The President’s office hosted Emporia State’s first Trauma Informed Educators Conference Nov. 9 in the Memorial Union. For $40, educators and students alike listened to several keynote speakers and participated in various smaller discussions and group activities.
“After 35 years in education in the state of Kansas I’ve never been more excited about the work that is going on in education,” said Myron Melton, a consultant for the Kansas Board of Education. “Social and emotional growth is very exciting to me and it’s number one on the list for a reason. Our state board of education recognizes the need to focus social emotional learning, school mental health, school culture. If you’ve ever heard our commissioner talk, you’ll hear him say that this is number one on our list otherwise the other things don’t happen.”
According to Melton, designing schools with the health of students in mind can be incredibly beneficial long term.
“I spent a lot of time on this piece,” Melton said. “If there’s one thing I want to reinforce today it’s that if we want to make changes…it has to start with changing school culture. It’s about the climate of your school, it’s about the relationships you have with your students.”
Another guest speaker was James Moffett, former principal of Derby Hills, Wichita Elementary School.
“On those days that I was on time for work when I had time to connect with people in the building, get coffee and ease into my building,” said Moffett. “Those were always my most successful days. I think about what we do with kids in classrooms…let’s move away from bell work and move towards connection work. What are we doing to get kids to connect once they’ve walked through the door?”
After showcasing a variety of bonding exercises, Moffett wanted teachers to know they can be firm while still being compassionate.
“There is a thing as being overly empathetic,” Moffett said. “Here’s what firm compassion is: It means having a relationship with a kid where I can love you and I love you so much I’m going to hold you accountable for your actions. I’m gonna have structure and consequences. Yes, consequences are necessary, to have them in place and because I’m compassionate, I’m gonna be there to support you through that.”
According to Moffett, being trauma informed and invested transforms who you are, not just what you do.
After the itinerary was reviewed, participants broke off into several rooms where a variety of lessons and issues were discussed. One of the breakout rooms was the Zero Reasons Why campaign based in Johnson County.
“Early on in our campaign…there wasn’t an agreement that mental health is an important as physical health,” said Rory A. Swenson, member of the Zero Reasons Why teen-led council at Blue Valley North. “The brain is part of the body. It’s just as important to make sure people are doing well emotionally not just mentally…when we start to think about these as two sides of the same coin, as part of the same thing I think we’ll see a lot of change.”
“Zero Reasons Why” is a suicide prevention campaign aimed at teens and social media promotion celebrating mental wellbeing according to Shana Burgess, counselor at the Johnson County Mental Health Center, and Steff Hedenkamp, director of public affairs.
“They have the same amount of passion as the Parkland kids after that shooting, they want to change systemically what’s happening and how we’re handing it,” Hedenkamp said.
According to Hedenkamp, it is important to start the conversation about mental health early on.
“This should be something we are getting all along, even in elementary,” Burgess said. “When you’re learning about how to brush your teeth and how cavities happen you could be learning about feelings, how to regulate those that it’s okay to feel bad and this is what we do and when you get into middle school it’s more about depression, anxiety and bullying and once they’re in high school obviously addressing teen suicide but we’re even seeing that in the middle schools.”
Another breakout room was the Tale of Two Classrooms in which a trauma informed teacher and an untrained teacher showcase a variety of approaches to dealing with trauma in the classroom.
“When you work with preschoolers a lot of the time you don’t know what they’re coming in with,” said Caylie Ratzlaff, senior social science education major. “You don’t know what their level of stress is. You have to focus on the social and emotional wellbeing of students not just the academics.”
According to Ratzlaff, the breakout room had really focused on being aware of the child’s needs and what they may need, something she hasn’t had to worry very much about when working with older kids who tend to better vocalize their needs.
The last breakout room was the “This Isn’t Vegas presentation” which discussed domestic violence and mandatory reporting.
“I feel like now that we’re learning about everyone being informed about trauma it’s led us to catching more cases,” said Kenzie Heppller, senior at Osawatomie high school. “Just knowing that we have to focus on helping ourselves and helping other kids, you don’t know what a kid might be going through. Especially with all the anti-bullying campaigns in recent years, it’s really highlighted that you never know what’s going on with someone at home, that bullying can cause trauma.”