Navigating Education Through Trauma: What is Trauma-Informed Teaching
Understanding the impact of trauma on student education can be the difference between effective and ineffective instruction. As we discussed in a previous blog entitled 5 Tips for Effective Trauma-Informed Teaching, trauma can have huge effects on their learning, development, behavior, and even aggression in the classroom. Overall effectively adopting a trauma-informed approach in education involves 1.) Creating a safe space, 2.) cultivating trust, 3.) Being predictable, 4.) offering choices, and lastly, 5.) not taking on the trauma of your students into your personal life. These are 5 of the most useful tools to being a trauma-informed educator; however, they are only a few of many effective ways to do so (to see more strategies to become a trauma-informed school, click here!). We are constantly finding ways to improve as it pertains to creating a safe space for all students. However, to shape the discussion surrounding trauma in the classroom, this blog will address some of the most common misconceptions teachers have about adopting trauma-informed education practices.
Misconceptions of Trauma-Informed Teaching
First off, despite popular belief, trauma-informed instruction is not solely concerned with ACE scores. However, the ACE study should be used by educators as a catalyst to look deeper into understanding the scope of adversity that students are experiencing. This can inform us about the influence and impact on student performance and behavior in our schools. Factors such as racism, poverty, peer victimization, community violence, and bullying pose a genuine threat to the quality of education students receive and retain. In the same breath, by knowing student ACE scores, teachers can create successful interventions. However, educators must keep in mind that being trauma-informed is a mindset that produces the best results. This is mainly attributed to the feeling of belonging connected to strong, stable, and nurturing relationships. Healing is imperative when dealing with students who have experienced trauma! According to research, every interaction is an intervention, and educators must become experts on the impact of daily positive interactions and affirmations for students.
Secondly, trauma-informed teaching is not about fixing kids! Adopting a trauma-informed mindset is intended to fix broken and unjust systems and structures that tend to discard and alienate marginalized students. Operating in an assets-based mindset exemplifies the strengths and attributes of students. Knowing that students are giving the best they can within their capabilities. They are meeting all students where they involve supporting them with strong, stable, and nurturing relationships. As we had stated in a previous blog, if you respond to the trauma by building healthy relationships and character, you can be more effective with your content. They should always seek to attain the best learning experience out of any given situation without being “punished” or posing harm to students' self-esteem. Consequences should help us manage students' behaviors in the short term, allowing us to put out little fires as they pop up. Engaging in pro-active teaching and planning for effective consequences can also help reduce future fires.
Another misconception is that educators have to escalate a situation with a student for them to calm down. On the contrary, we should instead use strategies that honor what the student is feeling and their need for space as they deescalate calmly. By reevaluating and validating the students' experience, it is more effective to get to the root of what is causing them to react. This tactic ensures that they are in a mental space where they can understand and accept any consequence so that, as mentioned above, the maximum amount of learning can be achieved. This is a possible opportunity for the student involved and/or onlooking student(s) to gain a learning experience without excusing poor choices and behavior. Keep the student calm; To calm the student involves using your temperament to present another option for a traumatized student 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.
For this reason, understanding the difference between consequences and punishment is required to be effective. Trauma-informed educators impose consequences on negative behavior! Consequences are designed to teach instead of punishing, designed to enact personal suffering; by setting clear boundaries and expectations, as we have mentioned in our previous blog entries. However, when students do not meet expectations or respect set boundaries, consistent consequences help teach and reteach students. This is an awesome and important lesson for students because they learn that there are consequences to their actions, to think about the decisions that they make, and to make conscious decisions about their futures. Getting consistent with consequences means that learning is attained even in the mistakes or bad decisions students option or reaction than the behavior, to discuss and address the issue.
Lastly, it is important to realize that this is a journey and process. As stated previously, we are constantly finding ways to improve as they create a safe space for our students. Coming to trauma-informed in our daily practice is a process of learning, growing, and adjustment. The stable, strong, and nurturing relationships we develop with our students can become a catalyst for healing and increased resilience. The misconception of teachers doing the work of professional therapists means no one expects that you know everything as it pertains to being trauma-informed but that you make an intentional effort to learn more along the way.
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 completely 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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