Trauma-Informed and SEL Practices to Support Students Makes a Difference

Today’s Contributors: Zamaria Venzant, Kimberly Shaheen, and Audrey Dyer – Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy

“We can’t always ask our students to take off the armor at home, or even on their way to school, because their emotional and physical safety may require self-protection. But what we can do, and what we are ethically called to do, is create a space in our schools and classrooms where all students can walk in and, for that day or hour, take off the crushing weight of their armor, hang it on a rack, and open their heart to truly being seen.
We must be guardians of spaces that allow students to breathe, be curious, and to explore the world and be who they are without suffocation. … And what I know from the research is that we should never underestimate the benefit to a child of having a place to belong—even one—where they can take off their armor. It can and often does change the trajectory of their life.”

Brene Brown, Dare to Lead, Page 13

Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy is an all-girls middle school located in east Austin. Founded in 2014, the campus has embraced a host of programs that include Social Emotional Learning (SEL), trauma-informed practices, and culturally responsive teaching. The implementation of these campus-wide practices is built on collaborative partnerships with staff and community providers through professional learning and sharing of best instructional practices.

As the entire district shifted to emergency online instruction, the staff was busy assessing the needs of the campus. One of the emergent needs that surfaced was how to support students instructionally with trauma-informed practices focused on empathy and SEL. On April 24th and April 30th, staff received a professional learning session on trauma-informed practices for this unique time from the campus Social Service Specialist and Communities in Schools Program Manager. Following this training, a teacher quickly implemented this in her remote learning classroom. This is their story …


Zamaria Venzant, Social Service Specialist at Bertha Sadler Means YWLA

As a Social Service Specialist, I was able to offer a therapeutic approach to improving truancy. While school was in I would meet with the students on campus with the most intense attendance needs and work collaboratively with the student, family, and staff to assist them in any way that can increase in their attendance and improve their overall likeness and involvement in school.

Transitioning to remote learning definitely involved a shift in the way that I was able to provide services for the students. Although the goal is still increasing student involvement, the attendance piece turned more into ensuring the immediate needs of the students were met and that they are still connected to the school and schoolwork in a positive way.

Prior to the pandemic, all of my work would be in-person and often involve conversations or presentations in small settings with more specific interventions for the students that I provide services for. Similarly, my presentations were mostly based in ways that improving teacher-student interactions could improve students’ attendance and overall enjoyment of school. Now, those smaller meetings still happen, but virtually via Zoom and email and I am also able to create presentations that can be presented and used for the whole school. Presentations on emotions can be tough, but with a little care, they can be presented and received well! Make your presentation as fun and interactive as you can! The biggest take-away from this experience is that we are all in this together. I believe that in times like this, it is so important for us to be there for one another in all of the ways that we can. We are so used to supporting our students and coworkers in person and now we are in a state of constant change. We are all humans experiencing so many different things in response to these changes and it is important that we care for and support each other. Stay safe and take care of yourself! We are all doing our best and mental health is so important!

Kimberly Shaheen, Program Manager at Bertha Sadler Means YWLA, Communities In Schools of Central Texas

Communities in Schools offers schoolwide services through initiatives like Purple Star, a student recognition program, Girl’s Conference, and more! We provide basic need services by supporting families in receiving eye exams and glasses, basic hygiene resources, and snacks. We partner with four organizations to be able to hold more group and therapeutic support for students on campus. We also meet with students one on one to provide counseling and mentoring services. CIS’ mission is to have every student succeed in school and for every student that looks different. Our goal is to bridge the gaps and work with the student to create a healthy mindset towards school!

Transitioning to remote learning has definitely impacted our work. At school I would be able to pull students and talk with them with full confidentiality or be able to use supplies to do different activities. While that is different now, it is more important for our students to be able to maintain relationships in their groups and have a safe person to talk to. Our students are seeing very minimal people so having a different face to talk to about their serious concerns is very important.

