creating trauma sensitive schools 


{image is a drawing of a child with a raised hand. Text reads, “Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative.” }

Editor’s note: The other day, I wrote a post called the The School to Prison Express. In that post I talked about some of the stories that we’ve seen on the news recently in which children are being charged with crimes as a result of what began as minor incidences in their schools. 

Perhaps the most appalling of these was the one last week, in which a now-former school resource officer was caught on video in a violent attack on a student – a student who, we would soon learn, had just entered the foster care system. 

At the end of the post, I wrote, “I recently learned about the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative led by Harvard Law and Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Their efforts to create trauma sensitive schools could not be more timely. Read more about their work and, if you can, support them here. “

The next day, the Director of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, Susan Cole, reached out to me. Stories like these, and the thousands upon thousands more that we never hear, she explained, are why the TLPI exists. 

The folks at TLPI are working at full-tilt to make the world safer for ALL of our kids. And, in order to do that, they are offering books and information FOR FREE to schools who need them. 

I asked Susan if she’d be willing to write a few words for us about the Initiative and she graciously agreed. It is my honor to turn the blog over to her. 


We are all horrified by the story of a young student who was literally flipped by a school resource officer for failing to turn over her cell phone. We are justifiably angry, frustrated, and fearful when we see on our screens so many students facing civil rights violations, racism, arrests, and, well, cruelty.

The student who captured one of the videos and spoke up – as most of us would applaud–was even charged! Where would one begin to unfold the cacophony of societal problems wrapped up in this video, in this school, and community?

This was a vulnerable kid. It’s horrifying to think that she was treated this way.

As a former teacher, I was shocked to watch this unfold as it did. Kids don’t act out for no reason. As Jess likes to say, behavior, ALL behavior, is a form of communication. Questions like, “Hey, what’s going on?” or, “Are you okay?” would have allowed for a conversation rather than a confrontation. One that would have ended with a student knowing an adult was there, not to hurt her, but to help her.

At the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, we are working to help schools understand that traumatic experiences among children are more common than we ever thought. We won’t always know what is going on when a child doesn’t act exactly the way we expect. But we need to recognize that traumatic events can—though not always– cause students to have trouble focusing, learning in the classroom, and sometimes behaving as expected.

We are working to help schools become trauma sensitive learning environments, a school-wide culture in which all students and their teachers are treated in safe, respectful, supportive ways and where trauma sensitivity is a regular part of the way the school is run.

Please feel free to visit our website, where you can download for free our books Helping Traumatized Children Learn, Volumes 1 and 2 and find lots of articles and information about what schools can do.

Trauma sensitivity needs to be a major part of education reform. It will take all of us —- educators, parents, and students speaking up and working with our policymakers to ensure that all schools are trauma sensitive.

Susan Cole, Director

Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative, a Joint Program of Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School

3 thoughts on “creating trauma sensitive schools 

  1. Aiyoo, I use their work in my work here in India on getting the word out about trauma. I got into this space of working with trauma as an adoptive parent and then (therefore!) special educator. Susan, you put out pretty phenomenal stuff – thanks a lot. Am using this forum, hoping you will read the comments to tell you that you are helping a lot of people, even if you don’t know of each and every instance where your work informed and was a huge part of a positive impact.

    Thank you, Jess! I enjoy every post and love that you look at the whole world to comment on, much as your words on autism never fail to teach.

    • Thank you so much for these kind words Sangitha! I am thrilled to hear that our work is helpful to you in India. Importantly,thank you for your wonderful work as a special educator and for bringing an understanding of trauma to others. Let’s all keep working together/advocating all over the world so that one day–all children can go to schools that are trauma sensitive.

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