Have you ever had one of those mornings when you woke up and thought to yourself “today isn’t going to be my day?” or maybe that good old “I woke up on the wrong side of the bed” moments? Some people can shake it off and go about their day. The reality is, nearly half the children in the United States wake up and go to school feeling this way on a regular basis due to some type of trauma they experience. Trauma can have huge effects on their learning, development, behavior and even violent aggression in the classroom. Today’s blog will provide you with information on trauma informed teaching and give you 5 tips that will help you consider more effective trauma informed practices for your classroom.
What does Trauma look like and why is it important to respond?
Trauma can exist in different forms but it’s important to know that it can be invisible and easily mistaken. Often the signs look like other problems like, suddenly acting out, difficulty focusing, inability to work in a group, difficulty with following directions, frustration or disengagement from lessons. If a child in your classroom is struggling and you can’t pinpoint exactly why, it may be due to a visible or invisible trauma the child is experiencing.
It is important to employ trauma informed practices for the benefit of all children. The traditional classroom paradigm focuses on content first, however when dealing with trauma, relationship building needs to come first. If educators do not address trauma first, the student will continue to be distracted, they will continue to fail, and they will continue to check themselves out of learning because their body simply cannot submit to learning when they are in survival mode.
Damage from early childhood trauma can result in lifelong effects. Students can have difficulty managing emotions and lack the ability to self-soothe when they feel stressed. When a child is faced with a consistent stream of trauma, they struggle to regulate emotions like sadness and fear. These emotions then have an increased chance of becoming deeper and long-term mental health issues like PTSD, depression, anxiety, shame, self-hatred, rage, mood swings and increased acts of violent behavioral outbursts. Children who live with trauma or have a history of trauma may have a difficult time trusting authority figures including their teacher, which can make relationship building challenging.
What can you do to make a difference?
As an educator, you can reduce the impact of trauma and help all students learn. If you respond to the trauma by building healthy relationships and character, you can be more effective with your content and increase the ability for traumatized students to learn. When you identify trauma as a root cause of an action or inaction from a student you can seek to adapt your approach.
5 tips that will help you adopt trauma informed practices in your classroom and increase your effectiveness.
1. Create a Safe Space
Create an aesthetically pleasing environment with, less clutter, warm natural lighting, and a calm down (sensory) area or box for students to decompress. Look to practice mindfulness and social emotional learning like breathing exercises, meditation, and activities that will teach students to recognize negative emotions. This will help them to process how they feel in a healthy way. Give students time to pause and reflect on their emotional state. TIP: Provide students with a card that says “break” that they can use anytime throughout the day to take a 15-minute break to destress when they are feeling overwhelmed or upset.
2. Cultivate Trust
Seek restorative practices vs. zero tolerance in the classroom (when possible). Use clearly defined boundaries and limits in conjunction with a restorative approach toward discipline. Avoiding punitive measures will help rebuild the relationship and build trust with authority. Respond intentionally to your students and use active listening. Be sure to validate how your students feel and be transparent. Create a circle of trust with students and be tolerant and consistent. Renew student’s belief in fairness and justice and integrity by becoming the example.
3. Be Predictable
Use consistency and planning to help students feel more secure. When your students know what to expect and when to expect it, they will feel safer and be more engaged. Give time for students to adjust and become comfortable. When expectations are clear they will perform better, and you will have fewer behavioral issues. Also, consider opening the lines of communication with your student’s circle of support. Discuss what is working and what is not working and encourage other teachers and support team members to approach what is effective collectively.
4. Offer Students Choices
You can give students the opportunity to own their learning process by providing choices. When students have choices, they learn to self- differentiate. Choices help keep students engaged in learning because they feel like they have control of their learning. Offer students the choice over different topics, materials and resources to work with, or the format they will use or let them develop their choice of project-based learning.
5. Don’t Take It Personally
It’s important to take care of yourself! Sometimes teachers are exposed to secondhand trauma. It’s easy to get caught up in what is going on with your students. Kids who are experiencing trauma often are not directing their emotions at you on purpose or with intent. Don’t personalize the situation. Make sure you take time out to de-escalate and de-stress. Work to rebuild the relationship instead of punishing the student. Often teachers forget to take care of themselves but a key to being effective is to also be at your best. If you are feeling beat up emotionally by your students, it will make you less effective. Modeling self-care to your students will also help encourage positive self-care for them.
Reflect on these questions as you consider your own classroom.
- What are some changes you are willing to make now to help your students feel safer in your classroom?
- What communication improvements can you make with your student’s support team to better discuss what is working and what is not working for children who are experiencing trauma?
- How can you improve your approach with the child in your class who struggles with behavior?
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