Three educators will dedicate themselves to yearlong independent research projects aimed at advancing the field and providing new tools to teachers and administrators seeking support and training in trauma-informed education.
Jonathan Luknic, Caroline Toscano and Brandy Opse are the inaugural group of Research Fellows for the Minnesota Institute for Trauma-Informed Education (MITIE).
MITIE was launched in May 2021 as a collaboration between the School of Education and the Morrison Family College of Health. The MITIE Research Fellows will help the institute realize one of its key goals, bringing research and best practices into classrooms so teachers can improve outcomes for all learners.
“The field of trauma-informed education is relatively new, really developing in the last 10 years,” MITIE Associate Director Laura Linder-Scholer said. “Research on adult trauma has existed for a long time, but it’s only in the last few years that people are starting to connect the dots between the impacts of childhood trauma on learning and development and the school supports that need to be in place to address students’ needs.”
According to Linder-Scholer, the level of support that kids and teachers dealing with trauma receive through school is typically not meeting their needs. “School counselors and social workers provide critical interventions but cannot address every student’s needs as they arise, day to day, in the classroom,” she said. “Every educator in the building needs to know how to recognize signs of traumatic stress, identify response strategies, and help build student engagement and resilience.”
MITIE’s goal is to bring trauma-informed education into the school setting more intentionally, leading to a more positive educational experience for all.
Meet this year’s MITIE Research Fellows and learn more about their work.
Jonathan Luknic: a trauma-informed study of student behavioral interventions in grades K-5
Jonathan Luknic, principal at Birch Lake Elementary in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, is evaluating the effectiveness of behavioral interventions commonly used with elementary-age students. His research will culminate in the creation of an easy-to-use flowchart that helps teachers assess a student’s behavior and design a trauma-informed response to support the child.
“When I was a new elementary school principal, I quickly became familiar with the impact of trauma on young people as it played out in the school environment," Luknic said. “I noticed how some students became withdrawn while others would repeatedly flee from the classroom or become aggressive with seemingly no provocation.”
Luknic got to know his students and identified triggering circumstances in their lives that most likely influenced these behaviors, but he still did not have the tools or training to develop positive interventions that would help his students work through their actions. After professional development courses in trauma-informed practices, he cobbled together his own repertoire of tactics that began to help.
“Simple things like waiting until a student had calmed down before trying to speak with them made a huge difference,” Luknic said. His successes came after much trial and error, and he realized educators at all levels would benefit from this training.
“The research around adverse child reactions (referred to as ACEs) has matured over the years, but the application of this knowledge in the K-12 education space has lagged," Luknic said. "There is a great need and opportunity to bring this work into our schools.”
Caroline Toscano and Brandy Opse: trauma-informed best practices for community college students: raising awareness for college staff and faculty
Caroline Toscano, instructional designer at Century College, and Brandy Opse, English instructor at Century College, are working to design and implement professional development opportunities for educators who serve community college students.
Students experiencing trauma face real challenges both inside and outside the classroom, Opse said. “The community college experience as it relates to trauma-informed practices is unique. The student population is typically more diverse and includes more socially disadvantaged and underrepresented populations. They are often at a higher risk for experiencing toxic stress and/or trauma as well as associated mental health challenges,” she added.
Toscano said that community colleges have historically had low completion rates in terms of graduation and retention. “Part of addressing this challenge lies in understanding the barriers that impede student success. Trauma can be viewed from several perspectives, from the individual to the society. We must understand all factors that influence their abilities to learn and succeed in higher education,” she added.
They see opportunities for improvement in areas such as online course design and student support services. But Toscano wants more people to realize that trauma is ever present in all aspects of society, including the classroom. “Trauma-informed structures are necessary to promote productive classrooms and prevent re-traumatization,” Toscano said.
Their work will bring a trauma-informed lens to things like classroom teaching strategies, support services and course design practices that may be negatively affecting community college students impacted by trauma.
“By mitigating the effects of trauma and toxic stress on students’ learning experiences, we can make a big difference for this population and help students succeed without experiencing unnecessary additional stressors or triggers,” Opse said.