Skip to content

School of Education Pilots New Classroom Management Training Program

May 26, 2017

Faculty members at the St. John Fisher College Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. School of Education are leading the charge to help teachers in the Rochester community respond to the growing number of students who are dealing with behavioral issues stemming from traumatic experiences.

Research has shown that there are academic and emotional implications for students who have suffered from trauma, leading educators to develop news ways for teachers to ensure that their classrooms are safe and welcoming. This new paradigm shift calls on teachers to have a deeper understanding of the social, emotional, physical, and socioeconomic lives their students have outside of the classroom, in turn creating school communities where behavioral issues are managed by problem-solving.

Now, thanks to a $30,000 grant from the McGowan Charitable Fund, three faculty members from the School of Education are able to pilot a four-part training series on creating a trauma-sensitive educational environment for teachers at Longridge Elementary School in the Greece Central School District.

The training series closes a gap in professional development that Dr. Valerie Paine, assistant superintendent for student achievement and student support services for Greece Central School District, saw in her district.

“The traditional tricks in the classroom management tool box don’t work for all kids, especially those with more significant issues, so we need to do different,” said Paine. “We need to make sure students’ basic needs are met before they can learn, and through these workshops, our teachers are developing strategies for how to create a more individualized classroom that helps students who have experienced trauma feel safe.”

The four-part workshop series draws on proven theories, frameworks, and best practices for reducing the impact of trauma on youth, building their resiliency, and giving them supportive tools to learn and grow.

“In looking at the academic scholarship available, and what’s happening in classrooms, we saw a gap in the strategies that could be used by teachers to successfully support children who have experienced trauma,” said Dr. Mike Wischnowski, dean of the School.

Nearly 30 teachers, counselors, and social workers from the elementary school signed on to participate in the workshops. Dr. Susan Hildenbrand, associate dean of the School, who is an expert in inclusive education, co-teaching, and positive classroom management, developed and delivered the workshop curriculum in collaboration with adjunct faculty member, Dr. Donna Riter, a well-known behavior specialist.

“It’s really about empowering teachers to have the knowledge and practice to be trauma-sensitive in their own classrooms,” said Hildenbrand. “There are things teachers can do to be proactive in preventing behavior issues. If they can recognize what’s happening with students, a simple response can deescalate behavior before it becomes an emergency situation.”

The first session, held in January, explored current research on how stressful and traumatic conditions affect the brain. Traumatic situations can be experiencing or witnessing violence or abuse, drug or alcohol use, mental illness, poverty, the death of a loved one, or divorce, among others. The second reviewed the Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey, which is used to identify students who are dealing with the effects of trauma and how those experiences may impact the classroom culture and relationships among students and teachers. This session also discussed a framework for creating a safe and supportive classroom.

Hildenbrand said the third session laid out a paradigm shift for school communities and teaching pedagogy, moving from a punitive system to a strength-based approach to classroom management.

“We’re no longer punishing students for poor behavior,” she said. “We’re finding out what’s behind it and what we can do to alleviate difficulties for students and help them respond in a more appropriate way.”

This is done by adopting a school-wide approach to addressing behavior support, and focusing on new methods for deescalating challenging behaviors.

“Instead of asking a child, ‘what’s wrong with you?’ we should be asking them, ‘what’s happening to you,’” she explained. “Students who have experienced trauma often have a skewed view of consequences and their own power because they don’t have a lot of control. This method is about trying to help kids find ways to be successful and see their own worth.”

Hildenbrand said that in adopting this approach, schools are going to look different; there might be students doing meditation or walking around more. It’s all about creating new ways of responding to the needs of the students, she explained.

After the third sessions, teachers spent a month implementing strategies in their classroom, collecting data, and preparing a presentation to share during the final session. Paine said early feedback among participants has been very positive.

“The teachers attending the sessions are excited about the work because they are learning tools they can take right back into the classroom,” she explained, noting that the social aspect of the workshops gives teachers a chance to voice their concerns about their classroom management skills. “Having a space where they can talk with their colleagues about how to handle classroom issues is also very beneficial for the teachers.”

Greece school leaders and School of Education faculty agree that this could be the first step in an ongoing program related to developing trauma-sensitive classrooms and the College hopes to deliver the training to other districts interested in providing this professional development as well. In April, the team received a $24,000 from the Wilson Foundation to facilitate the training series at The Leadership Academy for Young Men, a 7-12th grade all-boys school in the Rochester City School District. The training is slated to begin in fall 2017.

Wischnowski and Hildenbrand also received a $5,000 grant from the Wyman Potter Foundation to conduct research analyzing the gap in teacher and school staff knowledge to support students who are experiencing trauma in urban, suburban, and rural settings.

They will also conduct focus groups with teachers in several school districts, which will help inform the creation and implementation of professional development programs on trauma-informed care, share policies and protocols, and transform the curriculum of teacher education programs at colleges and universities.

“Our findings will underscore teacher preparation as well as we want to ensure students who are graduating leave with this knowledge,” said Hildenbrand. “We plan to weave it throughout certain courses, both at the graduate and undergraduate level.”