Tag Archives: trauma

Why I Won’t Have a STAAR Pep Rally at My School

Pep Rallies before a standardized test have become a common occurrence in schools. A campus principal’s email can be flooded with people who want to get paid to be a part of these “pep rallies”.   I have been a part of this practice in the past, but since becoming a principal, I have been against this type of practice.  Why, because a ” STAAR Pep Rally” makes the important thing the test.  It sends the message to those people outside education that “the test” is what is important.  I am here to say a standardized test is the LEAST important thing that happens during a school year.

A test is what happens on one single day to measure all the learning that takes place in the course of a school year.  For it to be an accurate measure, all the variables for that would have to be absolutely perfect.  Students would have to have a great night’s’ sleep,  a well-balanced breakfast, a supportive emotional environment before school, and all the supports they need to be successful.

Let’s face it.  Some students have trauma at home. Many don’t have basic needs met.   They don’t always have the nutrition they need.  They may not get adequate sleep. Even our students with disabilities don’t have access to all their IEP interventions because of the rules of the test.  The variables are not the best case scenario for some kids.  How in the world could we expect the test to accurately reflect all they have mastered?

Here is what I am willing to rally over:  students, teachers, grit, growth mindset and all they have accomplished over the ENTIRE year.  At my school, we do this every Friday. Today, on the eve of our standardized test, my students did come to the cafeteria to meet with me.  The rest of the building lined the hallway to applaud their hard work and let them know we stand with them. It was not a STAAR Pep Rally.  It was a celebration of people who work hard to grow in their learning. It was caring about the people enough to let them know they were loved, supported, prepared, and in control of their destiny.

When students arrived, I shared with them my story of having to retake the GRE to get into graduate school to work on my doctorate.  As I sat down to take this test, I felt angry and frustrated.  I felt like there were some words that no one used, so impossibly worded questions, and I just felt there was no way that that test could accurately encompass who I was as a principal or a learner.  It hit me that this was how some of my students felt.

I told my students that there was no way that tomorrow’s test could define them either.  There was no way that this test could fully share with legislators or the public how much they had learned this past year. What I did tell these students was that they were in control, that they had the power to control their destiny. I shared with my fifth graders that sometimes, working hard at a test can give you a benefit.  That while my test couldn’t define me, it could gain me access to a program I wanted to be a part of to improve my life.

For them, working hard to “show what they know” could prevent them from retaking this test in a few weeks, but it would be their choice.  I told my fourth graders that while they weren’t facing a retest, the evidence does show that every time they pass a test like this,  it increases their chances of passing the next one.  No matter what, I told them they were in control.  I wanted them to know they were prepared and had everything they needed.  If they wanted it, they could achieve it.

I think that is what it is all about:  empowering students to know that they have control over their education.  The focus should never be on a test, but the people taking the test and continual reminders that even as children, they get to choose, they get to decide how to define themselves.

 We put tremendous pressure on students to “pass.”  The truth is our actions should support our beliefs.  At my campus we don’t have a test pep rally, we have a “hope rally” every single week where we celebrate teachers, students, and the power of education together as a campus.  While today I did bring students down to meet with me before they take their test tomorrow, it was never about the test.  It was ALWAYS about the people.  Whatever happens, tomorrow doesn’t really change anything.  Don’t get me wrong.  I want all of my students to do well because I know it makes their life easier in the long wrong. However, I know what my students have learned, how they have grown, and how much they have overcome and it far exceeds the constraints of a multiple choice test!

Not Just a Building

This past week, I attended the Texas Association of School Administrators Midwinter Conference and had the opportunity to hear Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year, speak. She had so much to say about advocating for public schools, but the thing that has resonated with me most was this quote:

“Public school is not a building. It’s a promise that a community makes to itself.” Shanna Peeples, TASA Midwinter Conference 2017

I’ve thought a lot about what she said, but I would take this statement a little further. A public school is not just a building; it is a promise that the community makes to itself to inspire hope for a better future.

We live in a tough world. We have people feeling entitled to rewards without work. People who cannot communicate effectively with words, so they use violence. People who are angry because they feel invisible, and other people who are afraid of the people they don’t understand so they put up the barriers that make angry people feel even more

disenfranchised. Instead of fixing the systems we have and contributing to a better world, people want to take their toys and go home resulting in soft segregation. This is only going to create a continuous cycle of decline.

But here is what I have to say-public schools are the hope for a better future. Public schools are the embodiment of our forefather’s vision, and capture in the words of Emma Lazarus inscribed on The Statue of Liberty.

