square bulletBuilding a Culture of Care for Recovery

From Kristina Wonderly (she/her/hers), Interim Program Coordinator at Linn-Benton-Lincoln ESD

The COVID Pandemic has been and continues to be a collective trauma for every human on the planet.

“It is not the event that determines whether something is traumatic to someone, but the individual’s experience of the event and the meaning they make of it.”

—Caitlin Young from Trillium Family Service in Building a Trauma Informed Community: Module 1, Trauma & Resilience, October 2021.

How we respond to this trauma will vary for every individual. Each person carries their own unique backpack of experiences, as well as a self-made toolkit of internal and external resources to support healing and reduce the impacts of this trauma.

Based on the SAMHSA phases of disaster, we are pushing through the Disillusionment phase and striving towards Reconstruction.

Phases of Disaster graph
“Phases of Disaster” Adapted from Zunin & Myers as cited in DeWolfe, D. J., 2000. Training manual for mental health and human service workers in major disasters (2nd ed., HHS Publication No. ADM 90-538). Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services

To successfully navigate this recovery process and come out as a more compassionate and enlightened society, we must shift our mindset about trauma.

Words Matter: What’s Wrong With You => What’s Happened to You => What is Possible for You?

Often we ask “What’s wrong with that person?” when we examine behaviors or actions. We need to change the question to account for the influence of a person’s experiences. Shifting to “What’s happened to you?” rather than “What’s wrong with you?” becomes a cornerstone of being trauma-informed.

Some Words That Matter…

Wellbeing defined: “A state in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stressors of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community.”
—World Health Organization

Resilience defined: “The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress… It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.”
—American Psychological Association

“To be well is not to live in a state of perpetual safety and calm, but to move fluidly from a state of adversity, risk, adventure or excitement, back to safety and calm, and out again. Stress is not bad for you. Being stuck is bad for you.”

—Emily & Amelia Nagoski

Creating a Culture of Care

A trauma-informed Culture of Care is strength-based and increases awareness and understanding of the impacts of trauma. It works to create opportunities to emphasize safety, teach skills to manage feelings, and work through the ongoing change to promote an environment for healing and growth.

Key Features of a Culture of Care (Barrett, 2020)

  1. Create a safe, predictable, consistent environment
  2. Learn, teach and reinforce Social Emotional Behavior competencies
  3. Promote belonging and relationship development
  4. Support cognitive, emotional, and behavioral regulation

Susan Barrett “Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) and Trauma Informed Approaches” NW-MHTTC: The ISF West Coast Party, October 27, 2020

What does a Culture of Care look like, sound like and feel like in real life?  Learn how implicit bias around workplace culture impacts how we view our own roles in the workplace and then how we view our co-workers’ perceptions and beliefs about workplace culture. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is not just for the kids. Research by Anne Gregory and Edward Fergus shows that an educator’s own social-emotional competencies strongly influences a student’s motivation to learn, and the school climate in general. Embed Mental Health Supports into the workplace. Don’t just preach self-care for staff without building systems and structures to make wellbeing accessible and part of workplace expectations and benefits.

Check out these suggestions for leaders by classroom teacher, Henry Seton:

  1. Create safe, confidential spaces to process work stress with well-trained facilitators.  Just as we provide calming corners for students in classrooms, consider adding this component for the adults as part of a staff lounge or in a small office space.  Hire a mental health professional that can work with staff.
  2. Offer generous benefits to support the wellness of your staff.  Go beyond just the basic support services offered in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and explore health insurance options with robust mental health and wellness supports offered as part of the core packages. Offer incentives like gym memberships or onsite yoga classes.
  3. Regularly gather and respond to teacher feedback about existing stress points in their practice.  If you ask for feedback, you need to be ready to respond to what you hear.  Convene a staff wellness committee that has the ability to enact changes that address burn-out, secondary traumatic stress, and other issues.  Consider using the Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) assessment tool to gather this information.
  4. Model vulnerability and openly discuss issues of mental health. As a leader, you need to be ready to walk the talk.  It’s okay to be not okay and to be open about it.  Use restorative community circles to allow staff to share with each other in a safe way and space.

Henry Seton “The Elephant in the Classroom” Educational Leadership – October 2019

We must seek to build our own wellbeing and resilience so that we are prepared to help guide others through this recovery process. We can start by bolstering our universal precautions.  Then we can contribute to developing and supporting the universal precautions embedded in our homes, workplaces, social circles, and communities.

What are your universal precautions? (Barrett, 2020)

  • Safe and stable environment
  • Clearly defined expectations, procedures, routines
  • Ongoing embedded instruction of expectations, procedures, routines, social emotional skills
  • Daily routines that build a sense of community, foster relationships and experience positive connections
  • Clearly defined ways to ask for help
  • Positive greetings and positive social interactions throughout the day
  • Spaces and routines to re-group, re-set, neutralizing routine
  • Connectedness and wellness activities
  • Growth mindset culture supported with ongoing training, coaching and feedback

Adapted from Barrett, Susan & Flammini, Ami, “Multi-Tiered Systems to Support Adult Wellness” Virtual PBIS Leadership Forum, October 21, 2020

With the start of a new year, I encourage you to build a list of universal precautions to strengthen your own wellbeing and resilience.  Then consider how you can incorporate these ideas in some part of your external sphere – home, workplace, social circle or community.  Each of us plays a critical piece in building a Culture of Care for a brighter and better future.