Kelly Glick’s dissertation on trauma-informed care creates a roadmap for student success in school districts nationwide.
By: By Anne-Margaret Swary
When Kelly Glick embarked on her doctorate in leadership studies in 2013, she had no idea her research would result in transformative change in her school district’s culture and create a successful trauma-informed care initiative that had the potential to be replicated in other schools around the country.
“When I initially enrolled, the goal was to be able to provide broad-based leadership within the district,” said Glick, who currently works as an assistant principal in Findlay City Schools. “After 26 years in any industry, you’re looking to grow.”
Glick started her career in education as a high school science teacher before returning to BGSU to get her master’s in mental health and school counseling, working as a school counselor prior to becoming an assistant principal. Her future professional goals include director of instruction and professional development, research, professional speaking and educational consultant.
Shortly after she embarked on her doctorate, there was an effort to foster collaboration and provide training for 21 agencies throughout Hancock County to better understand the impact of childhood trauma and provide better services to students and the community as a whole. It was a perfect opportunity to weave her professional experience and passion for helping students into her doctoral studies.
“As a former counselor, when the school district participated in this trauma-informed care learning community, I was of course intrigued,” Glick said. “I’ve always been interesting in helping at-risk students.”
Trauma-informed care is a paradigm that addresses the fact that many students have had traumatic experiences that can impact their physical and emotional well-being, learning, behavior, and relationships at school. These traumatic situations can include divorce, bullying, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, health issues, financial hardships and homelessness, among others.
Trauma-informed care professional development prepares adults in the school community to recognize and better respond to children dealing with these situations, to help students cope, and de-escalate behavioral issues at school.
“I can’t say enough about how important it is for school employees to understand the prevalence of childhood trauma and how trauma affects brain development,” she said. “Statistically, it’s so prevalent, you should assume that if students are acting out or shutting down, there may be something going in their personal lives that is causing that behavior. You don’t have to know what it is, but it’s important to take an empathetic approach. Adults should prevent themselves from getting angry or taking it personally. It’s a big paradigm shift.”
Glick and her colleague, BGSU fellow doctoral student Darlene Mack, who works as a school counselor in the same building as Glick, worked together to create and implement a professional development program in trauma-informed care for Findlay City Schools. More than 800 employees – everyone from teachers and administrators to bus drivers and custodians – received training.
Since the initial training in September 2015, Glick and Mack have continued to co-lead the initiative within the district. The use of a trauma-informed lens and approach has been embedded into the district strategic plan and school improvement efforts.
As a result of the training, “employees know how to respond and talk to students and/or what to do to get students the help they need. We also are meeting with the classified leadership committee monthly, and we are empowering them to participate in this initiative,” Glick said.
The training helped employees grasp the concepts of trauma-informed care and understand how their own behavior and reaction to students can help or exacerbate the situation.
“Training on the prevalence and impact of trauma may rock their boat,” Glick said. “It causes employees to reflect on their past beliefs and behaviors. It makes them reflect on all the times they had a child in their classroom acting out, how they responded and how they wish they had responded now that they have a trauma-informed lens.”
Glick developed a survey to collect data after the professional development to show how the training positively impacted knowledge, dispositions and behaviors for employees across classifications and grade levels. In addition, this has led many in the district to re-examine and evaluate discipline practices and look for ways to pay attention to the whole child.
“We have worked tirelessly to embed this into our culture,” she said. “It’s all about the kids.”
The initiative has been so successful that other districts have been reaching out to Glick and Mack to provide training and resources for their employees.
“What she’s done is very innovative – not only creating the professional development aspect, but examining the efficacy of it in terms of impact on teachers and their perception.” said Dr. Rachel Vannatta Reinhart, a professor in the School of Education Foundations, Leadership and Policy who chaired Glick’s dissertation committee. “She threw herself into the research on this. There were no published studies on this approach.”
“I am telling you, she is getting calls from everywhere. This really has the potential to become a national model for other schools.”
For Glick, the reward is in all the stories and positive feedback she hears from employees throughout the district, and how a trauma-informed care approach is benefiting students and staff. She’s also grateful to the superintendent and school board for believing in the initiative.
“The amount of time and energy she has put into this, most people wouldn’t be able to do that,” Vannatta Reinhart said. “To develop such a comprehensive program and then to really figure out how to evaluate it, it truly comes out of her love and commitment to helping kids.”