Trauma-informed Training Precedes New School Year at Gibraltar

While other Door County school districts began the 2022-23 school year Sept. 1, Gibraltar Area School District students didn’t have their first day until after the Labor Day weekend.

The district’s teachers and all employees were in school Sept. 1 and 2, however, attending “trauma-informed training,” which included a full day of training with Marci Waldron-Kuhn, northeastern Wisconsin’s Cooperative Education Service Agency 7 readiness specialist. 

Lisa Wing, director of pupil services for Gibraltar Area Schools.

Lisa Wing, Gibraltar Schools’ director of pupil services, said the goal is to make Gibraltar a trauma-sensitive school, where educators and employees are able to recognize an issue and help students build coping mechanisms and skills. The training also could help district employees know when to reach out to parents or to help a student receive some direction from a school counselor or more extensive private counseling provided through the United Way–funded STRIDE (Strengthening Trust and Resilience, Instilling Independence and Discovering Empowerment) program.

Wing – who last year served as one of Gibraltar’s principals, as well as the leader of pupil services – answered some questions about the training.

Peninsula Pulse (PP): Why are schools deciding to train for trauma sensitivity?

Lisa Wing (LW): When you’re dealing with a student who’s experienced or experiencing trauma, there are many triggers that we don’t know about that can trigger a behavior or a shutdown or disengagement. The purpose of our training is to make the staff aware, understanding that we don’t know what that child walks in with in the morning. We don’t even know what our other staff members walk in with in the morning, and what they’ve experienced.

The school district has provided trauma-sensitive training in the past. The difference between that and this year is we’ve asked all staff members – bus drivers, support staff, cafeteria workers, even school board members – to come in and receive this training so we’re all on the same page, so we’re all using that common language. When a child is in distress, everyone knows this is what we do. This is our protocol.

PP: What will the training help with?

LW: It’s really looking for signs or shutdowns and being more aware of what we say or how we act or how we interact with kids. It’s trying to create that safe and positive environment for our kids. We want them to have a place where, if they are experiencing trauma, they can reach out to us, and we can help connect them with resources. It’s really being aware of more than just their academic needs, but their social and emotional needs as well.

PP: What skills are you teaching staff for new best practices?

LW: We look at how we approach students with our tone of voice, how we approach our students with our body language. A raised voice might be a trigger to somebody who’s experienced abuse in the home. 

I think the biggest lesson we want them to understand is everybody walks in with some sort of trauma. We might just think trauma is that a child has experienced death or a child has been abused. But there are many other traumas, and we’re building that awareness that everyone has experienced some trauma, and how we are compassionate to others. 

Sometimes a student just may not connect with a teacher, and the teacher needs to understand that. I’ve had a lot of trauma-informed training, and one thing is getting to know the student and getting that connection, and if you can’t build that connection, what resources are there, or who can you connect with in the school to help you with that?

PP: What’s an example of a good tactic if a student seems to want to be left alone and appears disinterested?

LW: I worked with one student who was in high school for a lot of my career, and teachers said, “He won’t work for you. He won’t work for anybody.” And it just took me finding an interest and something he liked, and then I took that into the classroom.

PP: The district isn’t expecting educators and staff members to all develop counseling skills, is it?

LW: No. We are not counselors. Our main thing is, how do we approach students? How do we recognize a student is in distress, and if they are, let’s get them to the services that they need.

PP: How might a positive interaction between a student and teacher or staff member begin in order to discover a need or get a student to reengage in the classroom or around school?

LW: You could say, “I know you’re feeling really tough today, but let’s work on this together.” Or pair them with other students. Very seldom do you have a student who does not engage at all. They might not engage wholly, but they’re going to engage in something, and you build on that. We teach the whole child. We don’t push our personal beliefs on the students.

PP: Is the school doing more this year to interact with parents?

LW: We do have parent-teacher conferences twice a year, but our staff does a wonderful job of reaching out to parents. Our elementary teachers use a platform called Seesaw. If they’re seeing a behavior, or if they’re seeing a concern, they can reach out to that parent. It’s building a partnership with the parent.

PP: What else is the district doing to build a unified, schoolwide approach and a common language?

LW: We have the pillars we are adopting this year: We are kind. We are responsible. We are dedicated. We are engaged.