You can’t fix kids: 3 keys to becoming a truly trauma-informed school

'The new model is meeting kids where they are at and helping them become the best version of themselves.'
By: | January 25, 2022
Consultant and former principal Jethro Jones encouraged educators not to ask "questions of condemnation" when they think students may be acting out.Consultant and former principal Jethro Jones encouraged educators not to ask "questions of condemnation" when they think students may be acting out.

Being a trauma-informed school doesn’t mean educators are trying to “fix” students who are struggling or in distress.

Students will push away when they feel like teachers or other staff are somehow trying to change who they are, said Jethro Jones, during his FETC workshop Tuesday on practical, proactive strategies for contending with trauma in schools.

“Our old model is about compliance and getting kids to learn to be what we want to them be,” said Jones, a former principal who consults with schools adopting trauma-informed practices. “The new model is meeting kids where they are at and helping them become the best version of themselves. We don’t need to get them to be us.”

He gave an example of a struggling student who began to make progress when administrators told her they wanted to help her “win” at the game of school and focus on the subjects about which she was passionate.

The concept of “meeting students where they are” doesn’t mean educators have to lower their expectations for behavior or academic performance, Jones said.

Kindergarten teachers can’t expect all their students to line up and be quiet in the hallways on the first day of school. But they can anticipate it will happen eventually, with some students catching on before others. “Don’t lose your minds when kids don’t meet expectations on the first day,” he said.


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One other mistake often made in schools is that teachers feel like they have to double as counselors when trying to support their students emotionally. Classroom teachers shouldn’t be conducting one-on-one mental health counseling but should be referring students to staff and services where they can get help.

Learning to be trauma-informed

Jethro Jones, a consultant and former principal, suggests these resources for educators who want to become more trauma-informed:

Jones acknowledged many schools are now coping with increases in disruptive behavior. But he encouraged educators not to ask “questions of condemnation” when they think students may be acting out. Rather than punish a child for running in a hallway, for example, educators should be asking questions along the lines of “Help me understand why you’re running in the hallway,” Jones said.

“You want to get at the ‘why’ of their behavior,” he said. “We automatically assume kids are doing something wrong when they’re not.”

He was once touring a school with a principal when they encountered a large group of students being loud in a hallway. The principal responded positively by asking the students what project they were working on, and it turned out the group was recording a skit for a class assignment.

“Because he led with questions and positive intent, nobody got upset and the kids felt like they were doing the right thing and felt supported and cared about,” he said.


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