It is difficult to manage anything without a clear understanding of what exactly it is or how it is defined in most cases. Secondary Trauma for teachers is commonly referred to as secondary traumatic stress (STS), vicarious trauma, and/or compassionate fatigue. As we mentioned on our last blog in this series “Navigating Education Through Trauma: The Impact of Secondary Trauma on Educators”, there are many symptoms of STS and they are all the result of the emotional investment made by a caregiver. One research study on STS in schools found that more than 200 staff surveyed from across six schools reported very high levels of STS.
Schools' success depends on the quality of information they receive in subject areas such as STS. Trauma-informed schools focus on fostering a supportive, caring culture, training their entire staff to recognize and support students suffering trauma. Trauma-informed schools foster communities where educators have the understanding and tools to acknowledge and address themselves and each other. This blog seeks to provide five (5) valuable tips to manage STS in a beneficial way to schools and educators.
5 Tips to Manage STS for Educators
Research that examines the impact of STS on educators remains relatively sparse. For this reason, the need for schools to intentionally explore the issue is even more critical. Teachers have reported feeling drained and unmotivated to complete the school year due to the emotional drain. “It is sort of the consequence of being a good teacher,,” says Jessica Lander, a high school teacher. The reality is that teachers are more affected than we think and what was once known as a teacher having a “bad day” is now something that has the potential to affect the quality of education for students.
With the information that we have access to about STS here are 5 ways that educators and schools can manage STS.
- Building Cultural Awareness - Don't underestimate the importance and impact of STS. Reassure teachers that they are not working alone! By doing so you help prevent the emotions associated with STS such as feeling overwhelmed, isolated, and/or hopeless. Appreciate your staff in a public and private setting and be sure to acknowledge the toll of the work. In addition, ensure that all the available resources and support are easily accessible.
- Create Peer Groups - Peer groups that try to improve mental health for educators are very effective. They are mostly used to build curriculum, share lesson ideas, as well as strategize about how best to support educators' individual needs. Having a regular dedicated time to work together has been very impactful for educators. The peer groups could also involve a mental health professional that can help them learn the latest strategies to respond and cope with stress.
- Building Coping Strategies - “When you try to have a battle in class, you lose as a teacher...” says Keck Garcia. It is important to develop proactive coping strategies in advanced to stressful situations. These look like talking to students when you want to yell. Another strategy that may be useful is to map out your day and take note of the times that you feel the most stressed and then implement coping strategies.
- Establishing Coming Home Ritual - Create clear boundaries between home and work. It is so important to establish clear boundaries between work and home life! For example, write about your experiences before leaving work or sit down with a college to help process some other events that took place. It is very easy to get overwhelmed so creating rituals are ways to switch from one mode to another.
- Talking it out - Most teachers find that talking with others helps to deal with STS as well. It is a way a teacher can process the trauma and share their emotions. Connection is invaluable as it pertains to coping with trauma. It reduces professional isolation and allows educators to see that others are struggling with the same issues.
Resources for Teachers and Schools
Here are some resources for teachers and schools on what has been established about Secondary Trauma (STS) for educators. However, read this information in the mindset that there is so much more to be understood about STS, its systems, and how to manage it:
- Toolkit created by Teaching Tolerance - Assess how your work as an educator might be affecting you (both positively and negatively) by using the Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL) self-assessment tool and exploring the
- Tip Sheet by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network - Learn how, as an educator, you can begin to identify secondary traumatic stress and learn strategies for self-care.
- Explore Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative - A collaboration between the Massachusetts Advocates for Children.
- 20-minute evidence-informed Trauma Responsive Schools Implementation Assessment - Find out how strong your schools' trauma-responsive programs and policies are and learn ways to grow your school.
- Other Strategies! - Learn about additional individual and organization strategies for addressing secondary traumatic stress, compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Support for Teachers Affected by Trauma (STAT) - Stay tuned for an online curriculum for PreK–12 teachers being created by experts in the fields of secondary traumatic stress, education, and technology. The curriculum, due for a 2019 launch, will feature five modules on risk factors, the impact of STS, and self-assessment, among related topics.
Trauma & Student Learning
This blog series will touch on the impact and influence of trauma in education. Each week we will touch on how trauma affects effective instruction through teachers, students, and administrators. We aim to inform educators of the threats that trauma has on student learning and hope to continue discussing how we can provide equitable access to quality learning within our schools. We can’t eliminate traumatic experiences outside of our schools; however, we can do our best to provide a safe place and healing experiences for our students by recognizing the impact of trauma and educating and inspiring new knowledge.
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