Te Huarahi | Linwood Avenue School – Leading trauma-informed practices across the kura
Gretchen Smith, tumuaki at Te Huarahi | Linwood Avenue School, has long held an interest in understanding ākonga behaviour and how it impacts learning. Over the past three years, Gretchen and the senior leadership team noticed an increasing number of ākonga presenting with heightened levels of anxiety and trauma. To meet this challenge, they initiated a schoolwide focus on trauma-informed practices. Read our story to find out more about the transformational changes they’ve made through circle time.
Tip of the iceberg
Gretchen and the team were motivated to help ākonga engage with the school curriculum and maintain friends. “Relationships with staff became tenuous and ākonga were not flourishing,” Gretchen says.
Gretchen uses the analogy of an iceberg. The iceberg recognises that only parts of how ākonga are feeling appear above the surface.
“Trauma-informed practice is an ongoing process that requires a compassionate and adaptable approach. Everyone’s experiences and needs may differ, so it’s important to remain flexible and responsive in your approach to providing support. For me, this is an area for continuous learning. Stay updated with the latest research and best practices in trauma-informed care.”
Gretchen, Te Huarahi Linwood Avenue School
Gretchen and the leadership team read the book Creating Trauma-Informed, Strengths-Based Classrooms by Tom Brunzell and Jacolyn Norrish. Each week they read a chapter, analysed the information, and thought about how they might take action in their kura.
To deepen her knowledge and share findings with the team, Gretchen took a sabbatical focusing on trauma-informed practices.
The sabbatical focus was to:
- investigate successful approaches, practices and strategies that would promote and strengthen ākonga and staff wellbeing
- identify and explore effective strategies and techniques to build ākonga resilience
- ensure there is a continuation of the work already underway at Te Huarahi but with added clarity and purpose.
Gretchen learned about the body, self-regulation, relationships, stamina, and engagement - including growth mindset and character. Each of these components focussed on supporting educators to gain new perspectives, strategies, and skills to build safer, healthier and more engaging classrooms for all ākonga.
The first practice staff implemented was circle time. Circle time creates a positive start to the day for ākonga. It values everybody’s voice, builds a sense of calm, belonging, positivity, and safety, and explicitly connects to the school values. Circle time primes ākonga for the day, ready for learning and interaction.
Circle time at Te Huarahi
Gretchen explains what circle time looks like at Te Huarahi.
During circle time, ākonga and kaiako sit or stand in a circle for 10–15 minutes together after karakia and taking the roll. Maintaining the shape of the circle is integral to developing a sense of equality (equal seating), trust (everyone is visible), responsibility (everyone has a role to play), facilitation (facilitate, not lecture), and connection (everyone listens to everyone else). Juniors might have a talking stick.
- Greeting - Ākonga say good morning to each other in turn around the circle, using names, and eye contact. This can become more elaborate.
- Values - The kaiako states the school value for the week - fostering a sense of belonging.
- Expectation - The kaiako shares an expectation for the day.
- Announcements/notices and birthdays - Google slides, including daily notices, are shared in circles across the school, building community and awareness.
Positive primer game - The positive primer is an investment in the day to create an opportunity for discussion around the circle. Positive primers engage ākonga because the topic for conversation, activity or meme, generates conversation and is calming. They often include humour.
- It can be singing a waiata, playing silent ball, a meme or questions such as, ‘What was the last movie you saw at a movie theatre?'
- Staff use ‘The First Five’ resource as part of their positive primer design and select what they think best from the daily email.
WWW - What went well? Ākonga reflect on an aspect of their day or learning that went well and share. This might be in circle time and shared from the previous day. Staff now do this part way through the day or the end of the day generating time for ākonga to share.
Impact to date
Listen to what ākonga from Te Huarahi have to say about circle time.
“Circle time makes me feel good for starting the day and later in the day knowing what to do.”
“Circle time makes you feel happy and ready to start the day.”
“Circle time is important to me. It helps everyone start the day feeling happy and ready to learn.”
Gretchen and her leadership team can already see how powerful routines are for ākonga. Routines:
- create predictability and safety
- ensure everyone has a shared understanding of expectations
- boost focus and engagement, ākonga aren't worrying about what happens next
- develop positive trusting relationships with ākonga, including empathy, active listening, and validating their feelings and experiences
- foster a sense of belonging by creating a supportive classroom community, togetherness, and calm.
Research indicates humour creates calm and connection with others. Te Huarahi ākonga respond to and participate with humour, explains Gretchen.
They value circle time and routine. All staff are using circle time daily in learning spaces.
Positive primer resource slides are shared schoolwide and made available for relievers and release teachers so the routine is maintained for tamariki.
Near the end of each term, staff reflect, share practice, and discuss the impact of circle time. Celebrating successes and designing trauma-informed practices for the next term is important, Gretchen says.
“I like circle time because I can start the day well with waiata.”
“Circle time helps everybody start a new day or week ready to learn.”
Gretchen’s top tips
Focus on shared understandings of trauma informed practices and bring people on board.
Be selective about implementing practices to avoid overwhelming busy teachers. “Select a starting point to build upon. Choose one thing and do it well,” Gretchen says.
Discuss and share purposes, research, and resources at staff meetings.
Review, refine, and build momentum.
Brunzell, T., & Norrish, J. (2021). Creating Trauma-Informed, Strengths-Based Classrooms. Teacher Strategies for Nurturing Students' Healing, Growth, and Learning. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 9781787753747
Dix, P. (2017). When the Adults Change, Everything Changes: Seismic Shifts in School Behaviour. Independent Thinking. (UK) ISBN 1781352739
Brummer, J., Thorsborne, M. (2020). Building a Trauma-Informed Restorative School. Skills and Approaches for Improving Culture and Behavior. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1787752682, 978178775267