State Superintendent Hofmeister Testifies Before Congressional Panel on Trauma

Sep 11, 2019

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told a U.S. House panel about Oklahoma's efforts to help teachers handle students suffering from childhood trauma.
Credit C-SPAN

A congressional panel looking to help kids affected by gun violence turns to Oklahoma for advice on handling trauma in the classroom.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said through a series of summits, the Oklahoma State Department of Education has focused on helping teachers recognize when kids have experienced trauma that’s affecting them in the classroom.

"Instead of a child that’s sleeping at the back of classroom in middle school and a teacher might ask, maybe in the past, 'What’s wrong with that kid?' we want to ask, 'What’s happened?' and 'What can we do to give them confidence and build that relationship?'" Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister said teachers need practical tools to work with kids chronically stressed by poverty, abuse or violence.

"A child that has cortisol washing over the brain that’s in a constant fight-or-flight kind of mode is not going to know what to do when you say, 'Stop. Quit. Don’t.' But, instead, a teacher can simply say, 'It’s time to open our book,' or 'It’s time to walk in the hall,'" Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister said the professional development sessions have made a difference.

"One teacher said, 'After attending trauma-informed instruction professional development, our school brought back classroom intervention strategies. We started implementing them in a few of our classrooms and noticed that student discipline referrals went to zero with these teachers,'" Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister said the goal for teachers should be to foster trust and respect with students and families.

Trauma is a major problem for Oklahoma kids. The state leads the nation in childhood trauma. Hofmeister told members of the House Education and Labor subcommittee on Wednesday that 75% of Oklahoma students are dealing with moderate to severe depression.