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  • Sue Chapman

Turning Crisis into Learning: Moving from Post-Traumatic Stress to Post-Traumatic Growth

Updated: Nov 30, 2022


Synonyms for Trauma

We’ve all seen a lot of trauma in the last several years. Even if we have not personally experienced trauma, we know people who have. The aftershocks of this trauma are still with us; they impact our school communities on a daily basis. According to LindaGail Walker, author of Surviving the Storm: Leading through Post-Traumatic Growth, the pandemic “broadened our understanding of suffering. It’s never been clearer how susceptible each one of us is to circumstances outside of ourselves. We are no longer unaware of how an unstoppable crisis can impact and derail us, both individually and collectively. We have been through a communal traumatic experience” (p. 90)

The good news is that not only can we get through trauma to post-traumatic growth, but we can also begin to experience that growth during trauma. And we have scientific research that can help us find our way.

~ LindaGail Walker

Surviving the Storm: Leading through Post-Traumatic Growth


Cover of book

Surviving the Storm is an education leader’s road map to courageously and strategically navigating trauma while simultaneously growing resilience and fortitude for the challenges we will most certainly face in the future.


Crisis and the attendant trauma it can bring are recurring parts of life, and for that reason, we must develop the resilience to live and grow in the storm, not only to live through it. And in so doing, we’ll not only survive but thrive.

~ LindaGail Walker

Surviving the Storm: Leading through Post-Traumatic Growth


How would you rate your current level of resiliance?

Trauma’s aftermath can be devastating and long-lasting, triggering other events that can easily spiral into a tornado of dysfunction and despair. However, we each have the internal capacity to move through trauma, coming out stronger and more resourceful on the other side. We can learn skills of post-traumatic growth, and we can also help others to also develop these abilities.

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Post-traumatic growth, according to Walker, “is not simply casual terminology, but a theory developed by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s to explain why some people experience positive growth after trauma” (p. 11).

There are four domains of post-traumatic growth

  • Appreciation of life

  • Relationships with others

  • New possibilities in life

  • Personal strength

  • Spiritual change


Which of these domains of post-traumatic growth do you see in yourself? In others?

What are some ways you can continue to build on the growth you have already achieved?

The trauma and crises we have already lived through and the challenges we continue to face call on education leaders to be their best selves and to build new skills and understandings of how to help others survive trauma and thrive as a result. We can do it! The key is to take a learning stance, something that learning professionals know a lot about.


Learning to Ride the Waves

Walker offers the following post-traumatic growth strategies to help us turn crisis into learning.

Which of these post-traumatic growth strategies could help you most in this next month?

Which strategy might you share with others during an upcoming team or faculty meeting?

Which strategy could you turn into a mini lesson for students?

  • Understand what you can and can’t control. You are not powerless. Make a three-column chart of things you can control, things you can influence, and things you can’t control. Focus your energy on the first two columns.

  • Get comfortable with uncertainty. While you can’t solve the pandemic, racism, wildfires, or violence, understand that you can manage these adaptive challenges in your school community.

  • Stop resisting reality. Fighting the inevitable adds more stress. “If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem cannot be solved, worrying will do you no good.” ~Buddha

  • Reframe. Rather than, “This crisis is killing us,” try “Getting through this crisis will strengthen our school community.”

  • Celebrate and appreciate others. Taking a strengths-based approach to others helps you learn to accept things…and people…as they are. (p. 38)

To prevent becoming stuck in trauma, we need to visualize a more empathetic future, a future where we’re doing more than surviving, but progressing toward a mission that matters.

~ LindaGail Walker

Surviving the Storm: Leading through Post-Traumatic Growth

Keeping Our Focus

Trauma makes it hard to stay focused on the things that are most important. Education leaders can help teachers and students to regain and maintain their focus on priorities and critical actions through their narrative and actions. Walker shares Meteor Education’s Seven Laws of What Gets Done as a framework for leaders in helping the school community to stay focused (p. 61).

When It’s All Just Too Much

Educator burnout can be both a symptom and a result of trauma. Burnout impacts educator effectiveness and can be contagious. Walker suggests that we look at burnout as a problem to be solved rather than a badge of honor. She challenges us to examine our personal responses to stress, reminding us of the self-scaffolds we can use when we recognize that we’re at our limit: relaxation techniques, physical activity, and social support.

Is burnout a choice? Consider these reflective questions offered by LindaGail Walker (p. 62).

  • What assumptions are we making about what will happen if we slow down, ask for help, or say no?

  • How much of our burnout results from our assumptions, expectations, or pride?

  • What is the need beneath our striving and achieving, and can it be met through something other than working harder?

  • Have we built healthy practices of journaling, therapy, coaching, or spiritual support?

  • How many things have we said yes to out of guilt or obligation? Can any of those be dropped, delayed, or delegated to create more margin for ourselves?

We can address burnout and strengthen our resilience by intentionally tapping into our internal and community resources, including specific coping factors identified by Walker in this roadmap.

Noticing the Rainbow

Walker tells usEvery school can and will experience a tangible turning of the corner, and we have to keep our eyes open for these markers, acknowledge them, and call others’ attention to them, too” (p. 101-102). Like a rainbow just after a storm, signs of post-traumatic growth are already visible in our schools and learning organizations.


LindaGail Walker notes the following observable evidence of progress:

  • Education is being funded like never before

  • Technology has moved from being a toy to being a tool

  • More attention is being paid to wellness and trauma

  • We’re beginning to strip away what is superfluous and ineffective

  • We have a front-row seat to an unprecedented reinvention of the way we do education (p. 101)

In your work and personal life, what evidence of post-traumatic growth are you already glimpsing in each of the following domains?

  • Appreciation of life

  • Relationships with others

  • New possibilities

  • Personal strength

  • Spiritual change

As you think about the second half of this school year, what are some small steps you can take to keep this growth going for yourself and others?



Which step toward Post-Traumatic Growth will you take today?

Read more about ways to proactively recharge your batteries during this busy and sometimes stressful time of the year in Holiday To-Do List: Take Care of Self

Reference:

Walker, L. (2022). Surviving the storm: Leading through post-traumatic growth. Gainesville, FL: [ME]Publishing.


Sue Chapman is a professional learning consultant and author of MathVentures: 33 Teacher-Coach Investigations to Grow Students as Mathematicians. Learn more about her at SueChapmanLearning.com and connect with her on Twitter at @SueChapmanLearn.


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