In my school that promise is:

  • to a young girl that there will be someone there to care for her, despite her mother suffering from stage 4 cancer and having no extended family.
  • taking a moment to talk about what went wrong when a boy lost his cool and threatened a peer and to develop a different plan while helping him let go of his angry past.
  • a letter waiting for you at your new school when your family moved away and a teacher worried about your transition because you have moved so often.
  • a teacher braiding your hair because you are staying in a homeless shelter and mom couldn’t fix your hair before you came to school.
  • knowing that we will exhaust every option before we label you in a way that may limit your future opportunities.
  • the nurse recognizing a rash as a bigger problem to alert you to the need to seek immediate, life-saving medical attention.
  • a concerned teacher taking money from her own pocket to ensure the electricity is on so a child with asthma can have nebulizer treatments.
  • teaching peers to show compassion to a student with low cognitive ability and them applying that compassion by looking after her when she is outside the classroom.
  • designing work with incubating germs that help you learn “school stuff” but make you feel like a grown up in the real world.
  • setting goals and celebrating achievement and talking about how to regroup when the goal falls short so that all children, no matter of their ability, are coached and guided for growth.
  • talks of college embodied in grade level cheers and the dreams that a college degree can hold for your future.
  • songs of education and being “world changers” with the entire school every Friday.
  • the adults not making excuses that prevent children from achieving the best future, no matter where they started.
  • diversity and the opportunity to be around all kinds of people and learn that there is no need for fear, just value of multiple perspectives and willingness to use words to discuss differences.

Public schools are the place that we value every individual. It doesn’t matter your ethnicity, your native language, your religion, whether or not you have a disability or giftedness. You may come from an average background or one fraught with trauma. You may be wealthy, poor, or just middle-class. You may be the child who tries to please or the child who is continually demonstrating your displeasure with the world by spinning things into chaos. In a public school, we love you, we value you and try to earn your trust. We stretch you and grow you. We teach you to collaborate and communicate with those that are nothing like you. We teach you to think critically and set goals. We teach you to read, write and problem-solve using multiple strategies. We prepare you for the ability to thrive in a diverse world with the confidence that you can not only achieve your goals, but make the world a better place.

The things that public schools do to prepare our world for a better future are not easily measured by standardized tests or accountability systems and high performance on a test doesn’t guarantee your success if you cannot relate to the 21st century world.  Many would have society believe that paying for an education is a better option, but the don’t tell you what opportunities you miss because of a separate, homogenous education

Just remember, public schools are not just a building, we are people who ensure the promise that the community makes to itself, who love all and accept all, to inspire hope for a better society and future for all.


I Choose Thankful

November is traditionally a time of reflections on one’s blessings, and as I think about this school year, it has been full of ups and downs and in only been 13 weeks.  One of the biggest challenges is seeing children bear such heavy burdens. Whether it is a parent’s illness, today-i-choosephysical/emotional abuse or neglect, the loss of a parent through family separation or death, or just the stress of poverty and the worry that comes with it about one’s basic needs being met, it is hard to see children suffering.  Add to this mix teachers who have their own personal stressors and a nation of unrest in a highly polarized political climate. Forget the typical school challenges full moons and holidays, folks; we are talking about real trauma.

Supporting children living with trauma can be a challenge. They bring it in the door. Trauma may not be visible, but a child in trauma will let you know immediately if they are suffering.  With their actions, their words, their lack of connection, they will let you know. They fight, they run, they shut down. Children in the most need of love often ask for it in the most unlovable ways.  It can be exhausting for those responsible for providing “trauma care” much less a high-quality education.  One could easily lose hope.

However, I have learned so much from supporting children of today.  If you can make that thankful-people-are-happyconnection, create that bond, make the child feel safe, there is no better feeling in the world. When you watch a teacher persist to form a relationship despite multiple attempts by the student to push them away, there is a sense of pride to be a part of an organization that puts first things first.

I have learned that it is in the most difficult circumstances that the biggest blessings are revealed.  We can be grateful for the challenges and know that they are helping develop our character into who we are meant to be, or we can feel mistreated.  

We always have a choice.   We can feel wronged, or we can be grateful for the challenges and know that they are tied to a greater purpose.  We can worry about the difficulties we face, or we can choose to feel blessed knowing that we will never be given more than we can handle.  We can grieve the things we do not have, or we choose to see the abundance of our lives and all the opportunities that lay before us. Thankful isn’t something that happens, it’s something you do on purpose. And when we choose gratitude, it becomes you-have-a-choiceimpossible to feel stressed.  They are two emotions that cannot exist at the same time.

