SANTA BARBARA – Adverse and potentially traumatic experiences are too common among school-age children, leaving teachers, administrators and staff struggling to help students. In response to the growing need during and following the pandemic, UCSB researchers have formed a university-community partnership with local educators and the James S. Bower Foundation to develop practices that promote resilience and thriving.
Two out of three school-age youth experience a traumatic event – such as abuse, violence, neglect, serious accident, natural disaster, or loss of a loved one before age 16.* Within schools, 25% of high school students have been in at least one physical fight, 20% have been bullied, and 17% have experienced cyberbullying.** These experiences may result in child traumatic stress that leaves some students feeling anxious and depressed, acting aggressively, or thinking about self-harm.
“COVID shutdowns are behind us, but the psychological impacts remain. Students are displaying symptoms of traumatic stress at unprecedented levels," said Jill Sharkey, Professor of School Psychology at UCSB.
Sharkey and fellow UCSB professors Erika Felix, Andrew Fedders and Tim Dewar; and graduate students Alice Mullin, Karina Aragon, and Desirae Maier at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education have spent the last three years studying how to build trauma-informed practices (TIPS) to equip educators and future teachers with the training and skills to help students who are having adverse experiences. This innovative work addresses a pervasive need to develop and test interventions to support educators in addressing student mental health.
“Teachers are on the frontline of supporting students but, as the pandemic revealed, are also affected by the same stressors. Teachers are juggling a lot, and part of our TIPS program is helping school administrators know how to support their teachers effectively, so that the teachers can be the resources their students need,” said Dr. Felix, Professor of Clinical Psychology.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, UCSB created a partnership with the James S. Bower Foundation, its Teacher Education Program, and Santa Barbara Unified, Goleta Union, and Hope School Districts. This partnership provided the personnel resources, expertise, research, and funding to build capacity for TIPS for teachers-in-training and participating school districts. UCSB researchers worked in partnership with advisory committees with teacher trainers and local schools to design and implement a needs assessment, professional development curriculum, and pilot implementation study to support educators in TIPS.
"It is well-established by research that job-embedded, professional learning opportunities with colleagues leads to improved teaching and learning. It is also well-established that connecting with others improves one's mental health. By having teachers learn together they are better able to help their students learn together,” said Dr. Dewar, Teaching Professor.
"Students in our Teacher Education Program have expressed that trainings in trauma-informed practices have helped prepare them to enter the teaching profession through gaining a deeper understanding of potential signs of trauma, and how to best support our future students who are experiencing both chronic and acute traumatic events,” said Ann Bumby, Associate Director, UCSB Teacher Education Program. “Teachers are often 'first-responders' during traumatic events. The TIPs training is empowering our future teachers with the knowledge of how to care for themselves and their students."
Following the training, teachers, administrators and pre-service teacher candidates demonstrated a greater knowledge about trauma, how to recognize signs and symptoms of traumatic stress, and reported more confidence in their ability to support students who experience trauma. They also learned specific skills related to psychological first aid, how to support students during a crisis such as a lockdown, and how to respond to grief and anticipatory grief, such as in the case of terminal illness.
A next step is to provide professional development to existing school psychologists and other mental health professionals already in the schools, so that these professionals can then train administrators and teachers to support students and educators who directly experience trauma or are suffering from secondary traumatic stress. The team also plans to make the TIPS curriculum permanent in their teacher education program, support other UC teacher education programs with this curriculum, and advocate for state standards to better address TIPS in teaching credential requirements.
“It has been very rewarding to provide educators with discrete skills for building trauma-informed practices in their classrooms and schools,” said Dr. Sharkey. “This is fundamental to the wellbeing and academic success of our students.”
CONTACT: Maria Zate, Director of Communications, UC Santa Barbara Gevirtz School of Education, firstname.lastname@example.org
* “Traumatic events and posttraumatic stress in childhood,” Archives of General Psychiatry
** Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SMHSA)