3 Steps to Make Your Classroom Trauma Sensitive

Over the last month, I’ve talked excessively about consequences. First I explored whether or not consequences even work (you can read that post by clicking here). Let’s just say there was no clear answer, but I did find a few school districts that offer alternatives to consequences such as teaching kids yoga. I then explored whether or not teachers were being sensitive enough to the needs of their students (you can read that post by clicking here). This meant looking at the relationships that we are forming with students and keeping that front and center if the need should arise for a consequence.

Are you reflecting on your student relationships?

It is an ultimate irony that at the time when the human is most vulnerable to the effects of trauma-during infancy and childhood-adults generally presume the most resilience.

Perry, Pollard, Blakley, Baker & Vigilante, 1995

As adults we have the tendency to put our own childhood experiences onto our students. For example, we’ll say things like, “when I was young, I always did my homework.” We cannot look at our students through our own life lens. Things are so different than even ten years ago. Some children deal with issues that many adults have never encountered. For those children it is important that they are educated in environments that can cater to their needs. In order to be the educator these students need, we need to ensure that our classrooms are trauma sensitive. In the book, Fostering Resilient Learners by Kristin Souers with Pete Hall, the authors give a road map to creating a classroom environment where all students can learn.

How can we do this? By following these three steps:

  1. Identify our own triggers: As a special educator, I’m always watching to learn the triggers of my students. For those not in the education field, triggers are the things that make you upset or frustrated. It could be loud noises, when people ignore you or people who talk too loud. Triggers are things that we want to avoid. If that is not possible, we want to learn ways to deal with our triggers. Take for instance, a trigger for you is a student talking out during instruction. Instead of yelling at the student to shut up or get out, you can come up with a talk out protocol; steps you can use to address a student who is talking and not engaged in the lesson.
  2. Take your student’s background into account: Souers talks about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in the book. ACEs can include but is not limited to substance abuse in the home, divorce, mental illness and death of a loved one. Souer goes on to point towards research that has shown that ACEs have a negative effect on a student’s academic progress. Trauma is toxic to the brain, so the larger the number of ACEs the more difficulty a student will have. If we have knowledge of a student’s background, we can be proactive in helping them navigate those situations and create an environment in which they can learn.
  3. Stay true to your mission: If you are in the teaching industry or even thinking of entering teaching, I’m sure your mission statement says something like I want to help kids learn, blah, blah, blah… News flash: Teaching is difficult! Many teachers leave within their first five years of teaching. Having a mission that you revisit throughout the school year is important. It can help to remind you why you chose to “help kids” when you have a student who seems determined to not succeed. Souer calls it putting on your cement shoes, keeping yourself grounded in your why.

Of course there are many other things you can do to create a trauma sensitive classroom, but these three things will get you started. If you haven’t already, click the link above or the title here to order, Fostering Resilient Learners. You will not be disappointed! Souer also provides a link to resources that will be helpful in creating a trauma sensitive classroom.