learn / 2016

Trauma-Informed Teaching Initiative; A Win For Teachers and Students

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by Teach For America-Los Angeles

Our Trauma-Informed Teaching Initiative promotes the mental wellness of our teachers and students, enhances instructional effectiveness, and motivates teachers to stay in education.


Please describe your project proposal.

Teach For America operates in schools in low-income communities where students, who are more prone to trauma and high stress environments, have increased barriers to an excellent education. It is a central part of our mission to develop and mobilize quality teachers and leaders in education that can address educational inequity from all angles, including from a trauma-informed framework to transform classrooms, schools and entire school systems.

Which of the learn metrics will your proposal impact?​

  • College matriculation rates
  • District-wide graduation rates
  • Proficiency in English and Language Arts and Math
  • Student education pipeline
  • Students’ perceived sense of safety at and on the way to school
  • Truancy rates in elementary and middle schools

In what areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South LA
  • Gateway Cities
  • County of Los Angeles
  • City of Los Angeles
  • LAUSD

Describe in greater detail how your proposal will make LA the best place to learn?

There is an urgent need for trauma-informed professional development for teachers so they can be responsive to the needs of students in high-need communities. Teach For America-Los Angeles supports our teachers through teacher coaches, weekend workshops and seminars and most recently, trauma-informed practices. We believe trauma-informed and culturally responsive teaching lead to more effective instruction aimed at meeting the needs of students.

Research consistently shows that providing high-quality and empathetic teachers to students and communities that need them the most can fundamentally address the education opportunity gap, and have a long-lasting impact on a child’s trajectory in school and in life. Students enrolled in low‐income schools are more likely to experience sustained trauma, which has short and long‐term implications in regards to their mental and physical well‐being and future success. Studies demonstrate that chronic stress can change the chemical and physical structures of the brain, leading to severe challenges in schools.

Recognizing the need to equip our teachers with the skills to help their students overcome the trauma of poverty and other systemic issues, we became one of the first Teach For America regions to launch our Trauma-Informed Teaching Initiative as a pilot in our teachers’ professional development in 2015. On average, our first and second year teachers, who we call corps members, receive approximately 31 hours of individualized coaching, grounded in our research-based framework “Teaching As Leadership,” per year. Our professional development enhances our corps members’ learning by providing more than 92 hours of targeted professional development each year, including Trauma-Informed Workshops.

Our Trauma-Informed Teaching Initiative benefits corps members and students. Corps members are provided with mindfulness tools of their own, such as knowing when and how to self-regulate their emotions and psychobiological responses to the stress that comes from working in high-need school environments. If teachers better self‐regulate their own emotional triggers, they will be more aware of and able to support students. This in turn allows teachers to apply trauma‐informed practices with their students, leading students to self‐regulate and attend to their own emotional needs.

While educators cannot remove stress triggers from students’ environment, our trauma‐informed professional development will enable them to provide their students with coping mechanisms to better deal with the stress, allowing students to focus on learning. As part of the initiative, we also provide optional process groups for corps members through a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). The initiative has led to favorable feedback from teachers and positive results in the classroom. Lastly, our trauma-informed work encourages teachers to persist and grow their craft in teaching in low-income communities.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

By being trained in trauma-informed practices in the classroom, teachers are better able to be effective and highly effective teachers. We rate corps members as ‘effective’ or ‘highly effective’ when they lead students to 1 and 1.5 years of growth, respectively. Growth is determined holistically and based on academic achievement, personal growth, access to opportunities, and social, political, and cultural consciousness. This year, our goal is for 90% of corps members to be rated as effective and 57% as highly effective.

We also expect to see our initiative positively affect the strength of our movement, which is internally measured as CSI (Corps Strength Index) and CALI (Corps and Alumni Learning Index). CSI is a survey that holistically measures different aspects of our corps culture. This data is a key indicator of our teachers’ likelihood to remain engaged as leaders in educational reform as alumni. On the other hand, CALI is a metric that measures mindsets/beliefs that are critical for our teachers and alumni to acquire and/or strengthen in order to maximize their impact as leaders in our movement. For the 2016-17 school year, our CSI goal is 30% and CALI is 67%.

Lastly, another critical component is surveying our students to better understand student-teacher relationships and teacher effectiveness in the classroom. In our most recent fall 2016 survey, 77% of students responded favorably when asked questions pertaining to their connection to their teacher.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Money
  • Publicity/awareness