In January 2017, on their first day of winter break, a group of Palestinian teachers, administrators, counselors and other school workers gathered in Bethlehem to begin a week-long workshop examining the trauma that pervades life in the Occupied West Bank.
Using an adapted version of EMU’s Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) curriculum, facilitator Meenakshi Chhabra led discussions and activities looking at trauma’s effects on the participants, their students and their classrooms. The training was organized by Seeds of Peace, a prominent peacebuilding organization that works with educators from conflict zones around the world.
Despite some initial reluctance, participants were soon eagerly talking about their own experiences and learning from one another.
“I think this was the first time many of them ever shared their own personal stories of trauma,” said Chhabra, a certified STAR trainer and professor at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “One of them said, ‘We don’t talk about this because everybody is going through it.’”
To tailor the workshop to educators, Chhabra led discussions on discipline and restorative justice in education, classroom management, the impact of trauma on student learning and brain development, and strategies to create trauma-informed classrooms. Assisting Chhabra was Oraib Waari, a Palestinian teacher who adapted the curriculum and materials for the participants’ cultural and professional contexts.
Daniel Noah Moses, director of educator programs for Seeds of Peace, was struck by the camaraderie and laughter that came to characterize the group sessions.
“This course was a precious opportunity to take a breath, to reflect, to get support, to work at becoming more resilient even as they learned tools to help their students to engage effectively with trauma and build resilience in the midst of relentless difficulties that are difficult for those outside of such environments to understand,” Moses wrote in an email.
Moses said Seeds of Peace hopes to offer similar STAR trainings for educators in the future. He said the curriculum “is thoughtful, sensitive and accessible, and meets pressing needs of people in communities where there is recurring trauma, where the future depends in large part on the extent to which people can develop resilience, along with practices for reflection, dialogue and engagement.”
After the training, Chhabra said, several participants reported that they had gained new understandings of how trauma affects their own and their students’ lives, new tools to respond to this trauma and a new community of support beyond their own schools.