Trauma-informed kaupapa provides strength through ongoing challenges

Issue: Volume 102, Number 4

Posted: 30 March 2023
Reference #: 1HA_98

Through the enormous challenges of the past few years, most recently the extreme flooding and silt inundation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle, the Hawke’s Bay and Tairāwhiti communities have suffered greatly. But, through good management, they have also strengthened.

Yoga and mindfulness is a calming start to each school day for ākonga at Henry Hill School.

Yoga and mindfulness is a calming start to each school day for ākonga at Henry Hill School.

The ways in which Jase Williams and his team at Henry Hill School have worked to help their community heal goes way beyond what would traditionally be expected from a school setting. With his trauma-informed approach, the Napier school principal has put healing at the heart of his mahi. And never has it been more needed than now.

“A couple of our staff lost everything in the recent flooding,” he shares. “And a few of our tamariki lost their homes – one being rescued off the roof of his home and then being taken via a rowing boat to safety.

“Fortunately, as a school, we were very lucky to only have received minor damage – a tree lying down in the main field (still there) and our sensory garden completely flooded and wiped out, again.”

Breaking cycles

Challenges of large-scale flood recovery are the latest to test the grit, and the unity, of the school community. But at its helm has been a man whose kaupapa has been breaking cycles and supporting whānau, in a big way.

Jase’s approach won the school a Prime Minister’s Excellence in Education Wellbeing Award and personal praise from then PM Jacinda Ardern, in 2021. But much more important, is the impact this kaupapa has had on those it is intended to support.

“We are well aware that there is a whole lot of intergenerational trauma and hurt out there, and a lot of overwhelmed parents,” says Jase, who began teaching in 2002 and worked at several schools in the area, before joining Henry Hill School 10 years ago.

Bringing spades of positive intent and infectious energy to his role, an approach to leadership intrinsically linked with wellbeing has been his driving force. A data gathering exercise set Jase and his team off on a non-standard trajectory.

“When we lifted the data on our ākonga who weren’t achieving academically, and for those transient kids who come to us, the picture was really depressing – poor attendance, poor punctuality, poor health, poor behaviour, and disengaged whānau, and the underlying factor was trauma.

“It was then that we made the conscious decision to learn more about trauma and the effects and impacts it has on child and brain development. We learned all about this, but we also learned so much more, such as, we largely parent how we were parented.”

Jase has worked with Matt and Sarah Brown, of the She is Not Your Rehab movement. He is a strong advocate for their mahi, and vice versa.

“In Matt and Sarah’s book, She Is Not Your Rehab, there is a quote I love that I feel sums this up really well: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’.

“We pass experiences on through our parenting, based on the memories from our own childhood. Consciously, there are some things we choose not to pass on because they weren’t pleasurable experiences for us, but we also subconsciously transmit other negative experiences and practices that we may not even know are negative.”

Henry Hill School values authentic relationships with ākonga to show kaiako as 'real people'.

Henry Hill School values authentic relationships with ākonga to show kaiako as 'real people'.


The events of recent times have cemented the need for this community-driven approach to breaking cycles and improving lives that She Is Not Your Rehab and Henry Hill School share.

Jase says, “We’ve definitely seen a real feeling of uneasiness and anxiety over recent years. After Covid lockdowns, alert level changes, and also after previous severe flooding at school and in our community, our students seemed to cope really well. We had very little issue in regard to dysregulated kids and community coming through our school’s gates.

“However, from the second half of 2021 onwards, it has been pretty tough. The effects of vaccinations mandates, constant changes in keeping up with legislated rules or recommendations really impacted everyone here.

“We know that the effects of the Covid era and flooding will be long lasting and far reaching. This has the potential to impact several future generations of our community, and that’s why the trauma informed kaupapa we have introduced here is even more important than ever.”

This kaupapa consists of three primary elements:

  • Focused professional development and creating richer relationships with whānau
  • Adding regulatory elements to classroom practice
  • Making physical changes to the school’s environment and establishing areas where students could regulate themselves in conjunction with nature.

Jase engaged international childhood trauma expert Dr Bruce Perry and his Neurosequential Model in Education to immerse staff in Trauma-Informed Practice. Now, Jase is one of a handful of certified trainers in this approach in Aotearoa, and the only Māori certified trainer in the world.

“Yes, there are elements that are quite confronting and potentially triggering for both students and staff,” he says. “But we have an increased awareness now, so it means we won’t be one of those schools that continues to re-traumatise traumatised students.”

Immersing whānau in learning through a community day each term led to a 100 percent attendance rate. This replaced the traditional parent-teacher interview format, while a monthly ‘Dads and Mums Hui’ at school has provided further opportunity to build on this kaupapa.

Yoga was introduced to classrooms to create a calming start to each school day. Led by students, it is facilitated in te reo Māori schoolwide and is followed by karakia. Jase says the school has also added ‘strategic and planned regulatory breaks’ to create space for wellbeing focus.

The school’s award-winning sensory garden – Te Āhuru Mōwai – was designed to provide a multi-sensory experience, with a winding pathway of built and planted elements to stimulate and soothe. Sadly, however, this was destroyed in Cyclone Gabrielle.

Henry Hill School teamed up with Matt and Sarah Brown's 'She is Not Your Rehab' movement.

Henry Hill School teamed up with Matt and Sarah Brown's 'She is Not Your Rehab' movement.

Generational change

Overarchingly, despite all the challenges the past few years have thrown their way, the principal and his school have focused on a lofty goal. “We’re all about creating generational change,” says Jase.

“We now have this ‘privileged’ knowledge and understanding that we know would help everyone, so we have a responsibility to share this with our whānau/community. They then have a sense of responsibility towards continuing to share this kaupapa with everyone they know.

“We truly believe we can be instrumental in helping not only create generational change, but also in healing a community. People and relationships are the answer to basically everything, and that includes within a school context.

“I’ve always found that being authentic and being your true self is what matters most in a school, rather than trying to be a teacher. Ākonga connect with real people, not labels.

“I know it’s really changed the way we talk to students and talk about our students, for our staff, because we have this whole new perspective and the science to back it up. Personally, it’s changed my life.”

And it has altered the path of his career; after a stellar decade at the school, Jase will move on at the end of term 1 this year, to expand this trauma informed practice kaupapa across the motu.

Read more about a korowai of awhi and wellbeing at Henry Hill School in a previous article at link)

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:15 am, 30 March 2023

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