Trauma Responsive Classrooms: How to create Safe Spaces for Students


Based on the book Fostering Resilient Learners by Kristin Souer

As educators, we will cross paths with students from all walks of life. Each student presents with new experiences and perspectives. One of the most important things we can do as teachers is to acknowledge each student as individuals, and make them feel heard. Two thirds of all children in the United States have experienced some form of serious childhood trauma. This means all educators are guaranteed to work with a student going through an adverse childhood experience. How is it possible for teachers to balance a classroom of thirty some students while also being there for a student experiencing trauma? Kritistin Souers writes about making resilient learners and ways to engage in trauma informed teaching pedagogies in her book Fostering Resilient Learners. This blog discussed some techniques and strategies teachers can use to create trauma-sensitive classrooms. 

Be Familiar with ACEs 

ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences can affect students behavior in ways that seem unrelated. Souers discusses how students who experience trauma can become stuck in “Survival Mode”, meaning they may utilize fight, flight, or freeze behaviors when presented with stressful situations. It is important to remember that when students act out in class or behave ‘abnormally’, it does not mean they are a poorly behaved student, rather, there could be more going on below the surface. Here are some signs of Fight, Flight, and Freeze. 

Trauma – Sensitive Classroom –> Resilient Learners – Science Teaching

Learn to Have Grace 

In addition to the previous point where we discussed students acting out due to being stuck in survival mode, it is important to know how we can handle those situations. Souer recommends taking a breath and acting with grace. It is very easy to fall into a deficit thinking when something goes unexpectedly. For example, imagine you are walking through a hallway and a stranger accidentally bumps into you. Your initial reaction may be “What a jerk, they can’t even pay attention to where they are walking?” In contrast, if you take a second to react with grace and to see past the inconvenience you may realize the person who bumped you has trouble seeing, or has a physical disability that caused them to misstep. This can be the same for when a student makes a mistake or acts out. Instead of dismissing that student as a bad person, take some extra time to find reasons that behavior may be present and act with grace; forgive your students, we have all needed forgiveness at some point. 

Availability and Safety 

One of the best things educators can do for students experiencing ACEs is to create safe spaces and become a ‘safe’ adult for them. Safe classrooms, Souer says, can look like having assigned seats so students feel like they belong, check-ins to see how students are doing emotionally, positive notes home to show that you care, and implementing routines in the classroom. Similarly to having grace, we also need to rethink repetitive, strict punishments and instead have students reflect on their behaviors so they can learn from them. Being authentic with students can go a long way. Praising students can also be a method of building students self esteem, as students experiencing trauma often have negative outlooks on themselves. Ultimately, showing you care about your students can be life changing for a student who has never felt safe. 

Want to know more about trauma informed pedagogy? Check out the articles below!

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  1. Hi Jack, great post. I really liked how you said we need to acknowledge each student as an individual. I think sometimes it is easy for educators to group the class together and treat the students as a whole. I liked how you included the signs of flight, fight, and freeze. These were interesting to read about. I think having students reflect on their behavior is also important! How might you have students reflect on their behavior in your classroom?

  2. Hi Jack, I enjoyed reading about your focus on ACE’s. I was really hoping to learn about the factors that play into an ACE manifesting as a trauma event for some students while they do not for others. What kind of ideas do you have as to why?

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