Trauma-Informed Classrooms: Why They Are Important and How You Can Become a Trauma-Informed Educator, Part 3

From the trauma-informed educator, to the trauma-informed education setting to creating trauma-informed communities

“It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men” – Frederick Douglass

As trauma-informed educators, our task is not to fix broken children. Also, children who are experiencing or experienced toxic stress or trauma are not broken. No one who has experienced trauma or many ACEs is damaged beyond repair, and that is especially true at a young age, when neural plasticity is still very high. Our task as teachers is not to be a psychologist, and we don’t have to conduct therapy sessions and see our students as patients. Our task is to build a nurturing environment for our students to grow up in, foster their psychological resilience and empower them. By doing this, we are contributing to ‘building strong children’.

As Bruce Perry’s research has shown, even if a child had to endure poor early experiences, future experiences can have buffering characteristics and thus a positively stimulating effect on their neurodevelopment. Positive experiences and trauma-informed interventions from family, schools or communities, can help to optimize the child’s development, and can even have a preventive role in a child’s brain development.

This practically means that while each and every educator can work on becoming more trauma-informed, the school or other educational settings and the community as a whole also have an important role to play. This is shown in the model below, called the “HEARTS model” (Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools) by the University of California San Francisco. Similar models of trauma-informed, ACE-informed, or mental-health informed communities have been proposed and are easy to find in governmental websites from the US, Canada, the UK, or Australia.

As Waite and Ryan discuss, ‘…it would be helpful to incorporate integrative multi-level, transdisciplinary systems and professionals given that inequities in education and exposure to ACEs have their origins in the structure of society and manifest the disparate life opportunities.’ Since children frequently spend most of their time at school and at home, policies that promote trauma-informed practices on both spaces are more important than ever.

School settings can become places that promote:

  • resilience and inclusion for all students (those that experience stress and trauma and those who do not);
  • cooperation between the school staff members, to help them process their own traumas;
  • continuing education for all staff members.

It is important to find allies within the school setting that can support the work of their colleagues and promote this culture of being trauma-informed. A whole school approach is necessary.

Linking it back to last week’s story and wrapping it all up. How do we move on from here?
Going back to my story from last week and looking at it through a trauma-informed lens, I can think of a million questions and answers my student and I could have engaged in and I have replayed this moment in my head many times throughout the years. I reflected on the strategies that deserve a more prominent place in how we are educated as teachers. I have come to realize that if I had approached this from a trauma-informed perspective, I would have facilitated *connection before correction* with the student – first build a relationship before acting in a correcting way. Moreover, there was actually no need for me to know his background story. Educators who use trauma-informed practices routinely assume that many or most of their students may have been experiencing toxic stress, trauma, or be trauma survivors and they modify their teaching, approach, and discipline to be empathetic, inclusive and humane. I also might have paid closer attention to my own triggers and impulses; I might have reflected on my personal experiences in the classroom and the teachers I came across as a young student. I might also have used calming strategies like meditation, journaling exercises, and other tools that help lower stress levels, or maybe even therapy.

Depending on where you start your journey as an educator and the specific population you work with, you will walk a path that may differ slightly or substantially from the path of your colleagues. Below, you will find lots of different resources that can help you reflect on your role. Some of these resources can be used as food for thought for whole school establishments, so feel free to share with everyone that you feel may find these resources useful!


List of Resources for Educators
(The following list contains links from all three blog posts on Trauma-Informed Education)

The Original ACE Study:

  • Felitti V.J. et al., 1998. Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Am J Prev Med. May;14(4):245-58. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9635069/

Books:

https://www.routledge.com/Adverse-Childhood-Experiences-What-Students-and-Health-Professionals-Need/Waite-Ryan/p/book/9780367203825

Articles:

Videos:

Games:

  • The Brain Architecture Game. A great resource for educators and people working with children ages 1-5. This game shows you how positive, tolerable and toxic stress experiences affect your brain’s development. You can download a DIY guide to play the game or order it here: https://dev.thebrainarchitecturegame.com/
  • The Resilience Interactive Game. Choose positive experiences to help children become more resilient in the face of adversity. https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resilience-game/
  • Dan Siegel’s Hand Model of the brain to help you understand how thoughts and emotions interact. This has been used by many teachers in the classroom to explain to children how their brain works and how to get regulated again, engaging the “logical”brain. https://youtu.be/f-m2YcdMdFw

Useful Websites:

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