Processing Trauma, Crafting a Healing Centered Re-entry Plan
By Bill de la Cruz, Equity and Inclusion Leader
Everyone’s normal has been disrupted and we are all in various stages of coming to terms with the changes. These disruptions were not planned for, and everyone had to pivot fast.
The space between work and home life faded to grey. Living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms have become offices, and there is no work/life separation. Leaving something at the office, or at school, is no longer available. Our personal lives, professional lives, family lives, and emotional lives have become co-mingled; one intrudes on the other. This type of intrusion across all of our established boundaries can result in trauma.
Trauma is the outcome of emotionally distressing or disturbing events that overwhelm our ability to cope. The inability to cope brings up feelings of helplessness and diminishes our ability to fully function. From a place of helplessness, it is difficult to process through the full range of emotions and experiences that trauma brings.
So here we are together, in the midst of a pandemic. So many have lost jobs, loved ones, routines, certainty. A daily, rising death toll is cause for fear and concern for our safety. The global pandemic and all of its impacts compound the trauma that we experience while sheltering at home. This new way of living will be with us for a long time, so it is important we build systems that address the trauma that everyone will be bringing into our schools, communities, and workplaces.
Behaviorally, our brains are also being wired for new beliefs and behaviors. We hear daily that the way to stay safe is to wear a mask, stay 6 feet apart from others, stay home. We are told that if we choose to violate these preventative measures, we do so not only at our own risk, but also at the risk of our loved ones, and strangers. Will we shake hands or hug others again in the future? What about coughing and sneezing — do these mean we are sick, or that others are sick and that we should distance further?
The new normal is not normal at all, and the next normal will not be either. This is why we can’t simply plan for the tactical and practical aspects of reopening schools and re-entering the workplace and community. This is why we need a healing centered approach.
Naturally, we think first of ensuring a safe place for our children. To achieve this, we must attend to the needs of the adults with healing centered practices that focus on the emotional wellbeing of the adults in the organization. This means that the adult relationships matter. Healing centered approaches focus on the relationships with the adults and provide specific development and growth opportunities for social emotional relationship building.
The educational system is in chaos and will never be the same as it was prior to March 2020, and to be successful, we will have to adapt. There is a great opportunity here to think about the structures we need in place for a healing centered school to thrive. This is an ideal time to start talking about and take actions to disrupt some of the old educational structures that were not allowing for adult relationships to thrive.
We have the ability to build a school system that allows for the adult staff to have self-care time built into their day. A school where adult social emotional learning and growth is fully infused into the systemic structure of how we facilitate education.
Adults set the culture that our students walk into in every school and classroom. A healing centered focus on the adults in our buildings will support a more cohesive and inclusive culture to bring our students and families back. Investing time in talking about trauma with our teams is a critical step in reintegrating back into our schools.
A healing centered re-entry plan creates space for the adults to process trauma and build social emotional skills for all those who walk through our doors.
These 3 steps provide a starting place for a healing centered conversation and actions.
1. Understand that the trauma process is fluid and multiple areas must be addressed at the same time, so building a healing team is the first step.
A healing team is a group of cross-functional individuals whose role is to infuse healing and social emotional practices into all adult activities.
Building a healing team starts with the creation of a cross-functional group of people to agree to be a part of this team. A cross-functional team includes representation from all grade levels, administration, specials, front office, paras and other groups within the school.
- This team allows for the healing process to be infused into all aspects of the daily workings of our schools. The infusion process is defined as doing what we currently do differently and is achieved through personal relationships within the building.
- The team begins by designing a mission and vision for healing work. Moving forward, all healing practices and protocols should fit into the mission and vision.
- The team designs facilitation and participates in the initial re-entry conversations with peers about their experiences sheltering at home over the past months.
2. Make the process for trauma discussions relevant to your community
This means that we have an understanding of where our staff come from, what they have gone through over the past months of sheltering in place and how they have been personally affected. This step creates a shared understanding between staff of each other’s experiences.
- Everyone in our schools has had a different sheltering experience that is rooted in the communities where they live. Everyone’s normal has been completely disrupted and it is important to allow processing time when we bring people back into our schools.
- People of color, especially our black communities have been highly impacted by the coronavirus and some may be reluctant to expose themselves to others both physically and emotionally. In many communities race has played a factor in who is getting sick, has access to resources, the ability to shelter in comfort and this brings up historical racial trauma as well. This process supports a space to have those race-based conversations.
- Knowing the communities and experiences that our colleagues come from supports us in creating healing plans that are relevant to the unique communities within a larger community.
3. Focus engagement on internal stakeholders
Focus on the health and well-being of our adults so that they can be their best each day. Across the country the amount of time adults spent engaged in relationship building with each other over the course of a month averaged between 0 and 30 minutes. We were asking our staff to build strong relationships with students and families absent having strong adult relationships.
- All of the people in our buildings are internal stakeholders so the inclusion of all non-teachers in this process is a key to success. The loss of normality in the way we facilitated school will also create points of trauma for educators at all levels. The adults in our buildings set the culture that we, our students and families walk into everyday. Focusing on our adults in the re-entry plan allows them to acquire healing skills when they welcome back their students and families.
- Every student and family member in our communities will be bringing in their own trauma so it is important to equip our adults with practices for processing trauma.
The message we give by using this process is that the emotional well being of our adults is critical to re-entry into a school system that will not be the same one our staff left in March 2020.
Steps to now consider in building your healing centered re-entry plan.
Use a purposeful conversation to facilitate dialogue with the following 4 questions
- Why are we here? What is the purpose of this conversation?
- What do you want to accomplish through the conversation?
- How will you know you have been successful?
- As the convener or facilitator, what do you want to be sure you do well?
Establish why a healing centered approach is important:
- My happiness depends on me knowing and taking care of myself.
- This approach helps me to be fully present for others.
- Healing centered builds a vulnerability trust-based culture
Outcomes to strive for
- Re-integrating staff back into school buildings so they feel safe
- Develop a healing culture that includes vulnerability-based trust
- Address the trauma and fears that people are bringing into the building
A systemic healing process that is trauma-informed acknowledges the impacts of trauma and practices to recover from trauma, and recognizes the systemic and individual symptoms of trauma. This approach allows for actions that develop skills and practices by systematically integrating understanding about trauma into policies, practice and procedures. The combination of these approaches creates healing systems that actively resist retraumatization.
As you begin planning for your staff to re-enter your buildings remember that our students walk into and learn in the culture that the adults set up and live each day. Using a healing centered re-entry plan as your anchor for bringing people back into the building will serve everyone in the long run as we reintegrate into the new school system.
I hope you found this helpful and use the approaches to create a healing centered re-entry plan for your staff and those you lead. Addressing the trauma that our adults are bringing will infuse healing, relationship, and vulnerability into our schools and district community.
Bill de la Cruz is a Thought Leader for Inclusion and Belonging and a national consultant in the support of building healing organizational cultures. Bill also has a podcast called the Origination Point and is a published author. Bill’s book is called Finding The Origination Point, Understanding Our Biases to Create a More Peaceful World which shares steps to deconstruct biases and stereotypes.
Bill partners with McGraw-Hill across the country to support schools and districts to create more equitable outcomes for all staff and students. Bill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, DeLaCruz Solutions.com or via Twitter.
More on the impact of trauma on the classroom:
Creating a Trauma Sensitive Classroom
By Diane Wolk-Rogers, Educator, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
Turning Grief Into Growth: Returning to School After Trauma
By Diane Wolk-Rogers, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School