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S-CCATE: Helping Schools Address Trauma, Empower Staff, and Build Positive Futures

Nicole Larsen, CEI Intern, and Christine Mason, Executive Director Teachers and other school staff are under tremendous pressure right now. Like their students and families, educators are also facing new challenges as each week reveals another new COVID-related variable (Glasgow, 2021; Leeb, 2020). Masks, vaccines, physical distancing, quarantines, remote learning, pressure to catch up and to that there is the variable of simply getting used to being in school six hours a day again. Learning at home was so different!

Schools are implementing a wide array of techniques and strategies to address the trauma and stress as students are again learning in person in classrooms. Some started new SEL (social emotional learning) programs; others have initiated. additional screening to identify students most at risk for more serious problems.

Reviewing Options

However, as we rush towards implementation, it might help to step back and review options. There are so many programs, so much advice coming to schools from so many quarters. This alone can be stressful. Learning new protocol and procedures, attending additional professional development sessions, and figuring out what to do when nothing is the same as it was.

Before you go further with plans and implementation, you may want to consider a simple tool. Spending 12-15 minutes filling out a staff survey, may help you identify what could be most beneficial for your school right now.

Touching Hearts, Building Compassion

The survey we recommend builds on a framework that the Center for Education Improvement designed to improve school culture and climate. The approach, Heart Centered Learning®, focuses on five key elements: Consciousness, Compassion, Confidence, Courage, and Community.

  • We know that to address the pain associated with trauma and toxic stress children need connection and communication. However, this starts with conscious awareness of needs.

  • Heart Centered Learning focuses on building relationships and teaching skills that allow students to effectively communicate their needs, as well as building their self-regulation.

  • Another tenant of Heart Centered Learning is creating an overall culture of positivity, courage, and compassion in schools. This can help reduce the causes of mental illness while helping students develop protective factors and build resiliency, as well as focusing on compassionate ways to address mental health challenges that do arise.

  • Importantly, S-CCATE is an empowering tool. Results are shared with educational teams in schools, who then make decisions about needed professional development and implementation.

The five key elements of Heart Centered Learning also inform the Compassionate School Mental Health Model developed by the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative (C-TLC). This model relies on research-based knowledge about the neurobiology of trauma and how we can use this knowledge to support our students. It emphasizes building the skills and capacity of educators to allow them to make environmental changes and provide effective instruction to support children’s mental health.

S-CCATE: A Heart Centered Learning Planning and Assessment Tool

To help educators plan for and assess their progress in supporting students and building a positive school culture the Center for Educational Improvement developed S-CCATE (the School Compassionate Culture Analytical Tool for Educators).

  • S-CCATE is a research-based assessment tool based on the Heart Centered Learning approach that has been validated by a national sample of over 800 educators ranging from Pre-K to Grade 12.

  • The S-CCATE survey, which takes educators about 12-15 minutes to complete, measures school culture based around the 5 key elements of Heart Centered Learning.

  • After school staff complete the S-CCATE survey, schools receive an individualized report of the aggregated results, including their areas of strengths and needs. The report includes recommendations for schools to help them make decisions on how to best support their students moving forward.

  • S-CCATE can be administered 3 times per year to allow schools to track their progress and tailor their planning accordingly.

  • The goal of S-CCATE is to help educators vision, plan, and monitor progress toward the implementation of compassionate, trauma-informed practices in classrooms.

A sample of an S-CCATE report is included below, showing a school focused on increasing their schools Understanding of Equity. Based on the school community, this was the primary focus for the school’s improvement throughout the year. S-CCATE allowed for the school to track its progress in meeting their goal of improvement in this area. The report shows that the school made massive gains in their goal, increasing their score from the beginning of the year until it became one of their areas of strength. Moving forward, the school can continue their successful practices in this area while focusing on one of the other areas for improvement.

S-CCATE Action Plan

To assist educators and administrators in creating a complete plan for improving school culture to support their students, S-CCATE also offers a complete action plan to address schools’ unique areas for improvement. This action plan is available with the Pro plan and includes the following six sections:

1. Considerations for Whole School Community

2. Suggested Professional Development

3. Policy and Systems Change

4. Curricula and Programs

5. Suggested Activities

6. Specific Recommendations by Age

A sample of the type of items included in the action plan guide is included below. The sample shows part of the action plan provided in Section 6, Specific Recommendations by Age, that was implemented by the school from the above report that was focused on improving their school’s Understanding of Equity.

  • The action plan is designed to give clarity to administrators and teachers on how to implement change in their school.

  • Clear, straightforward resources are essential for educators who are overwhelmed with the new demands placed on them during the pandemic, as they work towards solutions for how to best support students during this trying time.

Recent discussions with two implementers of S-CCATE revealed it usefulness from their perspective:

S-CCATE gave us a way to measure areas of need. We focused on making sure that teachers and other staff understood more about the neurobiology of trauma and about mindfulness and ways to consciously connect with one’s emotions and better understand self and others. We found it helpful and plan to continue using it to measure progress!”

Dr. Rachel Santa

Director of Special Services

Cumberland School District

Rhode Island

S-CCATE helped our administrators identify our strengths and also where we needed to focus to improve our school culture. It is an empowering tool – it provided a way for staff to make decisions about their professional development. We initially took S-CCATE, identified an area of focus, and retested a few months later, with phenomenal results —finding increases in S-CCATE across the board!”

Joan Cavallo


Maple Run Unified Schools



Glasgow, G. (2021, September 15). Combating covid stress among educators. University of Colorado School of Medicine. Retrieved September 19, 2021.

Leeb, R. T., Bitsko, R. H., Radhakrishnan, L., Martinez, P., Njai, R., & Holland, K. M. (2020). Mental health–related emergency department visits among children aged < 18 years during the COVID-19 pandemic - United States, January 1 - October 17, 2020. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 69(45), 1675-1680.


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