Lynn Miles is a senior lecturer in education at Teesside University. A difficult childhood and its enduring impact led her to develop the study of trauma-informed practice for teachers, social workers, youth workers and anyone else who works with children.
Half of UK children will suffer an adverse childhood experience (ACE). To what degree do we underestimate its impacts?
It is hard to measure and different for all children, but having experienced a tough childhood and the lifelong repercussions myself – and having subsequently spent 20 years teaching those who have experienced adversity and trauma – it is clear that a difficult start will negatively impact a child and young person’s education, health and chances throughout their life, without appropriate intervention.
Please could you give us an overview of what the MA Trauma Informed Practice (Education) involves?
It begins with a module discussing the prevalence of adversity and trauma from conception to 18 years old, also definitions and types of trauma, and its impact on mental and physical health, educational experiences and outcomes, relationships, and quality and length of life. Next is an in-depth look at how this impacts learning, memory, relationships with adults and peers, motivation and behaviour, and the effects of policies and procedures, and staff mental health and wellbeing on educational settings. We then offer strategies and alternatives to create an environment allowing students to access education, feel safe and like they belong, experience some successes at school and begin to ameliorate the impacts of their adversity and trauma. We also deliver a module looking at the impact of working with trauma-affected children and young people on professionals, recognise and analyse the trauma inherent in many workplaces and systems, and discuss ways to create settings that support rather than traumatise and retraumatise staff and students. Trauma-informed research methods are also introduced, and a research project/dissertation is planned, undertaken, and written up with support from a supervisor.
What lessons from your own childhood and work experience did you bring forward in developing the course?
That we all need to be treated as individuals, with kindness and compassion and, for many children, school staff might be the only adults in their lives who are truly there for them. Also, that we do not know what has happened to a child, young person or colleague prior to them arriving at nursery, school, college or university. Furthermore, behaviour is a manifestation of unmet needs and often a cry for help and should be supported, not punished. Finally, that it takes many healthy relationships with caring adults and professionals to help those affected by trauma to begin to heal if they are to realise their academic potential.
You are researching how short courses about ACEs, adversity and trauma can impact on classroom practice. What have you learnt?
That many teachers believe they are meeting the needs of their children and after a short course realise they are not, and often their school policies, procedures and priorities do not allow them to. All adults working in educational settings need knowledge and understanding about the impact of adversity and trauma, and it takes time to effectively embed this and make the necessary changes.
The education policy slate has been wiped clean and you’ve been handed the chalk. What is the first thing you write?
Children need good physical and mental health, strong relationships, developmentally appropriate activities and curriculums, and school staff, systems and priorities that recognise and support this. This must be the focus – before academics – if children and young people are to realise their full potential at school and later in life.
What is the secret to teaching educators effectively?
Giving teachers relevant knowledge, understanding and context, then the trust, autonomy, time and space they need to apply it.
Follow Lynn on Twitter: @LynnMiles70
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