Developing a Framework to Create a Trauma-Informed School Community


Individual Presentation

First Presenter's Institution

Office of the Child Advocate

Second Presenter's Institution

Stanton Middle School

Third Presenter's Institution

Kirsten Olson

Fourth Presenter's Institution


Fifth Presenter's Institution



Ballroom E

Strand #1

Academic Achievement & School Leadership

Strand #2

Social & Emotional Skills


This session is related to the “Heart” strand because it addresses a framework to create a trauma-informed school community by using trauma informed strategies, data, and supports for educators to work with students who have experienced trauma and toxic stress.

Brief Program Description

Teaching youth who have experienced trauma and toxic stress can be very challenging and resource intensive. Rather than spending time and resources to create behavior plans or pursue disciplinary action for students with challenging behaviors, developing a framework to support students that is trauma informed, uses data, and promotes self-care can be effective in improving student engagement and education outcomes.


Students who have experienced trauma and toxic stress often have challenging disciplinary problems, decreased academic performance, and poor executive functioning, and as a result, can be more resource-intensive to teach. Instead of diverting students with challenging behavior into disciplinary and alternative programs, a school environment that is both trauma-informed and also provides multi-tiered supports can connect and engage such students. This session will focus on Stanton Middle School’s implementation of a trauma-informed school program in an effort to address an array of issues. Stanton is a Title I school with 82% low income learnings, and free breakfast and lunch. Prior to this implementation, Stanton Middle School was a Priority School marked by poor achievement scores, high disciplinary referrals, and low staff morale. However, guided by the Compassionate Schools Framework, Stanton embarked on a journey of transformation, teaching staff to engage with students in a trauma-informed way, promoting self-care and staff support, and using school data to see what worked (and what did not). After implementing the Compassionate Schools Framework, Stanton’s scores in every area improved. Following an explanation of Stanton’s framework, the presenters will demonstrate a planning process to implement the Compassionate Schools model. Presenters will:

  • Show participants how the Compassionate Schools model can be used to enhance existing multi-tiered support systems;
  • Demonstrate how to use asset mapping to identify various resources in their school community;
  • Teach participants how to use data to drive decisions on which interventions to use with students who are at risk of academic and behavioral challenges;
  • Demonstrate simple, inexpensive trauma-informed tools and strategies for use with students, families, and staff;
  • Demonstrate a model Theory of Change that can be used to create a strategic plan for implementing short- and long-term changes that support the development of a trauma-informed school community; and
  • Teach participants about the importance of developing a strong school community and practicing self-care when supporting students and families with challenging behaviors.


Data from Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, Washington, and Stanton Middle School’s data has shown that by implementing a Compassionate Schools Framework and evidence-based multi-tiered supports, school environments can become more trauma-informed and thereby improve school climate, student achievement, and parent engagement. Concurrently, students have fewer office disciplinary referrals, spend more time engaged in academic tasks, and develop adaptive skills to cope with daily stresses associated with interacting in the school community.

Biographical Sketch

Teri Lawler

Teri Brown Lawler is a results-driven educator serving the students and families of Delaware for the last 27 years. Teri is a passionate, high performer who is committed to meeting the unique social, emotional, and academic needs of children and adolescents AND supporting their families to achieve these objectives. Teri works collaboratively with educational partners and community stakeholders throughout the region. Current projects involve systems change and developing a trauma-informed system of care, program development and evaluation, as well as grant writing and fund development. She is a member of Delaware’s Compassionate Schools Learning Collaborative, the State Systemic Improvement Plan Advisory Council (DOE), the Delaware Early Literacy Initiative (DOE), and Wilmington’s CDC Advisory Council for Youth Gun Violence Prevention.

Teri was named Delaware School Psychologist of the Year in May 2010. Her mental health advocacy for children was recognized by the National Association of School Psychologists and the Wilmington (DE) Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 2012. She represented Delaware at the 2013 Women’s Leadership Conference sponsored by the National Education Association (NEA) and was a workshop presenter at the 2015 Delaware LIFE Conference. She will present later this month at the inaugural Dropout Prevention Conference sponsored by Red Clay Consolidated School District. In addition, Teri has been a frequent conference presenter and panel participant with the Delaware Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) Project and presented research findings at the 16th Annual National Conference on School Mental Health in Charleston, South Carolina.

Teri earned her BA in Psychology from Hampton University, Hampton, Virginia. She continued at the University of Delaware earning an MA in Child Clinical Psychology as well as educational specialist certification in School Psychology.

Eliza Hirst Eliza M. Hirst, Esq., CWLS, is a Deputy Child Advocate with Delaware's Office of the Child Advocate. In that position, she has represented children in dependency/neglect proceedings since 2010. In addition to direct representation, Eliza is currently partnering with Casey Family Programs and local school districts to increase education supports and opportunities for youth in foster care. She also provides systemic advocacy, training, and advice on child welfare matters, education, and disability issues at the local and national level. Eliza has published articles in many journals including two recent articles in the American Bar Association Child Law Practice, and one forthcoming in the Juvenile and Family Court Journal. Eliza also presents at the local and national conferences on matters related to child welfare, special immigrant juvenile status, education issues for youth in foster care, and youth involvement in court. Prior to being a Deputy Child Advocate, Eliza was a staff attorney for seven years at Community Legal Aid Society, Inc. in Wilmington, DE.

Eliza earned her B.A. from Oberlin College and her J.D. from the University of Texas Law School. She is a member of the Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania Bars, and the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware. In 2012, Eliza was certified by the National Association of Counsel for Children as a Child Welfare Law Specialist (CWLS).

Kirsten Olson

Kirsten Olson has worked in the non-profit human services sector for more than 20 years, providing services and supports across a variety of target populations including the homeless, persons with behavioral health conditions, and youth in child welfare. She joined the staff of Children & Families First (CFF), an $18M social services organization that operates statewide through Delaware, in 2008. In her role as Chief Strategy Officer at Children & Families First, she is responsible for program evaluation and outcomes management the agency’s more than 20 program areas. In 2014, the agency began collecting Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) data from persons served in several CFF programs. Kirsten has managed the analysis of this data, which with more than 1,000 surveys collected, shows that the people CFF serves have been disproportionately impacted by adversity. As such, the agency is working on building resiliency and developing two-generation approaches to trauma. Children & Families First is part of the collaborative Change in Mind initiative managed by the Alliance for Strong Children & Families, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson and Palix Foundations, designed to transform capacity to accelerate the integration and application of brain science within participating organizations, their communities, and the public sector systems in which they work. Kirsten is part CFF’s Change in Mind implementation team, and through this project, partners with the Office of the Child Advocate on the delivery of training and strategic planning around Adverse Childhood Experiences, toxic stress, resilience, and the implementation of the Compassionate Schools Framework.

Keyword Descriptors

Compassionate Schools, framework, trauma-informed practices

Presentation Year


Start Date

3-7-2017 8:30 AM

End Date

3-7-2017 9:45 AM

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Mar 7th, 8:30 AM Mar 7th, 9:45 AM

Developing a Framework to Create a Trauma-Informed School Community

Ballroom E

Teaching youth who have experienced trauma and toxic stress can be very challenging and resource intensive. Rather than spending time and resources to create behavior plans or pursue disciplinary action for students with challenging behaviors, developing a framework to support students that is trauma informed, uses data, and promotes self-care can be effective in improving student engagement and education outcomes.