Innovation Spotlights on High Quality Professional Development to Address Student Trauma

Innovation Spotlights

Innovation Spotlights on High Quality Professional Development to Address Student Trauma

Since the first study on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) was released in 1998, researchers and communities have increasingly been interested in how best to support children who experience trauma. This attention is needed since  nationally, over two-thirds of children and youth report experiencing at least one traumatic event by age 16.[i]  At significantly greater risk of exposure to trauma and retraumatization are youth who identify as individuals of color, with disabilities, who are members of the LGBTQ community, with refugee status, as well as those experiencing homelessness or living in poverty.[ii] Traumatic events can range from events occurring within the home (e.g., physical, sexual, and emotional abuse; loss of a loved one) to adversarial experiences in the community (e.g., school and community violence, bullying, discrimination and racism)1   and can have serious, negative effects on youth social, emotional, behavioral, and academic functioning.

Fortunately, schools can help. They can actively create safe, supportive learning environments that offer stability and positive relationships and ultimately reduce the negative effects of traumatic events on youth development.  To enhance the capacities of schools to do this work, in partnership with communities and community partners, school districts can strategically plan high-quality professional development (PD) activities grounded in specific school staff experiences that uses active learning, encourages collaboration, and is sustained.[iii],[iv]

In 2014 and 2015, when communities were experiencing significant civil unrest that included mass demonstrations and law enforcement involvement, the U.S. Department of Education awarded three communities—Baltimore, Chicago, and St. Louis—Promoting Student Resilience (PSR) grants.  These grants allowed those communities to offer students school-based supports to address their behavioral and mental health needs. In particular, the funds helped each community (1) facilitate critical district- and school-level partnerships with community-based mental providers and (2) offer PD to address the diverse needs of youth affected by trauma. Each community took on a different approach to meet their unique needs. Below we offer spotlights of their innovative efforts that can be helpful to others working to improve PD that addresses trauma.

Learn how the PSR grantees provided high quality professional development to address trauma.

Baltimore City Schools Expanded PD and Coaching Model


Chicago Public Schools Scope and Sequence of Trauma Training


St. Louis Public Schools
PD for Change Teams and Aligned with District Priorities


[i] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Understanding Child Trauma. Retrieved from

[ii] Guarino, K. & Chagnon, E. (2018). Trauma-sensitive schools training package. Washington, DC: National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments.

[iii] Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M.E., & Gardner, M. (2017). Effective Teacher Professional Development. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.

[iv] Borko, H, Jacobs, J, & Koellner, K. (2010). Contemporary Approaches to Teacher Professional Development. International Encyclopedia of Education, 7, pp.548-556.

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