Terry Dangerfield, superintendent for Michigan’s Lincoln Park Public Schools, is building “Resilient Schools” that teach students how to overcome trauma to succeed in academics and life.
“We partnered with Dr. Caelan Soma and the Starr Global Learning Network, national experts in trauma-informed and evidence based practices. The program that we developed together is deeply rooted in brain research,” Dangerfield wrote in a column for The News-Herald.
Dangerfield explained that childhood trauma – everything from losing a family member, to poverty, to family issues with domestic violence, drug abuse, or neglect – can have a profound impact on students’ health and overall performance in life.
“It is important we teach our students they don’t have to be defined by the traumatic events they have experienced and can redefine themselves,” he wrote. “Resilience and positive relationships can counteract the negative effects these experiences have had on their brains.”
The district launched a “Resilient Schools Project” this year to incorporate “trauma-informed strategies and cutting-edge brain research” into Lincoln Park’s mission to meet students’ social, emotional, health and academic needs.
“Another goal of the project is to prevent violence before it happens by proactively addressing potential problems,” Dangerfield wrote. “We are proud to report that in less than a year, we have seen considerable reductions in violent acts in school across all grade levels.”
Dangerfield argues the new approach represents an evolution of education from primarily an academic focus to a “whole student” perspective that takes into account life circumstances to help students become successful both in and out of school.
“We have completely shifted our culture and have seen a change in mindset among our staff,” Dangerfield wrote. “They now consider why a student is behaving a certain way, rather than simply focusing on the behavior they are displaying.”
Researchers with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture have documented how a variety of different schools rely on adult examples, encouragement, and mentorship to help students develop strong character virtues like perseverance and resilience.
“The articulation of a moral culture through explicit teaching is important and, needless to say, variable. What these case studies also consistently show is the importance of the informal articulation of a moral culture through the example of teachers and other adults in the school community,” researchers cite in “The Content of Their Character, a publication of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.
“The moral example of teachers unquestionably complemented the formal instruction students received, but arguably, it was far more poignant to, and influential upon, the students themselves.”
The Jubilee Centre for Character & Virtues offers a variety of resources for educators to help “young people on the margins of education.”
“Flourishing From the Margins” is a project in the UK that uses a combined dataset of nearly 3,250 young people in a broad spectrum of academic settings to offer recommendations on best practices for character education, as well as teaching materials for educators to put the practices into action.