Creating a “Safe Space” for Students Experiencing Trauma












Trauma is a very hard thing for me to talk about, but it is one of the biggest reasons that I came into the teaching field. I felt like I can could take my experiences and help others. When I was in middle and high school, I struggled every day. I would come home and wish that I would fall asleep and never wake up again. I wished to be dead. When I look back on these days, my heart aches. I was a student that was going through a lot of trauma.

I came into teaching for really two reasons: The first reason is because I love science and the second reason is that I want to make the provide kids with the love and support that will allow them to grow in a safe environment. The second reason is the most important. I want to give kids what was not given to me and help them in any way that I can. I want to be the trusted adult that they come to for help. Teaching to me is sort of like being a social worker. I have the power to really make a difference in someone’s life!

Fostering Resilient Learners and the Importance of Trauma-Sensitive classroom

I have read “Fostering Resilient Learners” by: Kristin Fours and Pete Hall. This book was not only very informative, but I think is one of the most important readings in all of my classes. It was a short read, but really gave me a lot more tools to help students when I go into the field or go into my career.

Trauma is defined in the book as “an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope” (Souers, 2016). This definition means a lot and describes the importance of a trauma-sensitive classroom. When there is trauma in a child’s life, they are unable to cope. This definition includes small things, as well, that bring upon stress. It is not just the nature of what happens, but also the effect that it has on a growing mind, according to the book (Souers, 2016). The following excerpt from the book explains further

“When brains are triggered by threat of perception of threat, they release chemicals into the body to allow us to ‘survive’ those states of stress. When released in large does, these chemicals become toxic to the body and can create significant impairment in development”

This quote from the book is talking about how when the body perceives a threat, it sends out chemical signals. The sympathetic nervous system is activated and the body goes into fight, flight, or freeze. The release of the chemicals in the body is toxic and can impair development (Souers, 2016). It is not wonder why these children struggle as I did, their bodies are constantly in this aroused state.

From these excerpts from the book, you can see what trauma is and the importance of a trauma sensitive classroom.

How do we get there????

Resiliency is defined as the ability to recover quickly from trauma and to continue to grow despite its devastating costs. If I were to look back on my life, I would say that resiliency has helped me a lot. To foster resiliency and to foster a peaceful, nurturing learning environment, follow these suggestions.






Strategies for Teachers

  • Show empathy for students who are struggling, simply showing that you care can come a long way with adolescents!
  • Be there outside of class and inside of class to discuss issues with students. Give advice and show them you care.
  • Listen to students. Sometimes just listening to students can actually make a world of difference. They may not need advice right then, but just someone to listen to.
  • Foster an accepting and inclusive environment in the classroom.
  • Pick your battles wisely. If a child is struggling, do you really want to reprimand their behavior in front of the class?
  • Show you care by asking all students “how are you?” at the beginning of class.
  • Be willing to discuss interests with students.
  • If a student is displaying emotion, take them aside from the classroom and ask what is going on. Do not ask them in front of the class.
  • Be considerate, how would you feel?
  • If a child is going through something that is different from your experiences, do not say that you know what it is like. Instead say, “That must be hard, I am here for you if you need me.”

Activities for a Trauma-Sensitive classroom:

  • Ask all of the students, “How are you today?” at the beginning of class. This shows them that you care and are willing to listen to them.
  • Have students write their needs at the beginning of a school year on an index card and collect them. Keep them for the rest of the year to reference.
  • Have “prescription” pads at the end of the tables. When students are having a tough time, they can write you a note and you can collect them and give them what they need.
  • Have plenty of relaxing activities for students to do when they are done with work or are working. These can be fidget toys, silly putty, pillows, coloring, etc.
  • I like to ask students how they are doing and tell them to give me a thumbs up or down. This helps them to communicate with me if they are doing okay. If their thumbs are down, I’ll ask them what is going on.
  • Have students work alone if needed on projects.
  • Have a table in the back of the room where students can relax and recollect themselves when feeling overwhelmed.






Ideas for a Trauma- Sensitive Classroom:

  • “Fostering Resilient Learners” discusses the downstairs and upstairs brain. The upstairs brain is the prefrontal cortex where reasoning takes place. The downstairs brain is the limbic system or the “seat of the emotions” this is where emotions take place. When students are in their downstairs brain we need to get them to their upstairs brain. It would be a good idea to introduce students to this idea and ask if they are in their upstairs or downstairs brain (Souers,2016)
  • Have calming music playing in the classroom.
  • Have a place where students can “cool off” in the classroom. Have relaxing things in this area, like a water fountain, a Himalayan salt lamp, or pillows and other items that they can feel and touch.
  • At the beginning of the class, maintain consistency. Tell students what is going to be done in the classroom and what is expected for the day. This will provide them with predictability.
  • Remain positive at all times with the students and highlight their good qualities.
  • Promote creativity and individuality in the classroom by having fun activities.
  • Teach students how to monitor their behavior and also see the positives in things.
  • Have positive posters on the wall.
  • Tell your students to come to you if they need anything in the classroom.










Souers, K. (2016). Fostering Resilien Learners. Alexandria: ASCD.

Here is link to a page from We are Teachers that tells more about the safe space that can be created in the classroom! Enjoy!

Why Safe Spaces Are Critical in Today’s Classrooms



1 Comment

  1. Delaina, thanks for your post! I very much appreciate all of the strategies you included for making sure your classroom is as responsive and sensitive as it can be. It can be hard to come up with a plan for how to treat students with trauma, so I really like how constructive your suggestions were, I’m sure ill implement some of those things in my own classroom.
    Although I’m sorry you have experienced the trauma you have, I’m very glad it will help you reach these students and truly make a difference. Good luck!


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.