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Understanding Trauma: Audrey Jackson, HDP'14

Audrey Jackson
When she took leave from her position as a fifth-grade teacher at Joseph P. Manning Elementary School in Boston, Audrey Jackson never had a doubt that she would return after her year at the Ed School. In fact, it was her work there that led her to enroll in the Human Development and Psychology (HDP) Program to begin with.

“My most recent four years [as a teacher] have been at a school whose aim is creating a trauma-informed community,” she says. “Despite my school’s efforts, we are a still a work-in-progress, as best practices for trauma-informed schools are still developing. My goal during my time at HGSE was to better understand the physiological effects of trauma and to share that information with my colleagues so they will have more information on practical things they can to do make a difference.”

Jackson remained involved with the Manning School throughout her time away, updating her colleagues on what she was learning at HGSE and even inviting Dean James Ryan to accompany her on a visit to the school in which he met with the principal and discussed the Manning’s mission.

“It was so exciting to see the dean of HGSE sitting in my principal’s tiny office discussing our school’s mission and values,” Jackson says. “In that moment, I felt truly proud of both of my schools and the connections that can be made between HGSE and everyday practice.”

“Audrey is deeply engaged in class presentations and discussions — among the most consistently vocal, thoughtful and perceptive students I have taught …” says Lecturer Betsy Groves. “Audrey is able to make connections between what she has seen in the classroom as a teacher in the Boston Public Schools and effective policy solutions. Her thinking at the systems or policy level is closely informed by her knowledge of children and families at the grassroots/micro-level.”

Upon learning that she had been honored with the Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for Human Development and Psychology, Jackson answered some questions about her time at the Ed School and beyond.

Have your goals changed at all since coming to the Ed School? I have realized the potential to have greater impact, beyond just my school, on behalf of children who have experienced trauma or toxic stress. I have always known this to be a social justice issue because children who live in poverty, who are minorities, and who have family members who have experienced trauma, are far more likely to be affected. Without therapeutic interventions, adverse childhood experiences can negatively affect children’s physical health and their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral development. Though I am not yet sure what role I will play in shifting paradigms, I am heartened by the growing awareness of the need for trauma-sensitive schools and urgency for addressing inequities.

What is something that you learned at HGSE that you will take with you throughout your career in education? I never knew neuroscience could be teacher-friendly, let alone kid-friendly! I will share all I have learned about the brain and individual variability with students, families, and teachers; this is a field I will continue to follow, as it has helped me feel more informed and empowered as an educator. With regard to how trauma and stress affect children, the neuroscience field has also provided invaluable information that demonstrates both risks and solutions, which I hope to share far and wide in the education community.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School? Betsy Groves is an incredible teacher and role model whose expertise and poise will most certainly inform the way in which I will set goals, advocate for others, and carry myself throughout my career.

What will you change in education and why? I hope to change how kids who have experienced trauma are viewed within schools. There are so many children in our city – and beyond – who are affected by stress and traumatic events. I’ve seen the deep ways in which children are affected, sometimes acutely, but often long-term, and I think that everyone in education (and all society!) should be better informed about the effects of trauma. Unfortunately, schools often respond to children’s hardships and symptoms with discipline and frustration in an effort to “protect” other kids. However, this leads to a disproportionate number of kids, who have already been traumatized at least once, being re-traumatized by disciplinary systems and, unfortunately, not being able to fully experience the opportunity that education can and should provide. This is not just about pity or a gesture of faith, either. The children affected may have heartbreaking stories, but they are also resilient in the way they try to engage with the world every day. I believe we should put at least as much effort into ensuring that school is a safe and supportive place where they can thrive.

Despite your busy schedule, you always make time for … Sleep! If you aren’t yet convinced that making time for sleep is important, even in grad school, I recommend taking Todd Rose’s Intro to Educational Neuroscience.

How did you stay inspired throughout the year? For the past six years as a teacher, I have longed to have time to learn and reflect without having to simultaneously teach. Knowing that I am returning to the classroom next year, I was motivated to learn all that I could for myself and for the benefit of my future students.


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