Meet Our Alumni
Tom Brunzell, alumnus of Bank Street Graduate School of Education

Tom Brunzell

Educational Leadership '07

It cannot be overstated how valuable it was to form that community of practice throughout our journey together as we ventured through the coursework, reflective practice, and before-class meetings to collaborate on our projects. 

After Dr. Tom Brunzell earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Bank Street in 2007, he co-founded the KIPP Infinity Charter School in Harlem. Currently, he is the Director of Education at Berry Street Victoria, one of Australia’s largest child and family welfare organizations providing therapeutic care and education for children in out-of-home care.  He is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education. His research at the University of Melbourne investigates trauma-informed well-being classroom strategies including both the negative impacts of secondary traumatic stress and the positive impacts of well-being on teachers and leaders working towards educational equity in their communities. Tom presents internationally on topics that include transforming school culture, student engagement, trauma-aware practice, and effective school leadership.

Tom shares his Bank Street story in his own words:

I first learned about Bank Street College when I became a Teach For America (TFA) corps member in the Bronx in 2002. When speaking to my friends who chose to attend Bank Street College for their master’s degree in teaching, it was clear to me that the college’s programs were strongly predicated on a holistic view of child development and learning; and firmly anchored in progressive values of social action to address systemic educational inequity. I just knew that I needed to be part of what Bank Street College represented and continues to contribute to our field.

My turn came when I enrolled in the educational leadership program.  This was my second master’s degree, and I was frankly nervous to once again embark upon the evening commitments to classes and the perceived gauntlet of assignments after a long day as both a teacher and dean of students at the KIPP Infinity Charter School in Harlem.

I sure didn’t have to be nervous! I felt renewed each evening. I was renewed by finding my people—my fellow colleagues in my classes—in addition to the tailored, individualized attention that I received from each of my Bank Street College professors and course facilitators. 

I loved the time together in our classes. Most important to me as a growing leader was meeting other people in the same stages of professional development—all from different sectors. We came from faith-based schools, independent schools, and certainly charter and public schools. It cannot be overstated how valuable it was to form that community of practice throughout our journey together as we ventured through the coursework, reflective practice, and before-class meetings to collaborate on our projects. 

My capstone research investigated both student resistance and student resilience. I was centered on understanding educator values when students struggle in classrooms, the underlying causes of classroom behavior, and practical strategies teachers can take to increase student engagement for on-task learning. This first crack at being a researcher would presciently guide the rest of my career.

A couple of years after Bank Street College graduation, I received a curious invitation to learn more about one of Australia’s largest child and family welfare organizations, Berry Street Victoria, Melbourne.  While it was certainly intriguing to learn more about Australia’s rich culture, what piqued my attention was Berry Street Victoria’s innovative practices supporting children in out-of-home care using wraparound care team approaches for foster, kinship, and residential care, in addition to family violence supports, therapeutic interventions, and education engagement services, which included the Berry Street School, a multi-campus therapeutic high school across the state of Victoria. 

I learned a new term: trauma-informed practice. Berry Street Victoria had spent years innovating trauma-informed practice in social care and education. They comprehensively shared how trauma-informed practices help align staff values, strategies, and interventions in consistent and sustainable ways far beyond the classroom walls.

I had a life-changing insight: What I was referring to as student resistance when contending with the negative impacts of adverse childhood experiences and systemic intergenerational inequity, Berry Street Victoria was usefully reframing proactive approaches to these concerns as trauma-informed care and trauma-informed education.

Now, I’ve been in Australia and at Berry Street Victoria for over a decade. In that time, I completed my PhD and have published many articles on new perspectives for trauma-informed education within the peer-reviewed literature. I have also co-created the Berry Street Education Model, which increases teacher capabilities with practical strategies to harness strengths within vulnerable students for classroom engagement and learning. In the last five years, my team and I have provided training and consultation to over one-quarter of Australian schools. We are energized when working side-by-side with Aboriginal educators in regional and remote Australia and in the Northern Territories.

Bank Street College provided the right education at the right time for my ideas to take flight. I can clearly look back over the last 15 years and draw direct connections from my Bank Street College studies to my current research and contribution as a national education leader and researcher at the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Even though there is an ocean between us, I will always be connected to the Bank Street College community.

His new book, Creating Trauma-Informed, Strengths-Based Classrooms: Teacher Strategies for Nurturing Students’ Healing, Growth, and Learning, co-authored with Dr. Jacolyn Norrish, is now available through booksellers worldwide.