“I began to look for more answers and ways to help my students”
Bellarmine University’s Master of Arts in Education (MAEd) in Trauma-Informed Practices Teacher Leader program is unique in the region because it equips both new and experienced educators to navigate the manifestations of trauma seen in children
and teens—not just from abuse, neglect and other experiences that threaten their well-being, but from the lack of socialization necessary for growth—even under the best of home-life conditions. (A cognate-only, core-course sequence
is open for other social service professionals seeking to deepen their knowledge of child development under traumatic circumstances.)
Having already seen firsthand the effect of trauma on many of his students, the session inspired him to look for ways to mitigate these effects.
Evan McNair (B.A. ’16), an Exceptional Child Education (ECE) teacher at Sanders Elementary in Louisville, had just finished his first year of teaching when he attended a two-day professional development session on behavioral science that turned
him squarely in a direction he had already seen the edges of. Having already seen firsthand the effect of trauma on many of his students, the session inspired him to look for ways to mitigate these effects. “Immediately following the training
I began to look for more answers and ways to help my students,” McNair says. He did not have to look far: In serendipitous fashion, his alma mater had recently introduced its MAEd in Trauma-Informed Practices Teacher Leader program, allowing
him to satisfy another goal he had been thinking deeply about: pursuit of the right master’s program.
McNair had the opportunity to explore solutions from the first week of his program, beginning with an overview of the Teacher Leadership philosophy and pedagogy practices. Starting in the summer, as the elementary school year was ending, McNair took
courses that, along with providing him with skills needed to be a successful teacher, researcher and administrator, gave him and his fellow Trauma-Informed Practices (TIP) cohort an overview of the social, emotional, physical and academic implications
of trauma on K-12 students, including the causes, effects, and risks, and ways to help them cope and be more resilient learners. Now more than halfway through the four-semester degree—which starts each summer—McNair has been able to
put his learning into effect for nearly two semesters.
"It is not only providing me with an abundance of strategies to help my students, but also the conceptual knowledge and leadership skills to share critical information with my colleagues.”
“I have started implementing a few strategies for enhancing a student’s executive functioning capabilities in addition to mindfulness practices that we learned about in the Trauma-Informed Classrooms course,” McNair says. (The subsequent
course, Creating Trauma-Informed Schools, zooms out with strategies for application of the principles to a school at large.) For faculty and their teacher students, self-care is not just a buzzword but a practice, proving that it is virtually
impossible to take care of others until you take care of yourself. “I have really enjoyed the pairing of the trauma-informed practices coursework with the Teacher Leader coursework,” McNair continues, “because I feel that it
is not only providing me with an abundance of strategies to help my students, but also the conceptual knowledge and leadership skills to share critical information with my colleagues.”
Going to school while working full time is a challenge, but it has its rewards—rewards that students at any level in the Bellarmine University School of Education can enjoy as they pursue their teaching careers, be it from their earliest exposure
to the front of the classroom (or, during the pandemic, behind the camera) or after many years of continued practice. “The coursework is challenging but very purposeful,” McNair says. “I have had to be more intentional with my
time, although it has been beneficial to have the context of teaching and the school environment to which I can reflect on and apply my learning immediately.”
Unfortunately, due to the isolation associated with not being among peers in school as usual, those the applications are already legion. “I think all students are and will be impacted by the lack of socialization; to what extent, it is hard
to say until we get back into the school building.... We [at Sanders Elementary] want [the ECE students] to have the same opportunity as any other student in our school,” McNair says. “However, for students who had difficulty with
social skills and even study skills prior to the pandemic, I do think they will have a more difficult time transitioning back to in-person learning.” He is impressed with his students’ ability to cope, perhaps more easily than might
have been expected had the duration of the pandemic been known early on: “I do want to mention that I have been incredibly impressed with the resiliency of our students to transition to virtual learning and continue learning. I have several
students that are making significant progress academically, which I think is partially due to having less distractions at home in some cases.”
For students who had difficulty with social skills and even study skills prior to the pandemic, I do think they will have a more difficult time transitioning back to in-person learning.
This COVID-era teaching (and learning) environment has lent itself to skills for the future—and for that, McNair sees an upside. “Our students are learning valuable digital literacy skills that I think they will continue to utilize as we move
forward in education, past the pandemic.” Adults, too, benefit. “I am still teaching virtually, so I have started using several ‘tech tools’ that we have learned about during the School Technology Leadership course, many of
which I will continue to use even when we return to in-person learning.” He acknowledges that although the delivery method is different than what he had as an undergraduate only a few years ago, the connection he found with faculty is still
strong for those who take the all-online program (originally designed, pre-pandemic, to allow for the schedules of its teacher students, regardless of whether they are in Louisville or on the other side of the world). “The professors do
a fantastic job of connecting the readings to meaningful assignments and activities,” McNair adds. “They are very present, responsive and ready to provide additional support when needed.” Yet another way Bellarmine Education faculty,
and then their students, teach by example.
The Master of Arts in Education in Trauma-Informed Practices Teacher Leader program is available to education professionals as a 10-course, 30-hour full-degree sequence or a four-course, 12-hour cognate-only program. Both versions are online and asynchronous.