trauma-informed teaching

Changing Your Classroom with Trauma-Informed Teaching

Though it can difficult to know what happens to your students once they leave your care, trauma-informed teaching can transform your school into a more successful learning environment.

To create a positive, nurturing classroom, it is important to look beyond grades and performance to care for the whole student. That’s where trauma-informed teaching comes in.

Traumatic events can have a significant impact on children and affect their behavior and attitude in the classroom. Stressful events could include abuse, divorce, death of a loved one, neglect, bullying, natural disasters, shootings, and a litany of other tragedies. Trauma-informed teaching takes these events into account when interacting with students.

Academic Effects of Trauma

trauma-informed teachingAccording to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, one in four children will experience a traumatic event by the age of 16. The NCTSM handbook for educators connects stressful experiences with academic distress, causing lower GPAs, higher dropout rates, increased school absences, more suspensions, and more difficulty with reading. Trauma not only impacts performance at school, but can harm how a child learns and his or her emotional and mental state as well.

Signs of Trauma

trauma-informed teachingStudents might exhibit signs of trauma in different ways, or they might not show it at all. Some common signs include anxiety or fear for personal safety or for the safety of others, changes in behavior, emotional numbing, increased complaints about physical health (stomachaches, headaches, etc.), over or under reacting to stimuli like the bell ringing, and repetition of certain events, among many other behavioral changes. Trauma-informed teaching requires an awareness of your students and their behavior so you can notice concerning changes.

Ways to Help

Some of your students might need professional help, but as their teacher, you can still play a vital role in their recovery and comfort. The Treatment and Services Adaption Center offers five steps for successful trauma-informed teaching: listen, protect, connect, model, teach. The center considers this approach “psychological first aid” and suggests implementing each step progressively.

trauma-informed teachingAfter listening to your student, affirm what they are feeling and honestly answer any questions they might have. Don’t be afraid to discuss difficult topics. Focus on the positive, though, and remind them what the school and community is doing to ensure their safety. The role of protection also extends to your daily routine. Maintain consistency and let your students have a say in their activities. To connect with your students, find local resources and regularly check in with them to see how they’re doing. Whether it’s encouraging healthy activities or providing extra time for work or play, pull your students out of isolation back into community. Trauma-informed teaching is active and while it might require more effort, it will create a safe environment for your students in the long run.

Modeling and teaching are the final components to successful trauma-informed teaching. These last two steps are crucial. Compassion fatigue, a decrease in empathy after emotional burnout, is common among educators, especially ones who are actively caring for the emotional well-being of their students. Self-care is an important skill for teachers to learn. Often hearing about traumatic experiences can be traumatic. If you feel overwhelmed by what your students are facing, seek professional counseling. While trauma-informed teaching can help create successful learning environments, the weight of your students and their well-being does not rest on your shoulders. Once you truly believe that, you can effectively enter into their lives.

Trauma-informed teaching takes time and practice to successfully implement. Learning the signs of trauma and then figuring out how to have those difficult conversations does not always come naturally. The most important steps to creating a nursing environment for your students are staying present and leaning in. Teaching is a messy job because it involves messy human beings, but it is also one of the most important jobs because you are forever impacting people’s lives.

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Courtney Runn

Courtney is a senior at the University of Texas where she studies journalism and Italian. An Austin native, she loves living in the capital of Texas but also has a soft spot for Italia where she spent middle school and high school. A few of her favorite things include chai tea lattes, spending time with her golden retriever puppy, and good food shared with even better friends.
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