Interview: Teaching Trauma-Informed Practices with Bethlehem Area School District

At Pear Deck, a source of inspiration is seeing what innovative classroom teachers and school leaders are sharing on social media. This tweet from Bethlehem Area SD Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jack Silva caught our collective eyes a few months ago:

Dr. Silva and Supervisor of Professional Learning and Technology Integration Mark James agreed to sit down with Pear Deck Marketing Director Danielle Stebel to discuss their efforts with building a learner- centered district environment and more.

Let’s start with some background. What led you both to choosing education as a career?

MJ “If I was to go back in time and tell my 17-year-old self I was a teacher, I wouldn’t have believed it. I received my Bachelor’s in Business from Miami University, and worked in the industrial railroad industry as an Account Executive before going to Culinary School. After a stint in food service I became Director of Catering for a school, and was asked to create a training program for undergraduate students.”

Creating the training program planted a seed, which grew into a Masters degree in Education with secondary certification in Math. As a passionate devotee of math and math instruction, James focused on changing, improving, and innovating his math instruction. After 17 years of classroom instruction, at the request of Dr. Silva, he applied for and was promoted to an administrative position focusing on staff development and instructional technology. Mark has been a Pear Deck user for so long that he was even in the original beta test group for Pear Deck back in 2014!

Dr. Silva — “Aside from working a drive-in movie theatre in my teen years, [education] is the only industry I’ve ever worked. I got a teaching job right out of college teaching Middle and High School Social Studies, and since then have tried everything from teacher to Department Chair, Principal, and Director of Secondary Educator. After 33 years in education, you start to lose track.”

With a “first and lasting interest” in educational programs, Dr. Silva jumped on a 2010 opportunity to come to his hometown of Bethlehem where he has been serving as Assistant Superintendent for Education and Chief Academic Officer.

Let’s discuss the tweet that led us to this conversation. Where were you that day?

Dr. S — “The tweet that I made happened after walking through a school who have been taking lead in Trauma-Informed work in the district. I saw that image on a few different doors and wasn’t sure what it was at first. Our first T/I implementation baseline was giving students a paper with pencil and having them mark [a self assessment] on the upper righthand corner with a scale to clue us in. The principal, faced with limitations of paper collection, advocated for a tool to allow for ease of access to the same information. Taking it just a few steps further with Pear Deck, the teachers are able to collect actionable data to allow for informed adjustments in the moment. This is a great example of independent application of formative assessment that shows independent thinking, which happens when they deeply understand a tool.”

Which leads us to your the implementation of Trauma-Informed Practices. How are you seeing the practices implemented, and what is the path forward?

Dr. S — “What we realize as we look ahead to our work with understanding trauma is there are different approaches that work with various school sites. We’ve got Pear Deck in schools with principals who saw the potential to take the Classroom Climate add-on to check in with their students. Some schools use a color system for self assessment of emotional readiness to learn that day. Another middle school is trying a different approach, and took the idea of mood check and decided what we wanted to know deeper insights. They use a two slide Student-Paced deck every morning for students to respond with how they’re feeling. The first is the four faces slide, and the second slide is a text response to ‘tell me more.’ The teachers drove that process, and we’re interested to see how it develops over time.”

MJ — “Understanding what type and how prevalent trauma is for our students. We want to create a clear path to becoming successful learners, and if you’ve got students walking into a classroom experiencing trauma, they can’t engage with their lessons.”

Have you met any resistance along your path of implementation of new practices or tools?

MJ — “Teaching is such a complex profession, and can unfortunately be lonely. Unless you have the good fortune of having a co-teacher, being the only adult in a room can be a lonely endeavor.

It can become isolating, and when you learn to live in that way, that is at the heart of resistance to change. This is not just in education, everyone is resistant to change in some way. When you start saying ‘everyone must or will’ — that’s when resistance comes in. We overcome that by leading by example, by checking in that we’ve provided adequate support, training, and time.”

Dr. S — “Principals are our secret sauce — they model and reinforce through supervision. We’ve come together in a universe where you walk the talk with the tools you’re using and competencies you’re developing.”

What does success look like for your work to come?

MJ — “Adjusting the trajectory of classroom conversation. I’m looking forward to seeing Pear Deck used in a way that becomes really high-level formative assessment in real time. I have a goal of having a mindshift for our teachers to have their students leading for more of a two way socialized learning environment.”

Dr. S — “In the short term, teachers applying and using tools in a unique way, to solve problems in school. Ultimately when our Principals see teachers happy with the tools at their disposal, and when teachers see students command technology to better their learning, then we’ve successfully connected all the dots.”

Our most sincere thanks to Dr. Silva and Mark James for taking time to share the incredible work they’re doing within their district!

This week’s blog post was written by Pear Deck Marketing Director Danielle Stebel.