Like so many of us, I am entering into 2021 with a renewed sense of hope that this year will return us to some sense of normalcy after an intense and challenging 2020. But even as we move forward with hope and optimism, we must all be prepared for the reality of the impact that this ongoing climate of change and uncertainty is having, and will continue to have, on so many young children.
Given the events of this past year, it is no surprise that so many of us in the education community are paying more attention than ever to the importance of social–emotional development and even more specifically, to the negative impact of trauma on young children. I am so thankful for the many leaders in our field who are shining a spotlight on not just the long-term effect of trauma and toxic stress on young children’s development and learning, but also on what we as educators can and should proactively and responsively do to support children exposed to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and environments. One of those leaders is Kai-leé Berke, our former CEO here at Teaching Strategies, who moved on to start her own company, Noni Educational Solutions, while still serving as the Vice Chair of our board and acting as a collaborative partner to us at Teaching Strategies.
We’re very excited that Kai-leé will be joining us later this month to help me kick off a webinar series on trauma-informed instruction. Her decades of experience as an early childhood educator and administrator have helped inform her perspective on the importance of bringing a trauma-informed approach to teaching and learning—in fact, during the webinar she’ll share some of the strategies she used to support children in her classroom who were struggling or who needed some extra support and attention. But Kai-leé also brings a unique personal perspective, which she offered to share here in the blog, that has really helped shape her approach to the work she’s been doing to help mitigate the negative impacts of trauma and ACEs, which she’ll discuss during the webinar. Here’s what Kai-leé had to say:
When I was little, my early childhood teachers were my only constant. My mother died when I was nine and was very sick for a few years before she passed. My father split his time between work and the hospital. During the week, my older brother and I were frequently on our own.
At the time, I had really long hair and my little arms couldn’t quite brush the middle. My poor father was ill-equipped to tackle the terrible knots that I’d frequently get, so my teachers would brush my hair for me. Before the school day started and after it ended, I would go and sit with one of the teachers and she’d work on the latest knots. And while she brushed, we talked. These women invited me to express my sadness, my fears, and my hopes in ways that made me feel normal and understood. Most importantly, they made me feel loved, nurtured, and supported. They hugged me. They told me that I was smart, capable, strong, and could do anything I set my mind to.
My brother didn’t have that kind of support. He was a little older than me; his relationships with his teachers were different. He was smart, creative, and so charismatic—but he went through those challenging years without the warm, nurturing embrace of a consistent, supportive adult relationship.
When we were younger, my brother and I had more in common than not, and I adored him. But we came out on the other side of my mother’s death as completely different people and would go on to take opposite paths in life.
I did well in school, went to college, got my master’s degree, and became a teacher, a school administrator, a mother, and later, a CEO. After barely making it to high school graduation, my brother struggled to keep a job, lied to everyone he knew, became a master manipulator, and eventually, a drug addict. He was a father who took his kids in and out of homelessness and neglected and hurt them and others in ways that still break my heart to think about, even though they are safe now. A few years ago, my brother died of a drug overdose.
As I grew up and could reflect on our childhood with some adult perspective, and certainly as I studied human development in school, it was clear that a key differentiator in our experiences was that I had these amazing women, these incredible teachers, who quite literally saved me. I’ve always known that I, too, wanted to be one of those people who could change the trajectory of someone’s life. And as I worked with young children and learned more about the critical importance of the early childhood years—and the significant impact that trauma has on a child’s development and learning—I knew I was so blessed to have had the experiences with those women that I did, when I did. All young children deserve to have those kinds of relationships in their lives.
Here at Teaching Strategies, we’re so appreciative that Kai-leé was willing to share her personal story in order to help draw attention to the importance of trauma-informed, relationship-based teaching for young children’s successful development and learning. And we know that during times like these, it’s so important for educators like you to learn from stories like hers and others, in which teachers played such a critical role in providing support and helping to mitigate the negative impact of traumatic experiences. That’s why we are offering this free webinar series on trauma-informed care and instruction.
Throughout the series, you’ll hear from experts in the field about trauma and its impact, learn how to support children and families in the aftermath of traumatic events, and get strategies for providing responsive care and encouraging resiliency—all of which are more important than ever before. You can register for first webinar in the series below—we hope to see you there!
In the first webinar in our Trauma Informed Care and Instruction webinar series, you’ll hear from experts in the field about trauma and its impact, learn how to support children and families in the aftermath of traumatic events, and get strategies for providing responsive care and encouraging resiliency.