Fits and Starts: One Elementary School's Journey toward Trauma-Informed Leadership
Across the country, passionate educators strive to meet the needs of diverse students within welcoming and inclusive community schools. It is no easy feat. For schools disproportionately impacted by the disenfranchising forces of community and interpersonal trauma, institutional racism and poverty, the challenge is even greater. So too is the moral imperative: students facing complex barriers to success are too often failed by public schools ill-equipped to meet their needs. This qualitative, participatory action research project examines an inquiry process at one such impacted elementary school in Tacoma, Washington. By utilizing 360o feedback and empowering staff and families to co-create their pathway to change, Rise Academy set out to improve its school culture and climate while eliminating exclusionary discipline practices, including suspension and expulsion. Driving the change were a transdisciplinary team of co-researchers, including school leaders, faculty and staff, and family representatives. To match the group's diversity and ensure equity of voice amongst them, data came through various channels, from direct research to interview participation, image-based reflections, one-minute essays, and normative surveys. The work progressed in fits and starts, challenged by unexpected variables and the need to adjust course multiple times. Lessons emerged both about the school's planned trajectory and what happened in practice. The power of incorporating the authentic voice of all members of a school community stood out as a finding, as did the need for intentional, trauma-informed leadership and the important protective factors it brings: strong relationships, mission alignment, and meaningful work. While far from a complete journey to date, the transformation story of Rise Academy offers insights about leading change within trauma-impacted schools, leaving one clear implication for future practice and policy: schools and students get healthier, together.
Rosenthal, Lihi. (April 2019). Fits and Starts: One Elementary School's Journey toward Trauma-Informed Leadership (Doctoral Dissertation, East Carolina University). Retrieved from the Scholarship. (http://hdl.handle.net/10342/7224.)
Rosenthal, Lihi. Fits and Starts: One Elementary School's Journey toward Trauma-Informed Leadership. Doctoral Dissertation. East Carolina University, April 2019. The Scholarship. http://hdl.handle.net/10342/7224. September 26, 2023.
Rosenthal, Lihi, “Fits and Starts: One Elementary School's Journey toward Trauma-Informed Leadership” (Doctoral Dissertation., East Carolina University, April 2019).
Rosenthal, Lihi. Fits and Starts: One Elementary School's Journey toward Trauma-Informed Leadership [Doctoral Dissertation]. Greenville, NC: East Carolina University; April 2019.
East Carolina University