What do you think of when you hear the word trauma? For many of us we may think of death at a young age, abuse, or bad accidents that result in a life changing event. When you talk about trauma informed teaching, we aren’t talking about the one time traumas that we all encounter in life. Trauma informed teaching is being aware of the “trauma” students are facing every day that are out of the teacher’s control.
Trauma informed teaching may be a new “buzzword” in the educational field, but it is necessary for all teachers new and old to learn this phrase and the effects it can have on the classroom.
What is trauma informed teaching?
Trauma informed teaching is knowing and understanding the stress your students have in their lives and providing coping mechanisms in the classroom. Trauma informed teaching is one of the most powerful ways to reach students who have walls up because it allows them to feel safe. Beyond being a support for your students, there are several reasons to have a trauma informed classroom.
Reason 1: A Positive Classroom Environment
Trauma, whether that is bullying, abuse at home, or the death of a parent or close relative can be difficult to deal with. Whenever we (people in general) are dealing with trauma, we tend to become more reactive and more sensitive to everyday things that would normally be slightly annoying to us. Teachers all want to have a positive classroom environment all the time, but this can be difficult when you have a student going through trauma.
One of the teacher-centered reasons we want to have trauma informed teaching in our classroom is to maintain a positive classroom environment. If you know a student is going through trauma, you can create a safe space for them by allowing them to:
- Take brief breaks throughout the day when they feel their emotions rising.
- Have lunch time with you to talk about the events going on in their lives
- Make regular appointments with the school counselor
By simply providing safety nets for a student going through trauma, you are giving them an opportunity to express themselves in a healthy way. When you teach students these skills and how to use it, your classroom will stay positive.
Reason 2: Healthier Minds
Another big part of maintaining a positive classroom and “raising” good people is fostering their mental health. Mental health is hot topic in our society today. You can help students with their mental health by:
- Promoting clear communication with you
- Daily journal checks/personal check-ins
- Using meditation and mindfulness in the classroom
There are several ways to promote positive mental health. It may be beneficial for your counselor to come in and talk to your students about why we have to keep our minds healthy.
Reason 3: A Safe Space
Another reason trauma informed teaching is so important is, for many students, school is the safest place. If a student’s home life is not going well, maybe their parents are arguing, going through a divorce, or a multitude of other things, school can be a constant. School is typically a place where there are always rules and structure and students tend to appreciate that even if they won’t admit it.
Creating a safe space where there is not a lot of yelling but positive reinforcement is great for helping students who are going through trauma in their lives. This does not mean we left students do whatever they want, it simply means we don’t use negativity to deal with problems that arise.
Reason 4: Creates Boundaries
When we create a safe place for students, we are giving them boundaries. One thing that anyone going through trauma needs is some boundaries. When going through trauma, our lives tend to feel upside down and chaotic. This can lead to high stress and bigger emotions than normal. By creating boundaries and a safe, positive space for students, you are creating a trauma informed classroom and exercising trauma informed teaching.
How do we learn about trauma?
In order to have a trauma informed classroom, we need to know there is trauma going on. We can learn about trauma in our students’ lives from:
- Observation and individual communication
- Parent communication
- Administrative communication
No matter how you find out about trauma in a student’s life, make sure you are taking all of the appropriate steps and covering your tracks. If a student seems suicidal or mental ill, tell a counselor and report what you know right away.
Trauma is a part of life. For some of us and for some of our students, trauma is a larger factor due to abuse, divorce, negative self-image and a multitude of other things. One of the best things we can do to help our students through the tough stuff is to at least be aware. If we can go beyond and create a safe place, we will be making more of a difference than we already do.