The number of children affected by trauma is significant. But being exposed to trauma does not have to create a destiny for these students. Learn techniques and strategies that we can employ to work with our students affected by trauma and the importance of self-care for teachers to be our best for our classrooms.
Creating a Trauma Informed Classroom
Below is a recording of the presentation along with the slides. We hope these will help you in creating a Trauma Informed Classroom!
We received an abundance of amazing questions during the webinar. We wanted to make sure we addressed all the applicable questions and shared them with you.
Q: What if you have a student who has been through the same trauma or a very similar trauma as you have been through?
A: I can only speak as a classroom teacher to this question, but the most important thing is to set boundaries and limits that feel safe and sustainable to you. Some teachers openly share their own stories of trauma and work to mentor students and support them beyond the work they do with students in the classroom. Other teachers feel vulnerable sharing their own stories, and may instead encourage and support students through some of the class-wide strategies. These teachers show empathy and care without sharing their own experiences. All of this is okay! As I talked about in my webinar, as a new teacher I just wasn't emotionally prepared to provide the support that some of my students needed, and so I had to find outside support to create balance.
Whether you choose to share your experiences or not, I would never hesitate to remind your student(s) about all of the support available to them in your school, including social workers or counselors. Sometimes, students just need help finding the right support and you can be the one to lead them there.
I would also encourage you to reach out to mentors or administrators in your school building if you feel a student is really struggling. In this way, even if you are that student's special connection at school, there are others surrounding you that can step in and continue to provide support. This can relieve some of the weight of responsibility we often feel to our students. Lastly, you may find that your administrators prefer that you share your understanding of a student with them, in order to provide that student with the appropriate safety net.
Q: Secondary trauma feels very real to me. Can you describe this a bit more? Do you have any resources you can suggest?
A: www.traumaawareschools.orgis a great place to start if you want to learn more about secondary trauma. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, also has some great resources. There you’ll learn about the physical, emotional, and interpersonal impact of secondary trauma.
Low energy, feeling detached, withdrawn, or overwhelmed by your work, low job-morale, feelings of hopelessness--these are all symptoms of secondary trauma.
The importance of self-care is one addition to the field of student trauma that I find really encouraging--recognizing that teachers need the same support and nurturing that students do. This isn’t always easy, but teachers and administrators need to take steps to create space for self-care in school.
Q: How can we make discipline policies work for students impacted by trauma?
A: This is such an important question, especially as schools revisit the effectiveness of zero-tolerance policies. I think what we’ve learned, and what most teachers would agree with, is the one-size-fits-all policy isn’t working. If it was, we wouldn’t have students that continue to get suspended over and over again.
What hasn’t changed is the realization that an intervention needs to happen: when a student gets in a fight or has an outburst in class, we can’t ignore that issue, but just removal from the setting isn’t necessarily going to solve this issue for that student. Now we see schools looking at in-school supports like meetings with counselors or advocates as part of their discipline plan. Restorative justice, which asks both the aggressor and the victim in a situation to work towards healing is also a new change. We just need to be willing to think more creatively about how to help students end or control misbehavior, not just punish it.
Q: I know how important it is to build relationships with students, but as a high school teacher I sometimes feel overwhelmed by my class sizes. Where should I start when I work with 100-200 students each day?
A: In Kristin Souers and Pete Hall’s book, Fostering Resilient Learners, she encourages teachers to redefine relationship and remember that it is possible to be “safe enough” and “available enough” for every student. Of course we can’t be everything to every student, but being consistent and supportive in the classroom, and creating a safe space for learning is something we can do every day. Even handshakes, high fives, or other friendly actions can make a difference in calming students’ stress responses and help them feel safe.
When I was teaching high school, I found that teachers’ reputations as being supportive and fair spread and grew from year to year. So after a few years of building these routines with students, you may reap the benefit of having students enter your classroom at the beginning of the year believing you are there for them. So always think of relationship-building as something you can do across years, even if those students aren’t in your classroom anymore.
Q: I’m an administrator. How can I support trauma-sensitive teaching in my school?
A: That’s a great question. I encourage you to incorporate strategies to support students as part of your school’s professional development. You could even start with this webinar or any of the resources we’ll include here as part of this presentation. Knowing about the ACEs study, and the impact of stress can be a game-changer as teachers think about their students’ behaviors in the classroom.
I’d also encourage you to really look at secondary trauma and think about how you can support teacher self-care. You can help set the expectation that personal health and well-being matters. Make sure your new teachers know it’s okay to use their sick leave when they are sick and encourage teachers whenever you hear about activities they’re doing on their own to manage stress. In my first interview, my principal even asked me about how I manage stress, and he let me know that he wanted me to continue to work on those skills. I’ve also heard of principals that have brought in practitioners to lead classes on mindful breathing and stretching. Taking care of your students means taking care of your teachers, too.
Q: How do I personally help students who are dealing with trauma at home? I’m a new teacher and I don’t always feel qualified to talk with students about their personal lives.?
A: Thank you this is such an important question. If you are a classroom teacher, it means you are probably not a trained mental health provider, and finding a level of support that fits your comfort-level is important.
Never hesitate to refer your students to your school counselors or social workers and encourage your students to do the same. When a student reached out to me, I would listen first--that’s the most important--and then I would work with them to find the support they needed. It’s also important to remember that teachers are mandatory reporters for things like abuse and neglect. So, if your administration hasn’t shared with you the laws surrounding reporting, make sure you get that information right away.
I would encourage you to reach out to mentors or administrators in the building to help guide you. Chances are, they have worked with the same or similar students and can share ideas with you.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to set boundaries that feel right for you. Some teachers want to share their own stories of trauma, others don’t. Some teachers encourage students to write about personal experiences, including trauma, while other teachers prefer to keep writing assignments focused on academic topics. All of this is okay. If you can focus on the things we’ve talked about here--safety, consistency, flexibility, engagement, and self-care-- you are doing your best.
If this topic has sparked an interest in you, or you simply want and need to learn more about the importance of creating a Trauma Informed Classroom, let us suggest a few resources and courses that may be of interest:
Blog Post: Trauma-Informed Teaching
Blog Post: Mindfulness in the Classroom
Course 898: Mindful Leadership in Schools: For school leaders and teacher-leaders wishing to incorporate mindfulness into their lives, this course provides a clear and engaging pathway. Participants will discover how mindfulness can help manage the demands of leadership, improve communication, and support a healthy lifestyle. Beginning with brain research and the impact of stress on the body, learn how to build a self-care practice that serves as a model for colleagues and staff. Explore foundational strategies such as mindful listening and speaking, focused breathing, awareness journaling, and the mindful classroom. Personal stories, practical strategies, and case studies demonstrate the power of mindful leadership to live more focused and balanced lives. There is no time like the present to start living more mindfully! 3 graduate credits
Course 5007: Trauma-Sensitive Teaching: For students who have experienced trauma at home, including divorce, loss, illness, or abuse, success in school can feel out of reach. In this course, you will learn how to help your students overcome adverse experiences as you develop trauma-sensitive strategies for your classroom. Explore the foundations of trauma-informed teaching, including an emphasis on relationship-building, student choice, safety, and resiliency. 3 graduate credits