During her time in the classroom, it was no wonder to Julie McDaniel-Muldoon why she always attracted those students who struggled to find their sense of belonging. From chess club and Magic the Gathering, to punk rockers and “misfits”, these students always resonated with her. “I was always that way [myself], I never quite fit in,” recalls McDaniel-Muldoon. “[It has allowed me] to be a bit of a teen-whisperer.”
And that’s exactly why she isn’t a classroom teacher anymore.
After a series of events that were met with injustice for students with high needs, including high-profile criminal hearings, and a lack of support from the powers designed to protect teachers, McDaniel-Muldoon knew it was time for a change. “[After realizing the system had failed these students], that’s when I decided to get my PhD in policy making. I was going to be the voice of the teachers.” Unfortunately, she quickly discovered there was very little room amongst the policy makers for experienced teachers to have a voice. She saw the opportunity to make a difference as an assessment consultant, helping teachers to harness the power of assessment data to improve their practice in the service of students. However, this potential was quickly gutted as No Child Left Behind was passed.
“And once again I had a dark night of the soul. What had I done? I left [teaching], something that I loved and was so good at.”
Fortunately, Oakland County Schools still saw her great value, and she began her work in bullying prevention. As fate would have, it was at this same time she discovered Starr’s Trauma and Resilience training. This serendipitous connection was exactly what Oakland County needed. “As I completed my level 1 and level 2 certification through Starr, I had alternative high schools asking why we weren’t doing more to address trauma. In addition, the CDC had also begun talking about bullying as an [adverse childhood experience.]” This simple connection compelled McDaniel-Muldoon to set out to ensure that the public understood the inherent connection between bullying and trauma. “To be trauma-informed is a call to action. It is paramount that one takes what they have learned and apply it for the greater good.”
That’s exactly what McDaniel-Muldoon did. And suddenly, she found herself having a prominent voice on this crucial connection.
What began as a talk for regional conferences for the International Bullying Prevention Association (IBPA), evolved into the opportunity to speak at the World Anti-Bullying Forum (WABF) this past spring in Dublin, Ireland. To her surprise, McDaniel-Muldoon was the only presenter speaking on the connection between bullying and trauma. “Bullying is simply a symptom of a greater societal ill. It’s the breakdown of relationships and the disconnect between humans that is causing so much pain in the world,” claims McDaniel-Muldoon. “And of 60 speakers, I am the only one talking about trauma. If we’re not talking about bullying as a traumatic experience, then what are we talking about!?”
It’s in that spirit that McDaniel-Muldoon has taken the momentum of the WABF and had begun spreading her wealth of knowledge through a blog series for IBPA. “I feel one of my gifts is the ability to translate. I’ve been in both the research field [in my doctoral work], as well in the classroom. I cherish serving as a bridge between those two worlds.” Now, her insight, informed by what she has learned from Starr Commonwealth and many other resources, is available for practitioners to implement into their care of children no matter the setting. Topics covered to date include a wide range of issues, including the need for bullying to be assessed through a trauma-informed lens, which most notably stresses the needs of all involved—the victim, the bully, the witnesses, etc. Additionally, McDaniel-Muldoon has written on the importance of the sense of safety and its prioritization over traditional tools put in place to establish “safe schools.”
As Social Media Director for IBPA, McDaniel-Muldoon is responsible for sharing cutting edge research and proven practice through IBPA’s social media platforms that are focused on bullying prevention, school community-building, trauma-informed practices, and more. Over the past few months, she has also written articles and blog posts for the IBPA website that aim to increase awareness and to spark conversation on how to improve the health and well-being of children and young people, as well as those who serve them. In addition, she is also the host of the “Beyond ACEs: Why Trauma-Informed Practices Are a Call to Action” webinar.
As schools embark in this work, McDaniel-Muldoon offers the crucial ingredient for success: safe and strong school communities. In these places, staff and students feel the sense of belonging, agency, and voice that is necessary to build strong relationships and to repair harm to the community. The critical first step starts with the adults who need a strong professional community with a shared vision of their ideal school.
Ultimately, McDaniel-Muldoon’s journey through our educational systems relates directly back to the Circle of Courage and the oneness of humankind. When we prioritize belonging and generosity in our students, the epidemic of bullying can no longer distract from student safety and learning. What is more, the millions spent on futile efforts to curb this problem can be redirected to better foster healing and learning in our youth. Perhaps, then, those educators who have the knack for connecting with those children who are most marginalized will earn their rightful spot as a cornerstone of each school, and have the opportunity to help scores more students each year see their greatness.
To learn more from Julie McDaniel-Muldoon and the IBPA, visit ipbaworld.org. To help children in your care better understand what they can do to help bullying problems in their school, consider Brave Bart and the Bully, by Caroline Sheppard and available at starr.org/bravebartbully.