Oct. 4, 2021
Teacher co-authors peer-reviewed book
Upper St. Clair High School mathematics teacher Michael Funfar recently added published author to his list of accomplishments.
Dr. Funfar contributed a chapter, titled “Out of Trauma Comes Strength: The Trauma-Informed Positive Education (TIPE) Model,” for the book, “Strategies and Methods for Implementing Trauma-Informed Pedagogy,” which was released this fall.
According to the publisher IGI Global, the reference book “explains the effects of trauma and the ways in which it manifests in children, explores resources and community options to support children who have experienced trauma, presents strategies to help students who have experienced trauma to learn in the classroom, and teaches the management of behaviors in positive ways to cultivate a community of learners.”
On the surface, the topic would appear unusual for a mathematics teacher. However, as Dr. Funfar explains, his commitment to students goes well beyond numbers and equations.
“I have always appreciated that while teaching content is important, it is not everything that a teacher must address in their classroom,” he said. “Students cannot learn the content if they have significant stressors present either inside or out of school. Often these stressors include traumatic experiences or events in their lives, so it is important to address how to manage trauma and focus on the whole child.”
His research for the chapter has spurred some significant changes to his approach in the classroom this year.
“Every day my students and I go through a ‘practice of presence’ (POP) at the start of class, encouraging students to become more present in the moment,” he said. “This happens even on days students take assessments to help them develop mindfulness, which can be used as intervention to address the psychological and physical symptoms of trauma.”
In addition to teaching mathematics, Dr. Funfar helps to lead the high school’s Junior Mentor Program, which empowers students in grade 11 to assist ninth graders with the transition from middle school to high school.
“This work has only reinforced the importance of the mission of the junior mentor program to build relationships, foster genuine concern, and promote student success for our ninth-graders,” he said. “Relationship building in particular is vital for trauma-affected students because without a sense of belonging, students often cannot develop the skills to effectively manage their emotions in a healthy way.”
Given the ongoing challenges of living through a global pandemic, Dr. Funfar’s research and writing are incredibly relevant.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be argued that everyone has experienced a shared traumatic event,” Dr. Funfar said. “The trauma can be smaller (e.g., not seeing as many friends, not sitting directly next to your friends during lunch, etc.) or much larger (e.g., loss of a loved one, isolation due to significant health concerns, etc.). With that being said, it is incredibly important that K-12 education does not just acknowledge the trauma caused by COVID-19, but actively engages in helping all members of the educational community manage it in a healthy manner.”
While the pandemic has created numerous challenges and struggles, Dr. Funfar offers that there are opportunities for growth and healing.
“Trauma is often viewed from a deficit perspective or a problem that has to be fixed. In reality, more recent research suggests that when addressed in a healthy manner, trauma can be used as an opportunity to learn, grow, and heal,” Dr. Funfar said. “I am very proud to work in a district that values the whole child and with colleagues who care deeply about their students' well-being.”
Dr. Funfar, who joined the Upper St. Clair High School faculty in 2007, holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics along with minors in physics and religious studies from Saint Vincent College. He earned a master's degree in instructional leadership as well as a doctorate in instructional management and leadership from Robert Morris University.
“Not only am I proud of Mike's scholarship, but I am particularly excited about the relevance of this content to our pandemic response to children's school experiences,” Dr. Timothy Wagner, Upper St. Clair High School principal, said.