Innovation Spotlight on Chicago Public Schools: Developing a Scope and Sequence for Trauma Training 

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) knew that the traditional “one and done” style of training would not be enough to change perspectives around trauma. CPS decided to meet school staff where they were and scaffolded supports to help them better understand trauma. To do so, CPS built out a training scope and sequence to break down the complex information and variety of skills needed to address trauma. They settled on a five-part training with some sessions. The first session was a general, foundational training that could be shared across all school staff, most of whom had limited knowledge of trauma. Later trainings were targeted to particular school staff (e.g., secondary school teachers) and their community-based mental health partners:

  1. Foundation of and Understanding Trauma. This initial training covered types of trauma and the neurological, cognitive, social, and emotional impacts of trauma on students. It also highlighted how people can respond to trauma in different ways. This training was an essential starting point since many staff were uninformed about trauma or did not understand its relevance.
  2. Child Adult Relationship Enhancement (CARE). The second training helped staff think through ways to develop relationships with students. It covered both what to do and what not to do based on a trauma-informed lens. Staff reported that they appreciated these actionable items, especially since there is an incorrect assumption that people know how to build positive student-staff relationships (and thus these strategies often are not covered as part of PD).
  3. Safety Care. School administrators could select staff they wanted to attend this third training, which focused on intervening and the cycle of escalation. It helped staff recognize how to understand and react in a situation so that they would not unintentionally retraumatize youth.
  4. Discipline in the Secondary Classroom. Geared toward secondary school teachers, the fourth training focused on classroom management with adolescents, and how to establish and enforce classroom rules and expectations successfully, using a trauma-informed lens.
  5. Youth Mental Health First Aid. While the first four trainings provided practices that could be used for all youth, the district did not want to ignore that trauma can lead to mental health issues. This training covered warning signs of a mental health crisis, how to respond when a student was displaying signs of trauma, and how to connect students to clinical professional services they might need.

Following the individual training sessions, school staff were asked to integrate these practices into their regular school day. For example, many teachers found the role play from the CARE training helpful as they responded to students to de-escalate situations and develop better connections with students. Since the community-based mental health partners attended the trainings alongside school staff, they received the same information as school staff. This shared knowledge helped the practitioners’ model, reiterate, and reinforce concepts throughout the year as they implemented programs within schools.

Through concerted, persistent staff education and professional development efforts, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) changed the mindsets of school staff and administrators about how trauma affects students. As one district official noted, “questions shifted from ’what is wrong with this child’ to ’what has happened or may be happening to this child.’

For additional information and to request materials, please contact Rachel Whybrow, Program Manager, at rlwhybrow@cps.edu.