Education conference: Understanding childhood trauma through ACES
On the last day of Sealaska Heritage’s first education conference, Our Cultural Landscape, keynote speaker Dr. Christopher Blodgett spoke about childhood trauma and described best-practice recommendations for responding to it in an educational setting. Blodgett, a clinical psychologist and a faculty member at Washington State University, is the director of the CLEAR Trauma Center at WSU.
One of the key messages of Blodgett’s talk, Moving From Loss to Resilience, was that every community member has a role to play in addressing the issue of childhood trauma.
“None of us get to be bystanders in this conversation,” he said. “This takes every one of us.”
Blodgett explained the ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) model of understanding childhood trauma, noting that is a powerful predictor of health and well-being in adulthood. Ten types of childhood trauma are evaluated through the model, Including household substance abuse, parental divorce, and domestic violence. On top of that, racism and historical trauma contribute to “cumulative adversity” that extends across generations, Blodgett said.
Trauma has a biological impact, he said, that is managed through our human connections. Understanding that the behavior of a traumatized child is not driven by intention but by biology can help teachers avoid personalizing negative exchanges and to instead try to decode the behavior of the individual child.
“We get very focused on external behavior (but) we’ve got to shift to the question not ‘what did you do?’ but ‘what happened to you?’”
Common triggers for children who have experienced developmental trauma include: the perception of a lack of power, unexpected change or transition, feeling threatened or attacked, and in some cases positive attention and intimacy.
Though resetting the teacher-student dynamic is key to helping address childhood trauma, the effort must be a collective one.
“We’ve got to challenge the institutions to change with us,” he said.
Trauma-informed organizations share characteristics that include: a safe, calm and secure environment; system-wide understanding of trauma prevalence, impact and care; and culture held as a core value.
Throughout his talk, Blodgett stressed the fact that humans are very resilient. Every positive interaction with someone trustworthy can help rewire the brain.
“Until the moment we die, experience changes in our brain,” he said.
After Blodgett’s talk, conference attendees attended breakout sessions including Teaching from a Cultural/Place-based Perspective, led by Shgendootan George and Jessica Chester, Teaching History in a Culturally Responsive Manner led by Atkiq Michelle Ilutsik Snyder and Three Prongs of Culturally Responsive Teaching led by Angie Lunda. Lunda, an assistant professor of education for the University of Alaska Southeast, is one of three organizers of the conference, with SHI Education Director Jackie Kookesh and former Juneau School District principal Carmen Mastronardo Katasse. The conference ended Saturday afternoon, following a closing ceremony featuring a dance performance by Ldakát Naax Satí Yatx’i (All Nation’s Children).
Our Cultural Landscape is part of SHI’s education program, Thru the Cultural Lens. Now in its fourth year, the program provides 50 hours of cultural orientation for educators focused on an understanding of Southeast Alaska Native history, art, and culture. The goal of the conference was to bring that project to a broader audience and promote culturally responsive education in the classroom and schools. Thru the Cultural Lens is funded by a grant from the US Department of Education Alaska Native Education Program.
The conference drew about 140 educators from as far away as Nome and Fairbanks.
For more on SHI’s education program, visit http://www.sealaskaheritage.org/institute/education/programs
(Bottom photo by Nobu Koch. All other photos by Brian Wallace)