Before COVID, CIS has delivered in-person presentations on Trauma Informed Care and Mindfulness and Trauma Informed Care Teacher Workshop (a collaborative partnership with Amala).  In addition, we also offered a collaborative workshop on Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) principles and a restorative circle in partnership with Zamaria and Susan Wondra from the campus VIDA Clinic.

Before, all of my work used to be in person. I used to have maybe 30minutes of screen time a day and now it is all screen time working to check in on students and their families. Now, CIS has brokered new partnerships to have more resources available to our families to meet the new needs.

The biggest take-away for me is how relational school really is. It’s so much more than teachers conducting lesson plans. It’s a place of gathering for social connection and development. It’s where our students learn how to trust one another and build relationships, and while that is hard to shift to be virtual, it’s not impossible. Teachers play such a unique role in student’s lives and it’s so beautiful to watch them stay connected and reach out to one another.

When talking with Zamaria about ideas for this presentation, she mentioned Bitmojis and honestly it’s perfect. We are all craving our relationships with others. Showing our face and different emotions while also talking just breaks the ice and makes it more engaging. And we definitely saw that in the chat box; we wanted to continue to be light-hearted but also connect and be vulnerable with each other. Bertha Sadler Means YWLA is a really unique school and our staff and students are special and dear to my heart. I love playing a small role in this beautiful community. I can’t wait to go back!

The presentation on trauma-informed practices rooted in SEL was an extremely fun and educational presentation. In particular, the chat was brimming with comments that confirmed the signs of trauma and they were very inspired by the use of Bitmoji’s in a simple mood meter. One teacher implemented the practices from this presentation the next day!

Audrey Dyer, 8th grade science teacher at Bertha Sadler Means YWLA

I love having a GREAT time in class and letting the students know that science is EVERYWHERE ALL THE TIME!

I studied communications in college, and I learned to read non-verbals. I can easily assess students as they are walking down the hall or entering the classroom. Using a quick check-in or letting students know that I see how they feel lets them know that I’m here for them and understand their needs.

We had learned about the mood meter earlier in the year, but I totally forgot about the ease of it.  After seeing Zamaria and Kimberly’s adaptation and implementation, I created my own before their presentation was complete!  I was so excited that I could share it out almost immediately… and boy did I get some feedback!!!

I wanted immediate feedback with this mood meter.  So I took what Kimberly and Zamaria did and changed a few things. I checked responses first thing in the morning like emails. After seeing students in the BLUE, I thought of a fun way to maybe boost their energy. I posted a “Would you Rather…” question in my course that was content related. As they responded to the prompt, I had my reply videos waiting in my browser. They were nothing but physics FAILS so I KNEW they would get a laugh. 😄 When a student replied to the discussion, I would embed the video of they type of physics fail that they had chosen.

Next, I was wondering how to collect data on WHO was feeling the different colors. So I put the mood meter in a Google Form. From there, when a student says they have a specific need, it takes them to the AISD website that gives information to support them. If they still can’t find what they need, they have the option to type a response to me directly.

Using the mood meter was a chance for me to show the students that they aren’t alone in their feelings. I want them to know that I can help them as long as I know that they have a need.  I also noticed that there was MUCH MORE participation on my entire page than usual. Page views in my course increased by a third and 20% more students participated in my course as soon as this mood meter was implemented.

Once I started with their emotional needs, they were more willing and ready to engage in learning. My biggest take-away from this experience is that students want others to know how they are feeling. If you are interested in trying this out, DO IT!  It’s so easy!  Contact me for help or make a copy of my Google form Mood Meter so that you can customize it for your own classroom with your own Bitmojis! 

Students want someone to listen. EMOTIONAL AND MENTAL HEALTH ARE IMPORTANT!  YOU ARE DOING AN AWESOME JOB!!! 

1 Comment

  1. I really like the digital Mood Meter. I teach 3rd grade and am an advocate of “Check-Your-Engine”. We do it daily under normal circumstances. This digital Mood Meter can serve the same purpose. Thank you for the great idea!

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