Assistant Principal Teaches Trauma Sensitivity in the Classroom

Kariann Murphy, PhD, assistant principal at the Arthur T. Cummings School, is leading the way for professional development in the school district. As part of the social-emotional goals of the district’s mission, Murphy obtained her Level One certification as a trauma practitioner in education and will be teaching a 15-hour professional development course on how to create a trauma sensitive environment.

“According to a recent study, one in four students have a history of trauma, and in most cases the afflicted students had more than one incident,” said Murphy. “Because it directly impacts students’ learning, it’s important to take steps to mitigate that trauma so the student can grow.”

The course will meet every Monday after school for five weeks, where teachers will be responsible for completing two-hour lessons, as well as one hour of independent work. The curriculum will give teachers the tools needed to create classroom conditions that allow for trust and redirection for students who have difficulty concentrating.

“Childhood trauma rewires and floods the brain with the cortisol hormone, which affects learning,” said Murphy. “It’s not about counseling or offering therapy to the student, it’s about providing strategies for the teachers to put other learning tools into place. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and trauma symptoms are almost identical.”

The Winthrop school district will follow many other schools both nationally and internationally, who are implementing the course, in hopes of achieving trauma-informed classrooms that build on social-emotional learning.

“I think we’ve seen such a growth in the amount of PD being offered in the district in the last two years and that’s encouraging because our demographic and student needs shift so quickly, so additional education allows us to meet the needs of our students,” said Murphy, who also taught a professional development course on making math accessible to English Language Learners (ELL) in the fall.

Prior to Murphy’s role as assistant principal, she spent seven years teaching seventh-grade science at Chelsea Public Schools, where she was also the district science curriculum coach. She also taught elementary education with Malden Public Schools and middle school science in Medford. After growing up in Everett, Murphy received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Salem State University, a master’s degree in middle school science, and a doctoral degree in education from Nova Southeastern University. For the past two years she has been doing professional development for Salem State collaborative.

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