Resiliency in the Classroom – Trauma-Informed Teaching

As society progresses within the 21st century, individual feelings and experiences are becoming more prevalent and discussed. Alongside this movement is the increase in cultural acceptance of therapy and self-help. As a result of this, many individuals have spent large portions of their time diving into the subject of trauma. Within the domain of trauma comes the prevalent and important category of trauma inflicted upon individuals during childhood and its resulting impact on their lives. From brain mapping to behavioral analyses, published research has seen an increase in activities as our society hones in their understanding of childhood trauma. As teachers, we must pay attention to the research and identify and implement strategies to fight trauma within the classroom.

ACEs, The Basis of Trauma

It is not an if, but a when. Every teacher will have students who carry some traumatic experience with them into the classroom. These experiences have been described and listed as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). In her book, Fostering Resilient Learners, (p. 17) Kristin Souers lists the original 8 ACEs as

  • Substance abuse in the home
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Mental illness in the home
  • Witnessing domestic violence
  • Suicidal household member
  • Death of a parent or loved one
  • Parental incarceration
  • Experience of abuse

These will impact student behavior within the classroom, do not be caught unaware.

I’ve got the ACEs, Now What?

Trauma at home will be shown in the classroom in a variety of ways, yet a teacher cannot walk up to a student and directly ask about any trauma a student might have. Because of this, it cannot be said with certainty that any student has these experiences, nor should it be betted upon. However, many practices should be implemented in a classroom that will provide support for all students. Theresa Melito-Conners recently published an article describing her actions as a district administrator incorporating reinforcement into her classrooms. In this article, she described 3 ways that schools can support their students.

  • Leading with narrative, values-focused feedback. Encourage students through positive feedback that you observe within and outside the classroom.
  • Build relationships beyond academics. Students spend time outside of the academic rigor of school. Learn about their interests and hobbies. Do not neglect to learn about their lives and what is currently going on.
  • Dedicate spaces for emotional regulation. Have places within the school where students can go to prioritize mindfulness and choice.

Another point that Kristin makes evident as she tackles resilient learners in the classroom is the need for the teacher to be self-aware. Understanding who you are as a teacher is important when it comes to interacting with students and dealing with situations that arise within the classroom due to traumatic experiences that Kristin likes to call ‘tornadoes.’ Besides setting personal codes of conduct and rules to follow, it is also important to ask questions about the classroom environment that students find themselves in. The following image demonstrates a line of questioning that follows a similar path to Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs when it comes to a classroom rooted in the battle for resilient learners.

If you want to learn more from Theresa Melito-Conners’ article, check it out on Edutopia:

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Fostering Resilient Learned by Kristin Souers and Pete Hall
Souers, K., & Hall, P. (2016). Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom. ASCD.
ISBN: 9781416621072

1 Comment

  1. Duncan, I enjoyed reading your post. I especially thought that the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs graphic was interesting. I think this is a really good way to visually represent how students’ deal with stressors in their lives outside of the classroom and allows teachers to better understand these. I do have a question for you though. You emphasize building relationships outside of the classroom, how do you do this in a way that does not force students to discuss potentially traumatic circumstances by accident?

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