The following is an excerpt from Dr. Reggie Melrose’s book, Why Students Underachieve. The book can be purchased here on her website and the multi CD audio version can be purchased here – Why Students Underachieve AUDIOBOOK Edition.
Educators are faced with new challenges in the twenty-first century as students are exposed to growing numbers of images and stories related to violence, turmoil, and trauma. School shootings and school terrorist attacks have claimed the lives of numerous children around the globe, shaking the very core of our students’ sense of safety and security in this post-9/11 world.
Since 9/11, the advent of war in Iraq, and the recent devastation of Hurricane Katrina, students of all ages are viewing terrorist images, hearing gruesome stories, and experiencing terrifying events that contribute to an overall sense that these are dangerous times and, ultimately, no one is safe. When such a global environmental context combines with students’ own personal histories and living conditions, especially when these are problematic, their abilities to learn and behave in the classroom as expected can be impacted in devastating ways.
Research conducted over the past decade has explicitly revealed how trauma changes the brain and, ultimately, affects learning and behavior.
Students experience direct and indirect exposure to violence and trauma in their schools, homes, and neighborhoods, sometimes on a daily basis. Such exposure has the potential to change who students are and how well they are able to meet the demands of their world. Research conducted over the past decade has explicitly revealed how trauma changes the brain and, ultimately, affects learning and behavior. To be fully effective as educators, we need to learn about these new findings in order to know how best to intervene with some of our most troubled students.
In the years I have worked as an educator, I have witnessed the change in how much more we now need to know about helping students overcome crises or traumatic events, whether experienced directly or vicariously. After taking detailed developmental histories of children of all ages, it became apparent to me that a growing number of students’ academic and behavioral challenges began with a crisis or with one or more traumatic events. Without considering the source of the problem when developing interventions, I have seen firsthand that, regardless of excellent intentions, we have needlessly exacerbated problematic conditions for our students.
If we mistakenly take ourselves out of the equation, we run the risk of becoming part of the problem rather than the solution.
Our most troubled students can sometimes be the most baffling to us. However, regardless of how ill informed or unprepared we may feel at times to help them, we need not despair. There are many simple yet powerful ways to help support traumatized students at school so that the damage of terrifying events is minimized and learning is maximized. Educators play an important role in helping resolve the impact of trauma. If we mistakenly take ourselves out of the equation, we run the risk of becoming part of the problem rather than the solution.
After years of working in schools, I have learned that every classroom includes a number of students who have experienced trauma and who display some residual impact of the event or events. I have also seen the power of educators to make a difference to those students. Each and every educator that comes into contact with traumatized students has a chance to contribute to their healing and recovery or contribute to their suffering and despair. Once educators learn about these students and how to help them through the contents of this book, I believe they will feel more than equipped to do their part in helping one child at a time until the success of every student is possible.
In part I, we will learn about common barriers to learning. we will learn about traumatized students – who they are and how they are commonly misunderstood. We will learn how to assess them better so we can more accurately understand their unique needs.
In part II, we will learn that trauma is not just a large catastrophic event such as 9/11, Columbine, or Hurricane Katrina. Trauma is much more common than we ever knew before. It is a greater part of our students’ everyday lives than we ever imagined. We will learn what trauma is, how common it is, and how seemingly benign events that we may never have considered traumatic before can leave long-lasting scars that require our compassion and intervention.
Part II includes a review of recent research findings on trauma’s impact on the brain and nervous system and how that relates to the learning and behavior problems of our students. Once we understand these relationships more clearly, we will be able to develop interventions that work not just now but in the long term.
In part III, we will learn about our unique role as educators in helping students who have been traumatized. Concrete tools will be reviewed that can be readily used in classrooms and school offices to promote greater success across academic and behavioral domains.
In part IV, prevention of traumatization is emphasized. Previous chapters reviewed activities to be used by educators with students who struggle in school because they have already been traumatized. However, educators must also be equipped with knowledge and tools for how to prevent traumatization in the event of a crisis at school or in the community when it impacts students. A critique of current crisis intervention practices will be presented, as well as an alternative approach, all based on the most recent research in the field.
The book’s “final words” will revisit the barriers to learning presented in chapter 1, emphasizing the need to reconsider how we intervene with traumatized students within both general and special education. Most importantly, these final words will ask the scientific community to continue what it has started in its study of trauma and the brain. Now that we know how trauma impacts brain development and subsequent educational functioning, and we have created interventions specific to these findings, we must accumulate outcome studies to determine whether or not these approaches are as efficacious, valuable, and worthy, as suggested by numerous case studies and anecdotal examples.