the program began their instruction in a separate classroom from their peers. This structure made it difficult for teachers to think about the students in the program as part of their classroom. As Stacy listened to teachers discuss the program, she noticed in their speech that students in the behavioral program were thought of as a separate group from their peers.
From this experience, Stacy recognized that her staff needed to learn about trauma-informed practices and ways to support the whole child. She mentioned that "understanding children with trauma or mental illness helps one understand all children better, at any behavioral level." Being trauma-informed is a safety net that protects not only students with emotional and behavioral needs, but also those who show no signs of distress.
Working Towards A Compassionate School, District, and Community
Stacy's vision for working towards becoming a compassionate school begins with training and education of her staff. Everyone must understand how trauma affects the brain and executive functioning, particularly among children. As an educator, having this knowledge and extensive training of trauma-skilled practices can go a long way. This year, Stacy's school is in the process of implementing a new Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS). MTSS is a continuous-improvement framework that uses data to match resources—social-emotional, academic, behavioral, and instructional—to each student's needs (Illuminate Education, 2020). Stacy is also working with colleagues and the district on professional development to become trauma-informed.
On the community level, Stacy would like to have a dialogue with parents and caregivers about student well-being. She wants to get to a point where her team can provide virtual resources to families and easily distribute information about a variety of topics such as anxiety, trauma, and compassionate parenting. Stacy understands that sharing helpful materials online or hosting informal, virtual meetings could boost attendance among families.
Modeling Compassionate Leadership For All
“Knowledgeable, supportive, inspiring,” is how Stacy described the C-TLC. "The C-TLC is the single greatest thing that has happened to me professionally." Since the beginning of the Fellowship, Stacy has been able to develop in her career and bring key learnings back to her school and community.
Stacy embodies compassionate leadership in many ways. She ensures that her staff is in a good place—showing compassion for teachers and fellow administrators by checking in and sharing strategies for self-care and wellness. For the students, Stacy greets each child with genuine excitement as they show up to school each day and helps them through difficult moments. Stacy believes that compassionate leadership comes from within. She models compassionate leadership in her day-to-day interactions with others . This practice inspires Stacy's team to be compassionate leaders to help implement her vision of becoming a compassionate school, district, and community.
Harris, J. (2020, January 16). What is MTSS? How to explain MTSS to almost anyone. Illuminate Education.