Tag Archives: The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative

The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative

27 Jun

In Inappropriate discipline: The first step on the road to education failure, moi said:

One of the causalities of the decline and death of newspapers is the decline in investigative journalism. When the Seattle PI was still a print publication in 2001, they published a series of articles about discipline in the Seattle Public Schools. At that time, the list of behaviors included:

            1.   Disruptive conduct

      2.   Fighting

      3.   Disobedience

      4. .Assault

      5. Rule-breaking

      6. Alcohol/drugs

      7. Theft

      8. Trespass

      9.   Smoking

      10. Weapons

When this report was written, African American students were suspended at a higher rate than other students. The great thing about this piece of journalism was the reporters examined assumptions about what could be causing the disparity in expulsions. The assumptions about why African American students are disciplined and the statistical reality often do not provide clear-cut answers. The Seattle PI followed the report with a 2006 Update and the disparity issue remained. Perhaps, Dr. Bill Cosby is on to something with his crusade to ask tough questions about whether a “hip hop” culture is conducive to promoting success values in a population who must survive in the dominant culture. Debates about what cultural norms are healthy and should prevail are not useful to a child who is facing a suspension or expulsion and who must deal with that reality. It is imperative that children stay in school and receive a diploma or receive sufficient skills to allow them to prepare for a GED. If a child is facing a suspension or expulsion, the parent or guardian has to advocate for the child and the future placement and follow-up treatment for the child. The hard questions about placement in an education setting center on student behavior and whether the behavior of the individual child is so disruptive that the child must be removed from the school either for a period of time or permanently. https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/inappropriate-discipline-the-first-step-on-the-road-to-education-failure/

Jane Ellen Stevens has written two great Huffington Post articles. In the first article, Trauma-Sensitive Schools Are Better Schools, Stevens writes:

The kid was ready. Ready, man! For an anger blast to his face…”How could you do that?” “What’s wrong with you?”… and for the big boot out of school. But he was NOT ready for kindness. The armor-plated defenses melt like ice under a blowtorch and the words pour out: “My dad’s an alcoholic. He’s promised me things my whole life and never keeps those promises.” The waterfall of words that go deep into his home life, which is no piece of breeze, end with this sentence: “I shouldn’t have blown up at the teacher.”


And then he goes back to the teacher and apologizes. Without prompting from Sporleder.

“The kid still got a consequence,” explains Sporleder — but he wasn’t sent home, a place where there wasn’t anyone who cares much about what he does or doesn’t do. He went in-school suspension, a quiet, comforting room where he can talk with the attending teacher, catch up on his homework, or just sit and think about how maybe he could do things differently next time.

Before the words “namby-pamby”, “weenie”, or “not the way they did things in my day” start flowing across your lips, take a look at these numbers:

2009-2010 (Before new approach)
• 798 suspensions (days students were out of school)
• 50 expulsions

2010-2011 (After new approach)
• 135 suspensions (days students were out of school)
• 30 expulsions

“It sounds simple,” says Sporleder about the new approach. “Just by asking kids what’s going on with them, they just started talking. It made a believer out of me right away.”

Trauma-sensitive schools. Trauma-informed classrooms. Compassionate schools. Safe and supportive schools. All different names to describe a movement that’s taking shape and gaining momentum across the country. And it all boils down to this: Kids who are experiencing the toxic stress of severe and chronic trauma just can’t learn. It’s physiologically impossible.

These kids express their toxic stress by dropping the F-bomb, skipping school, or being the “unmotivated” child, head down on the desk or staring into space. In other words, they’re having typical stress reactions: fight, flight or freeze.
In trauma-sensitive schools, teachers don’t punish a kid for “bad” behavior — they don’t want to traumatize an already traumatized child. They dig deeper to help a child feel safe so that she or he can move out of stress mode, and learn again….

What’s severe trauma? We’re not talking falling on a playground and breaking a finger here. This trauma is gut-wrenching, life-bending and mind-warping: Living with an alcoholic parent or a parent diagnosed with depression or other mental illness. Witnessing a mother being abused (physically or verbally). Being physically, sexually or verbally abused. Losing a parent to abandonment or divorce. Homelessness. Being bullied. You can probably name a few others.

Since at least 2005, a few dozen individual schools across the U.S. have adopted some type of trauma-sensitive approach. But the centers of gravity for most of the action are in Massachusetts and Washington. These two states lead the way in taking a district-wide approach to integrating trauma-informed practices, with an eye to state-wide adoption.

Without a school-wide approach, “it’s very hard to address the role that trauma is playing in learning,” says Susan Cole, director of the Trauma an Learning Policy Initiative, a joint project of Harvard Law School and Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Cole is co-author of a seminal book: Helping Traumatized Children Learn, sometimes known as “The Purple Book.”

