Trauma is, unfortunately, something extremely prevalent within our world, and especially in the lives of many of the amazing students that fill the seats in our classrooms. In her book, “Fostering Resilient Learners”, author Kristin Souers discusses ways that teachers can support the students in their classroom that have experienced/are experiencing trauma. This blog will cover some of what Souers dives into in her book, as well as what I think!
At the very beginning of her book, Souers records some “fundamental truths” that we must use as a framework to understand the rest of her book. They include:
- “Trauma is real.
- Trauma is prevalent. In fact, it is likely much more common than we care to admit.
- Trauma is toxic to the brain and can affect development and learning in a multitude of ways.
- In our schools, we need to be prepared to support our students who have experienced trauma, even if we don’t know exactly who they are.
- Children are resilient, and within positive learning environments they can grow, learn, and succeed.” (pages 10-11)
To add to this list of truths myself, I would like to elaborate on the fifth point that Souers made. She says that “children are resilient”- and, in my opinion, they are already resilient before they even step into our classrooms. I, as the teacher, am not making my students resilient or making them have more grit. They already bring those things. Imagine the resilience a student has who comes to school after seeing their dad abuse them mom. Imagine the grit that a Black student has who was just harassed by a police officer (Bettina Love, a professor at University of Georgia, has really amazing things to say about the grit that Black students have and you can read about it here).
Resilience and Grit in Our Students
Also, I’d like to add that “resilience” and “grit” won’t look the same for every student. The “grit” it takes to continue to revise an essay is not the same “grit” it takes to take care of your siblings while your mother works the night shift. Those simply are not comparable, and we have to be careful to be really specific about the type of grit and resilience we are talking about, or else we run the risk of degrading the experiences of some or making sweeping generalizations that are very inaccurate.
Additionally, here are more things to keep in mind about trauma:
- Not all students experience trauma or its effects in the same way. Just because two students experience poverty does not mean that they will react to it in the same way, which means their needs in our classroom will not look the same. Generalizations are generally harmful.
- If any of this is to get better, we must step back and look at the root of the trauma, such as oppressive systems, in some cases. This is called healing-centered engagement, and it is different than trauma centered care. Trauma centered care isn’t wrong, but it does not always look at the whole of the person as it should. Check out the video below for a bit on this.
- Trauma takes many, many different forms, and there is no timeline for healing. Here is an article that explains the different types of trauma.
What Can We Do?
Five Steps: In her book, Souers provides a six step list for communicating with our students, especially those who have experienced/are experiencing trauma. If we cannot communicate, then we cannot address the needs of the student, whatever those look like. The steps are as follows:
- Resolve” (page 79)
Now, that may seem like a lot of steps, but each step is essential in caring for students. If we do not listen, we will not be able to reassure the student that what they are saying and feeling matters, and we will not be able to validate them that their feelings are real. And if we don’t respond to the student and show them that we were listening, we will not be able to repair because there is a lack of trust. And, finally, a resolution cannot occur if all of those previous things did not happen.
Take a Breath: One major theme in Souers book is taking a step back and breathing before working with a student outburst or any other type of incident. This may seem simple, but it is so easy to skip over. I am sure you all see this in your own lives, because I certainly do. When something happens, I become so caught up in the moment that I do not let myself step back, breathe, and regain perspective. If we do step back and take this breath, it may help to control the situation, and will make us less likely to respond with an outburst back. Also, this may help model healthy emotional control methods to our students if they notice us using it (Hello social emotional learning!).
Build Relationships: Relationships are the basis of everything we do as teachers. Everything! And it seems like a big task to form relationships with all of our students, but that’s just the reality of teaching- but every relationship does not need to look the same, and it can’t. You don’t teach unless you love young people and we need to remember why we are doing this in the first place when it feels exhausting. Relationships do not always have to be complex, but can be deep nonetheless.
Cement shoes: The book talks about “cement shoes” (page 45) and teachers needing to stay true to who they are so that when they are going through things in life or helping others with their trauma, they can still stay grounded and stay true to themselves and their identities. And while I agree that this is generally good and important, shouldn’t we are teachers be changed by our interactions with young people? They can help to shape who we are and our identity, for the better. I don’t think that the book made this clear enough- I do not think that we are stagnant people who are always going to be the same. When we learn, we may change. While cement shoes are generally good, sometimes they might stop us from reflecting on where our philosophies may be wrong or harmful.
And In Conclusion…
We won’t do this perfectly. Ever. We will never fully know the lives of all of our students, or, even if we do, we won’t be able to care for them perfectly. But what we can do is model grace in our classrooms, making each day a new day and caring for our students in a way that reminds them that they are a human being made with value and dignity.
Our students, as well as us as teachers, are more than the trauma we have experienced. As Souers puts it, those who experience trauma are “forever changed, not forever damaged” (page 137). We must remember this when helping to handle trauma and its effects. People are not their trauma, but, in one way or another, it has shaped who they are and is a block in the theoretical Lego tower of their life.
Unfortunately, we will not be able to “fix” life for all of our students, as much as that hurts. But what we can do is show up with open hearts and minds and teach in such a way that our students know that we care for them, so deeply. Trauma is not fair and it never will be. I want to put a big bow on the end of this, but I don’t think it is possible, so I will just leave you with that to ponder.
– Miss Karlock (@MissKarlockChem)