Leading schools with trauma sensitivity crucial to supporting students

A principal gives a warm side-hug to one of her students in the school hallway.

By Anne Bannister

Photography by Anne Bannister

Voices from the Field

Our Voices from the Field series features students, teachers, and school leaders who make an impact in Texas public schools.

Educational leaders face a multitude of challenges as they embark on the 2021-22 school year — the health and safety of their students, a heated political discourse unfolding across the country on history and social studies curriculum, and gaps in student learning and the development of interpersonal skills

The ongoing health crisis and economic uncertainties facing Texas communities have contributed to collective and individual trauma, impacting students’ mental health and ability to engage in learning. Students of color and economically disadvantaged students disproportionately bear the brunt of these compounding challenges.

Kim Darden, the principal at Pearland ISDs Alternative Choice for Education (PACE) Center and an alumna of the Raising School Leaders program stays grounded in her mission of supporting all students with individualized care and in advancing practices proven to make a positive difference on student outcomes.

Trauma sensitivity is not just for the kid who has already been diagnosed as bipolar or having social anxiety or any of those things.

Principal Kim Darden

At PACE, Darden serves students who have faced extreme obstacles from homelessness to food insecurity, teenage pregnancies to mental health disorders. She leads with the asset-based mindset that every single one of her students brings value to the classroom community and is capable of achieving great things. Her focus over the last several years has been on developing a trauma-sensitive and restorative learning community.

“Trauma sensitivity is not just for the kid who has already been diagnosed as bipolar or having social anxiety or any of those things,” Darden says. “Trauma sensitivity connects to all people, so it’s not just our kids, it’s every adult in this building, it’s every adult who enters this building, it’s every kid, it’s every person every day.”

The following “Voices from the Field” was filmed prior to COVID-19. The lessons Darden imparts are more relevant now than ever as educators help students process and heal from the various traumas they may have experienced due to the pandemic — the loss of loved ones, housing insecurity, heightened anxiety and depression, and the loss of social connection and the normal experiences associated with being a child or teenager.

Produced by Lauren Cook; edited by Brian Diggs; cinematography by Anne Bannister & Brian Diggs; assisted by Christina Dunigan

Resources for Educators

Quality learning cant happen until students’ basic needs are met, and they feel cared for by their teachers. PACE demonstrates how important it is for educational leaders to address their students’ and staffs’ mental health during the school year ahead and work toward creating a campus-wide, trauma-sensitive learning community. Leading with care and compassion will help build the conditions necessary to begin addressing the tremendous learning loss and trauma felt by an entire generation of students and help lead to a strong Texas recovery.

Read our feature story, “Restorative Practices Pave Path to Success for Unlikely Graduates,” to learn why a parent at PACE says, “they do miracles here.”

Texas Education Agency Resources for
Grief and Trauma-Informed Practices

Schools serve as a critical system of support for children and adolescents who have experienced trauma. Schools can create trauma-informed environments that mitigate against the impacts of trauma and grief.

Learn More
Mental & Behavioral Health
Roadmap & Toolkit for Schools

The Meadows Institute developed this resource to provide guidance and a framework for schools and educators interested in building sustainable, equitable, community-connected mental and behavioral health systems of supports.

Learn More
A Restorative Approach for
Equitable Education

This brief describes how schools can ameliorate — rather than exacerbate — racial inequities with research-based practices that advance a restorative approach to schooling and make learning environments more supportive, equitable, and anti-racist.

Learn More
A Trauma-Informed Approach to
Teaching Through the Coronavirus

Experts from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network share their recommendations for educators supporting students during the COVID-19 crisis.

Learn More