With a school-wide strategy, trauma-sensitive approaches are woven into the school’s daily activities: the classroom, the cafeteria, the halls, buses, the playground. “This enables children to feel academically, socially, emotionally and physically safe wherever they go in the school. And when children feel safe, they can calm down and learn,” says Cole. “The district needs to support the individual school to do this work. With the district on board, principals can have the latitude to put this issue on the front burner, where it belongs.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-ellen-stevens/trauma-sensitive-schools_b_1625924.html

See, Trauma-Sensitive Schools Are Better Schools, Part Two http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jane-ellen-stevens/traumasensitive-schools-part-two_b_1632126.html?utm_hp_ref=education

Massachusetts Advocates for Children describes the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative:

Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative
Mission The Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s (TLPI) mission is to ensure that children traumatized by exposure to family violence and other adverse childhood experiences succeed in school.  To accomplish this mission, TLPI engages in a host of advocacy strategies including:  legislative advocacy, administrative advocacy, coalition building, outreach and education, research and report writing, and limited individual case representation in special education where a child’s traumatic experiences are interfacing with his or her disabilities.Genesis

This cutting-edge and vital contributor to education reform in the state had its roots in the expulsion crisis in the mid-1990’s. MAC noticed in calls from parents a pattern of violence in the lives of many of the children who had been expelled or suspended from school. Working together with parents and experts across the disciplines of education, psychology, law, and neurobiology, MAC/CLSP organized the Task Force on Children Affected by Domestic Violence, which developed five working papers on the impact of domestic violence on education, family law and other matters. These papers laid the foundation for later advocacy and led to the development of TLPI.

In 2000, MAC joined in partnership with Lesley University’s Center on Special Education to hold the first ever conference on the impact of trauma on learning. From that point the work on trauma and learning gained momentum as MAC worked with an interdisciplinary group of psychologists, educators, and attorneys to draft what would later be published as Helping Traumatized Children Learn (HTCL).

In 2004, MAC and Harvard Law School jointly recognized the importance of this work and entered into a formal partnership called the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI). In addition to advocacy at the state and national levels, TLPI teaches Harvard’s law students MAC’s signature multi-strategic approach to systemic change, harnessing their talents to represent individual families and participate in this powerful policy agenda.

Ongoing Activities

  • Advocating for laws, regulations, policies, and funding streams to enable schools to create trauma-sensitive environments (including those related to school reform, anti-bullying, dropout prevention, and collaboration between schools and mental health);
  • Improving trauma sensitive approaches to the needs of individual children at school in both regular and special education;
  • Engaging in a public education campaign to educate policymakers, educators, administrators, health and mental health providers and parents on the impact of trauma on learning and the need for schoolwide approaches to address the need; and
  • Working with researchers to foster a clearer understanding of evidenced–based approaches that schools can use to ensure the success of traumatized children. 


This project has grown to become an important force in Massachusetts education reform efforts. Through a combination of printed copies and internet downloads, it has disseminated more than 49,000 copies of its ground-breaking publication. It has trained over 10,000 educators, policymakers, parents and others on the impact of trauma on learning.  TLPI also led advocacy efforts to pass MGL c. 69, Section 1N, which established a grant program to create “trauma-sensitive schools.”  The “Flexible Framework” for creating safe and supportive whole-school environments proposed in HTCL has served as a basis for  the work of the Schools and Behavioral Health Task Force (created pursuant to Section 19 of the Children’s Mental Health Law).  It has also influenced the Model Bullying Prevention and Intervention Plan, developed by DESE pursuant to Chapter 92 of the Acts of 2010 (“An Act Relative to Bullying”), and the Essential Conditions for School Effectiveness developed by DESE pursuant to Chapter 12 of the Acts of 2010 (“An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap”).  

For further information about Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, send us an email.

Download or Purchase Helping Traumatized Children Learn



Family First Aid has a good discussion about the types of behavior problems that result in suspension or expulsion.  Dore Francis has a guide, which lists what parents should do if their child is suspended. The guide gives detailed instructions to these steps and other steps. Francis also lists what questions to ask after meeting with school officials.

Additionally, Family First Aid discusses the education questions a parent or guardian should ask when their child has been permanently excluded from a school setting because of behavior problems.

What options are there now that your teen has been expelled?

– Home School? Yes, your teen may get the academics, the grades, and the knowledge. But he will not learn to interact with others in a positive manner, and the original problem still exists.

– Alternative School? The focus at an alternative school is to finish the coursework for graduation. There is no focus on the original problem of why the student could not succeed socially in the regular school setting and again, the original problem still exists.

– Specialty School? There are several different kinds of specialty schools and programs. There are wilderness programs “boot camps” military schools, and religious schools. Some include academics and some do not. Some programs are an intense “wake up call” that last about a month, and others are long term. Some focus only on the child and some involve the entire family in the healing process.

If your child has a behavior disorder, one month of intense “wake up” won’t change anything. It also won’t change the peer group he has or his involvement with drugs and/or weapons.

The focus at this point should be how best to address the behavior issues that resulted in the disciplinary action. It is important to contact the district to find out what types of resources are available to assist the student in overcoming their challenges. Many children have behavior problems because they are not in the correct education placement. Often, moving the child to a different education setting is the beginning of dealing with the challenges they face.


Education Law Center

Discipline In Schools: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Justice for Children and Youth has a pamphlet I’m being expelled from school – what are my rights?


An explosion of ‘baby mamas’                                     https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/an-explosion-of-baby-mamas/

Autism and children of color                                       https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/03/27/autism-and-children-of-color/

Sometimes schools must help children grieve https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/sometimes-schools-must-help-children-grieve/

Ohio State University study: Characteristics of kids who are bullies https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/ohio-state-university-study-characteristics-of-kids-who-are-bullies/

U.S. Education Dept. Civil Rights Office releases report on racial disparity in school retention                                        https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/03/07/u-s-education-dept-civil-rights-office-releases-report-on-racial-disparity-in-school-retention/

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©