By Amy Bertram, IPLI Mentor and Principal at Fairfield Jr. Sr. High School
For the last two years, my district has been focusing on what we need to do to help our students with their socio-emotional development. We’ve done professional development to help our staff understand the need and benefits of trauma-informed instruction. We call this process “webbing up” for students, because we know research says every student needs at least five caring adults in their life supporting them until they reach adulthood. My staff has completely embraced this concept and are working diligently to deliver the best trauma-informed instruction they can as we “web up” for our students.
Engaging in this process has made me wonder – how am I “webbing up” for my staff? Building a relationship with a student experiencing trauma can be extremely emotional and exhausting. Empathizing with these students means understanding where they’re coming from, and students experiencing trauma are usually not coming from the most positive of situations. As staff helps support these students emotionally, how am I supporting my staff emotionally?
I decided to try using some of the very same tools we use with supporting our students to see if they also work with supporting my staff. Allowing staff members some flexibility and grace if they are struggling to meet deadlines, allowing them to take a break from a stressful situation when they need it, giving them a safe space to vent their frustrations, giving them notes of support – all of these tools are as beneficial to the staff as they are to students.
We’ve also begun the process of determining who our own five supporters are. Knowing we’re not alone and that these people exist to “web up” for us can be very comforting in times of stress.
Treating my staff members as people with struggles and emotions of their own (even while they may be doing their jobs so professionally) gives me an excellent opportunity to model relationship-building, trauma-informed instruction and “webbing up” strategies/tools. It’s not always easy or neat, but my hope is that it clearly sends the message to each member of my staff that he/she is important to me, and I care for each and every one of them.