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Reverend Courtney Carson combines experiences in national civil justice issues with local application of trauma studies and motivational interviewing. Photos courtesy of Reverend Carson


much of the trauma they experi-

Carson is also a big believer in

ence comes from the things they

the use of Motivational Interviewing

know if they’ll get dinner tonight,”

bring in from outside the school,”

(MI) in teacher/student interactions.

When Carson got his life turned

he said.

Carson said.

MI is a goal-oriented technique for

around and graduated from college,

The impact of trauma on the

promoting behavioral changes by

he planned a move to Atlanta. He had

ability to learn is of special interest

asking open-ended questions to

no desire to return to the scene of his

to Carson, and a major concern in

engage students, while also provid-

earlier life, but Jackson told him that

a school district where the major-

ing affirmations.

that is exactly what he should do.

ity of students live in poverty. Six

“I believe when teachers chal-

Coming back home made him realize

years ago, he went to Washington

lenge themselves and utilize moti-

how much he loved the community.

D.C. for training on how to recog-

vational interviewing, then they

Despite this commitment to his

nize the trauma behind a person’s

get the best out of the student,”

hometown, he was initially reluctant

actions and decisions, and how to

Carson said. “It’s a therapeutic

when people first started encourag-

connect with them on a personal

approach and a form of counseling.

ing him to run for school board, to

level. Teachers in Decatur public

You become an aid in the change

bring a fresh perspective and share

schools have since received similar

process and express acceptance of

his unique expertise. But as with so


the student. It’s a way of interact-

many decisions before, his mind was

“I love that we have trauma-in-

ing with substance, especially when

changed when he received a sign.

formed schools,” Carson said. “Our

dealing with a student experiencing

teachers are getting training on recog-


After tentatively throwing his hat in the ring, the lottery that

nizing trauma because it’s such a scary

With MI, the goal is to encour-

determined the order candidates’

thing. You might have a child in your

age students to “win” the present

names would appear on the ballot

class worried about when he’s going to

moment, rather than focusing on

placed him fourth on the list. While

get his next meal. How can he learn

the long-term consequences of their

most politicians covet the top spot,

when he knows that the electricity

negative behavior. By doing so, the

Carson saw providence in his draw.

might not be on when he gets home?

student becomes better prepared to

“The election was on the fourth

How can we expect him to focus on his

win the next time a situation arises.

day, of the fourth month. There were

work when there’s someone at home

“Threatening a student with

four open seats. That was enough

who’s molesting him? That student is

the possibility of not graduating in

being disobedient because his brain

a few years isn’t going to mean too

After his first year as a board

is being numbed by the trauma.”

much to someone who doesn’t even

member, Carson is pleased with the

for me,” he said.


The Illinois School Board Journal, March/April 2018  

A bimonthly magazine for public school board members and administrators highlighting issues in education.

The Illinois School Board Journal, March/April 2018  

A bimonthly magazine for public school board members and administrators highlighting issues in education.