Trauma-Informed Strategies for the Classroom

Feb 25, 2020 by

When you’re a teacher, you may ultimately find that you’re working with students who have experienced trauma or even are currently going through trauma in their home lives. As a teacher, your goal is likely to help facilitate the best possible classroom experience for all of your students, but it can be a challenge.

Trauma-informed strategies in the classroom can help you and your students.

We know, based on research, that children who experience trauma have effects in their brains. Trauma can impact a child socially, behaviorally, emotionally, and academically. When a child is influenced by trauma, stress, and anxiety, it can cause them to seem as if they’re angry, depressed, not paying attention or perhaps uncooperative.

While dealing with trauma in the classroom can seem overwhelming, when certain strategies are employed, it can help affected kids learn how to succeed and grow throughout their lives.

What’s also great about trauma-informed strategies is that they’re beneficial for all students, so in exercising these strategies, you aren’t excluding other students or singling anyone out. You’re creating an inclusive environment to meet all of your student’s needs.

Understanding Trauma

With a trauma-informed perspective, as an educator, it allows you to approach these problematic classroom behaviors and issues more effectively.

First and foremost, before learning specific strategies for the classroom, as an educator, work to approach situations with curiosity.

Rather than coming to the instant conclusion that a child is a problem because of their behavior or academic performance, question why it could be that they’re exhibiting these behaviors.

What educators find is that when you learn more about trauma, it’s not necessarily knowledge-based. Instead, it’s about changing your perspectives and world views.

Sandra Bloom said that the paradigm shifts from thinking what’s wrong with you to what happened to you.

Teachers may experience the effects of trauma in the classroom because children are more vulnerable to these stresses, and their responses are often complex and difficult to decipher.

The following are things you can do, beyond learning more about trauma and working on your own world views.

Create a Stable, Predictable Environment

One of the biggest issues children who have gone through trauma face in all areas of their lives is a sense that they’re out of control in their own lives.

To help this issue, make stable, predictable classroom routines.

This can be a source of solitude for your students who might otherwise be seeped in chaos in other areas of their lives.

As was touched on, not just trauma-affected students thrive for predictability and stability in the classroom. It’s something with the potential to be beneficial for all students, and especially younger students.

Keep a classroom schedule that’s highly visible to everyone in the classroom and follow it each day, to the best of your ability.

Create a Safe Space

Children with traumatic experiences may have very few safe spaces in their lives, but the classroom can become that for them.

Along with schedules and predictability, make the classroom somewhere that’s peaceful and conducive to learning. Create a comfortable, quiet area that’s away from others where students can go if they are feeling like too much is going on.

You can add sensory materials and incorporate bright colors that induce positive moods, and pictures of things that are pleasant like animals.

You might also have background music in the classroom when appropriate.

When children are having problems, work with them on breathing to relax. Think about your own tone of voice but also your facial expressions. Children with trauma exposure tend to be very sensitive to these cues that we might not even think about.

Use simple sentences, simple body movements and slow down your speaking.

Building Relationships

Building strong relationships in the classroom is actually a part of promoting an environment of stability.

Students depend on having those stable in-classroom relationships they might not have elsewhere.

You can encourage students to form connections with one another based on their unique interests.

You should also focus on activities that encourage active listening.

Assign Responsibility

You might think that when a child is the victim of trauma that you should shy away from assigning them too much responsibility out of a fear that it will be overwhelming, but the opposite is true.

A sense of responsibility is an integral part of a thriving trauma-informed classroom because it helps kids feel that they have control over their lives, and it builds their self-esteem and self-worth.

When students submit assignments, provide them with feedback that will allow them to build on their knowledge and skills.

You might even let students resubmit their assignments after grading and once they’ve made corrections.

Mistakes to Avoid

Teaching in a trauma-informed environment is challenging, so give yourself leeway and don’t be too difficult on yourself, but also watch for certain mistakes that are common in these situations.

For example, don’t label any of the children in your classroom or make their trauma exposure something you advertise.

You also have to work on your sense of resilience, so you don’t personalize or internalize your student’s behavior. You have to remember that the student is having a hard time rather than giving you a hard time so don’t add on to the emotions they’re experiencing by taking things personally.

It’s not your role as an educator to try and figure out trauma or analyze it either. You don’t need to try to dig into the details of a child’s trauma because a child may not even be able to recognize their experiences enough to have these kinds of conversations with you.

You don’t have to know all the details to facilitate a trauma-informed classroom.

Think less about what led to the trauma in the child’s life and more about what you can do and your role moving forward.

Finally, you are not there to solve the trauma problem for a child. You can do what is within your power as an educator to help them, but you also have to in some ways, detach yourself from the situation.

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