So while it is difficult to see children suffer, I choose to be thankful that I get to be a positive force in their lives.  While sometimes the behavior of these students can be beyond difficult, I am blessed to have a staff willing to learn about trauma and utilize trauma-sensitive practices to support these students. While there are many times I have pondered thoughts of “if I just had more… (time, money, staff, parent involvement, resources)”, I know that in my district and community, I have an abundance of support and trust to make decisions that are best for our children, not just a few, but all of them. While it would be easy to lose faith facing such challenging circumstances, I choose to have grit and hope in the future of public education and how we can teach children coping strategies and value for each other in addition to reading, writing, and math.  I am blessed.  I am thankful.  Are you? It’s your choice.

When Things Get Messy

So I have a couple of blog posts that are in the midst of composition and then October hits. October is traditionally a hard month.  The adrenaline from the beginning of the school year wears off a bit and the demands of what is required to achieve goals for the year is now the reality.  This school year has been an unusually challenging beginning for my campus. It’s not that there were any events we haven’t dealt with before, they just seem to come wave after wave and in multiples! It’s been messy for sure.

Today I saw this:



I love this. We always have the power to choose our response to adversity. My staff and I have faced some crazy situations this past nine weeks, but I am always impressed by their ability to put children first and approach each challenge with grit and growth mindset.

I once had a superintendent who referred to the profession of education as the “people development business.”  In education, we aren’t creating machines that can be put together by following a blueprint or a set of instructions.  Each child we touch turns out differently and can be unpredictable even when using a similar formula.  Working with little humans can be messy, but it is always worth it because the joy of watching a child learn and evolve to their potential is always exciting.  Besides, it’s when things get “messy” that the real learning occurs, for everyone, not just the children.

A New Hope

The concept of hope has become quite intriguing to me.  My campus uses the Gallup survey with our students and one of the measures is how much “hope” our students have.  Unfortunately, what we have seen is that the answer is not much.  It’s not just my school, but nationally, results show our students lack hope.  While I know that the world our children face is a challenge, their chances for success are minimal if they don’t have hope that they can overcome difficulties.  Gallup defines the opposite of having hope as being “stuck”.  Stuck means you can’t grow.  If you can’t grow and improve, you become more “stuck” and even discouraged.

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 8.12.25 AM
Gallup Survey 2015 National Results: Hope Index

As I have thought a great deal about this dilemma, I begin considering “hope” as a verb vs. “hope” as a noun.

  • Hope as a verb is just a wish left in the hands of fate. Hope as a noun is paired with the verb “believe”. You believe that what you desire will happen because you trust and believe that it can.
  • Hope as a verb causes you to hold back a little in case it doesn’t work out. Hope as a noun allows you to give it all because you KNOW it will work out.Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 10.47.40 AM
  • Hope as a verb results in excuses for why it didn’t work. Hope as a noun results in facing brutal facts and making adjustments to move forward.
  • Hope as a verb makes you feel at mercy of the power of others. Hope as a noun gives you the power to accomplish your dreams.


I believe that being intentional in helping children develop hope is key.  That is why this year, as I enter my fourth year as principal (a.k.a. Episode IV), our theme is “A New Hope.”  I need to be clear jedi symbolthat it is not “Star Wars.”  Too often those attempting to make additional profit in high states testing attempt a play on words and market “STAAR Wars” products to educators. There is too much attention on this test which takes away from the focus on people.  Current accountability systems are often a vacuüm for hope. I have no fear of state assessment.  But “STAAR” is not what drives my school or our work with students.

On the contrary, my teachers are Jedi Master’s of Hope and work diligently to help  our young padawan cultivate their hope by helping them find pathways around barriers that stand in the way of the future they wish to create for themselves.  They do this using a Jedi

mindset and  building relationships, taking time for conversations to set goals, analyze progress toward those goals, and create new paths to achieve those goals to prevent becoming stuck.  They “feel the force” of  hope and help our students to do the same.

My campus has done intense training to become a “trauma sensitive” school.  Studies show one in four children are  to trauma prior to the age of four.  Trauma, especially ongoing trauma, can teach children at a very young age that they are stuck and have no control over their environment and thus create a mindset of “stuck”.  With much preparation and new tools, we will be a beacon of hope for these students until our students can find ways around their circumstances and stockpile some hope for themselves.

