Phoenix-area teachers get trained on helping trauma-affected students

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PHOENIX — Working with students affected by trauma can be difficult for teachers, but Phoenix Children’s Hospital is stepping in to help.

PCH is in its third year hosting the annual Trauma Sensitive Schools Symposium, where it brings together teachers from across the state to hear from experts in mental health. Teachers learn about trauma-informed care and best practices to help students dealing with trauma.

About 250 teachers attended this year’s symposium, held Tuesday at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.

“When students are struggling with trauma, they have a difficult time connecting in the classroom,” said Allison Gilbert, a healthy kids and families specialist at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “So it’s really important for teachers to be able to connect with those students.”

Gilbert said this year’s symposium covered a wide range of topics, including how trauma affects the brain and how teachers can create safe and inclusive classrooms.

Teachers also learned about best practices for discipline for children who’ve experienced trauma.

“We have a lot of practices that tend to exclude or even shame children into good behavior,” Gilbert said. “What we’re finding is that, that really isn’t working.”

She added it’s important to hold students accountable and still have discipline, but “we’re really hoping to reform the way that looks.”

She said it begins with teachers understanding what childhood adverse experiences are and the effects it has on students’ lives. Rick Griffin, director of training and curriculum development for Community Resilience Initiative, addressed those points during his presentation at the symposium on Tuesday.

Griffin, who was the keynote speaker, said childhood adverse experiences include exposure to violence, abuse, neglect and divorced parents or incarcerated family members.

He said these experiences can lead students to feel unsafe, become hyper-vigilant and have explosive behavior.

“Unfortunately, what happens first is that those acting out behaviors get them kicked out of class,” Griffin said, adding that it also makes it difficult for them to focus in school.

He said having gone through traumatic events growing up, he’s able to draw from his own experiences.

“It caused me to be not very successful at school and teachers not understanding that and not being able to connect with me to educate and motivate me in ways that were a more indicative way that I could understand and learn,” he said.

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