Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Student Perception of Safety and Positive School Climate After Trauma Informed Care Professional Development

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Judith Jackson May (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Karen Johnson- Webb (Other)

Third Advisor

Matthew R. Lavery (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Jaclyn D. Schalk (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Chris Willis (Committee Member)


In recent years educational settings have offered increased attention to relationships between students emotional and physiological health and academic achievement. Some authors have reported high prevalence rates of social, emotional, academic and cognitive impacts of traumatic experiences on students in the school environment. To address these issues, a trauma-informed school culture (TISC) can provide an environment in which students who have been exposed to trauma are supported in a variety of manners such as relationship building and developing resilience where they are academically successful.

Depending on the population and type of trauma investigated, reports show that 50-75% of youth in the United States are exposed to trauma. The consequences of such exposure is often exhibited in students’ learning and behaviors, and the need to understand impact of trauma on students’ learning and school behaviors has led to a push for effective trauma-informed treatment approaches in school systems. A review of current trauma literature shows a lack of research which assessed students’ perceptions of school safety and positive school climate, especially as they relate to academic performance and school attendance. To address this gap, the present study was conducted to expand upon previous work which assessed a Midwest middle school district’s development of a trauma-informed school culture, with the intent to measure student-reported perceptions of safety and positive school climate after delivering a trauma-informed professional development course to school staff.

Two separate exploratory factor analyses showed that survey data collected from two student cohorts loaded similarly to create a 10-item measure of assessment for school safety and school climate. Cohort comparison analyses indicated a significant decrease in students’ perceptions of school safety and positive school climate after delivery of a trauma-informed professional development intervention for staff at the target middle school. Additionally, findings showed that male students had more discipline incidents than did female students, and a significant increase in grade point average was observed between cohorts. However, it is not possible to directly attribute this increase in academic performance to the professional development.

Overall, study findings led to the conclusion that the professional development as provided to school staff was not effective in increasing students’ perceptions of school safety and positive school climate as expected. Implications for leadership, policy and practice are provided, along with suggestions for future research and for improving the efficacy of trauma-informed professional development.