Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name is Jen Alexander although most people know me as Ms. Jen. When there are many Jennifers and Jens in every circle of your life, one figures out a way to be specific. 😉 As an experienced educator, presenter, and author, I believe that we can make a big difference with kids – one relationship at a time, which is why I am a passionate leader in the movement to build trauma-sensitive schools.
My new book Building Trauma-Sensitive Schools: Your Guide to Creating Safe, Supportive Learning Environments for All Students was written to help educators meet the needs of the masses of students who have experienced trauma such as child abuse, neglect, neighborhood violence, family separation, medical trauma, or war, etc. It starts with a thorough explanation of what trauma is, its prevalence, and the different ways trauma can impact youth (think effects on school attendance, behavior, and academic achievement). Then, I walk educators through a relationships first framework for helping all students, including those who have experienced trauma, by way of both preventive and responsive interventions. Finally, I teach educators how to begin implementing restorative discipline practices instead of punitive ones. Throughout, educator self-care is emphasized because we must be well in order to do this work well.
I’m excited that Building Trauma-Sensitive Schools has been released and am very much looking forward to continuing this important work of helping educators help kids! As we build trauma-sensitive schools together, we will cultivate hope for students, for entire communities, and for one another as professionals. I’m honored to be part of it.
What is/are the story(ies) behind your book(s)?
The stories behind my book come from the little ones who have taught me so much, including my daughter, who is now a young adult. She experienced trauma in her earliest years before I met her and gave me permission to share a little about our life together. While the chapters are definitely more professional than personal in nature, I also know that what we bring to our students as individuals with strengths, quirks, and emotions is what allows us to connect, really connect, in that human to human, heart to heart way. And, it’s those connections that help all of us live, learn and grow. For that reason, I wanted to share a bit of our personal story in the book too.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Life inspires my creativity. From the deep, meaningful, and beautiful aspects to the absurd, gut-wrenching, or humorous parts, life is full of material to write about. Bring your passion and experience together with good solid research, and you are ready to roll!
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
The biggest mistake I made in writing this book was that I was way too much of a perfectionist in my early drafts. I spent hours and hours getting the chapters “just right” only to learn later that my editor had great ideas for organizing the book in a different way. Not only did I waste time in perfecting things that were changed a great deal later on, but it led me to be too attached to the early manuscript. Simply put, it was hard for me to see the pages in a new way. With hard work (paired with some definite whining) and expert advice (again from my editor), it happened though.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I don’t think that you can have one without the other. We have to be true to ourselves and our own voice because when we’re authentic and real, our readers will connect more with us and learn from us too. My intention is always to help the reader. In fact, I see writing as a conversation with my readers, but I have to bring myself to that conversation in order to be genuine and thus, effective.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
Emotions are critical. Good books make me feel stuff, and my best writing makes me feel stuff too. I struggled with writing the last chapter of this book. Finally, when I dug deeper, the words started to flow and brought me to tears. That’s when I knew that I was getting closer to what needed to be said.
What are your plans for future books?
I actually have several ideas that have been visiting me in regards to future books. Right now, I’m tinkering with a few wonderings related to specific SEL curriculum pieces for kids, and maybe, just maybe, a children’s book. I also have thought about writing a book that would be called # CouldntMakeItUpIfITried. It would be a personal story. The jury is still out on that one, but stay tuned because who knows! I suspect that writing books may be a bit like child birth, although I have no experience in that department. Perhaps one needs a little bit of time to pass in order to forget exactly how painful the process was before giving it another go. 😉
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
Let’s see. Most folks know me as a deep thinker – a pretty serious person, too serious even, but I also have a dry sense of humor and love to laugh, especially with those who know me best. I feel things deeply and care a whole lot about others. This leaves me full of passionate ideas, and I can certainly be stubborn, ummm, I mean persistent, in bringing them to life. This is most evident when I believe something is going to help people who may be vulnerable. Truth be told, we’re all vulnerable though aren’t we?