Public education is certainly different from when I was in school. It is even different from when I began my career.  However, we have to continue and adapt to prepare students for the world they face, which is fast-paced and constantly changing.  To do this, students must believe they can be successful in a world where the media floods them with stories that drain hope.  Yes, we must teach reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.  However, instruction in “hope” seems to be a new necessary course.

Obviously, hope is a important component for student success.  Ihopet is the precursor to other critical skills of grit and growth mindset.  Without hope, there can be no grit and willingness to stick to challenging tasks. Without the grit to stick to challenging tasks, there can be no growth.  Without growth and improvement, purpose is lost. Hope is not a wish or a dream, but the key to making dreams come true. Because of this, our schools have to be the source of a hope for our students, because our students are our new hope for the future.

Hope Resources:

Shane Lopez, The Hope Monger and Author of Making Hope Happen


Overcoming Trauma

We live in a world today where so many have faced traumatic events.  It could be the death of a loved one, some form of abuse, significant illness, ongoing demands of poverty, or continual events where one’s safety and well-being are put under threat.  Even more tragic is the number of children who are suffering the effects of ongoing stress disorder created by trauma.  The effects of stress and trauma on the brain in the classroom can make instruction in the classroom challenging, not just for the traumatized child, but for all other in the classroom as well. Informed, intentional strategies must be in place for schools to overcome the negative effects of the stress created by trauma.

I have experienced trauma.  My trauma was mostly at the hands of peers that bullied me relentlessly all through school. I spent a great deal of my life feeling ashamed, trying to hide my trauma behind attempts at perfection, carefully controlling my circumstances for protection, and often running if I felt anyone was getting to close to discovering the “broken me” created by my trauma.  It took many failed attempts of dysfunctional coping Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 6.27.10 AMmechanisms for me to finally realize that I could embrace these traumatic circumstances, not as the definition of who I am, but as the events that helped me evolve into the person I was meant to be.  I had to realize that I could not save myself, only God’s grace could do that.  But I also had to learn to forgive myself for all the mistakes I had made and recognize that there were some things that were just not my fault. These lessons did not come easily. I repeated the same mistakes many times before finally learning the skills I needed to overcome these circumstances.  Luckily, it seems God is always patient in giving us plenty of practice and putting the people in our lives we need to learn to overcome.  God seems to be the true origin of the concepts of “grit” and “growth mindset”.

The good news is that today, I can look at my past and embrace it, not because of pride in who I was, but a celebration that God’s forgiveness is great.  His blessings are abundant. I recognize that there are circumstances in my life that could have only happened as a result of God’s intervention, including meeting my husband when were born hundred of milesTrauma-Infographic-1-978x400 apart,  a recent move during the most difficult time for home sales that worked in our favor for both the purchase of a new home and the sale of the old, and my being hired in a larger district as a first-year principal.  God is so good.

I can see standing on this side how that the events of my past can be used to help others. It seems that when you have experienced trauma, it gives you a sixth sense to recognize trauma in others.  It erases all judgment of those who are broken by trauma and fills you with compassion and a desire to hold their hand as they, too, move toward healing. I think this type of compassion is needed for any educator these days.

This type of compassion is needed for any educator these days.  Even if teachers haven’t experienced trauma themselves, they have to be prepared to recognize it within others. Educators today have to realize that those who have been often traumatized behave badly, and it isn’t meant to be a personal attack on others.

What can educators do:

  • Practice not taking negative behavior personally.  This is so hard when we invest so much emotionally in students.  However, it is critical to realize that bad behavior is about the other person, not ourselves.  Sometimes a traumatized person just cannot carry any more load, and they fling the ugliness at others.  It is a cry for help, not a statement of their value of the person they direct their negativity.
  • Be supportive.  Misbehavior is tied to a missing skill.  Identify the missing skill: self-confidence, coping strategies, language- and find opportunities to teach a replacement behavior.
  • Provide positive reinforcement.  Traumatized people need lots of positive reinforcement for the things they do correctly.  They need to be immersed in a world of good.  Find the things that are right in their world and celebrate them.  They need to hear the good things 10-15 more times than they hear the corrections.
  • Learn about trauma. There are starting to be some great resources out there to help educators become informed.  Read about it.  Find out what works.  If nothing else, you will see you are not alone.
  • Love unconditionally.  Unconditional love can be a challenge, but this is what a person who has ongoing trauma needs more than anything.  Unconditional love doesn’t mean a lack of expectation.  This isn’t about excuses.  It’s about loving someone despite their lack of achieving our expectations, resetting, and starting again.


Those with ongoing stress from unbearable circumstances only begin to heal when they feel the safety of unconditional love and support. When that happens, the brain can learn.