While many schools across the state were closed Monday due to winter weather, thousands of Oklahoma educators spent their snowy President’s Day learning how to recognize trauma in students and create teaching strategies to overcome stress and fear that can obstruct learning. The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) estimated up to 4,500 teachers, counselors and other school leaders attended its fourth statewide summit for trauma-informed instruction.
The one-day virtual conference, “Awareness to Action: Creating Trauma-Informed Schools through Multi-Tiered Systems of Support,” went beyond previous OSDE summits in its focus on using an equitable, targeted framework designed to address students’ academic, behavioral and mental health needs, better known as MTSS.
Keynote speaker Heather T. Forbes challenged participants to learn the language of trauma, explaining how student reactions that originate from a lens of fear need a calculated, caring response from teachers who understand how social-emotional struggles can manifest in disruptive behavior.
“Our kids are coming to us from a very different lens. Instead of coming from a love-based place, they’re coming to us from a fear-based place. So many of our students have a level of anger,” said Forbes, who has authored books on students in trauma. “Anger is armor. So many of our kids are carrying around deep pain.”
Other sessions throughout the day provided training on how to use MTSS to identify students in need and improve overall school culture and climate through higher academic achievement and lower office referrals and suspension rates.
According to 2020 America’s Health Rankings, nearly 20% of Oklahoma children ages 17 or younger have experienced two or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
Only five states have higher rates of traumatized children, noted State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister, who kicked off the summit with opening remarks.
“Tragically, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are also likely exacerbating existing ACEs in the lives of our schoolchildren. We must meet schools where they are, and we’re committed to assisting districts with the implementation of applying trauma-informed practices,” said Hofmeister.
To address the need for more services for Oklahoma students, the OSDE has included $18.2 million in its budget request for Fiscal Year 2022 for a School Counselor Corps. The program would fund more counselor positions to close the student-counselor gap in schools. Oklahoma’s current student-to-counselor ratio is 412 to 1, significantly lower than the American School Counselor Association’s recommended ratio of 250 to 1.
Since 2017, approximately 25,000 educators have attended trauma-informed training provided by OSDE. To view recorded sessions of Monday’s summit, go to https://sde.ok.gov/awareness-action.