How to help students with pandemic-related trauma

Preparing educators to respond—with online PD
By: | May 26, 2020
(Photograph by Sharon Mccutcheon on Unsplash)(Photograph by Sharon Mccutcheon on Unsplash)
Mindy Nichamin is senior Marketing Manager at Kognito.

Mindy Nichamin is senior Marketing Manager at Kognito.

With K-12 districts closing due to COVID-19, students had to quickly adapt from the structure of school to social isolation from teachers and friends. They may be upset about missing school, struggling to adapt to staying indoors, or unable to focus on remote learning.

Millions of students have also lost the safety net of resources they depended on from school, or might be dealing with new realities at home due to economic consequences or the illness of a loved one. And the general anxiety-filled atmosphere can have long-term effects.

Ensuring that educators continue to support their students’ mental health is important.

Read: Updated: 302 free K-12 resources during coronavirus pandemic

Prioritizing relationships

Experts from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network shared recommendations for educators on supporting students during the pandemic. One is to let relationships be the focus, and even prioritizing relationships and well-being over assignments and behavioral compliance.

As we look ahead to returning to the classroom, online trauma-informed training now can proactively equip school staff to meet students’ needs through yet another transition.

As the connection between trauma and behavior has become better understood, trauma-informed practices are being applied or are even mandated in many districts throughout the country. And now, it’s even more important as every one of our students is facing distress from the pandemic.

Read: Survey: Teachers need training in trauma

Implementing trauma-informed PD

Educators want to be there for their students during this unprecedented time, but as a recent Child Trends survey finds, they need more professional development to better understand the
impact of trauma and to help implement trauma-informed policies.

In-person PD is not possible with social distancing measures in place. But just as students are continuing their studies virtually, educators can, too—through online training.

Specific curriculum varies depending on the program, but here are three ways online training can quickly prepare your workforce to provide trauma-informed practices:

  1. Gain a better understanding of trauma: It’s important to understand the range of experiences that can cause distress or trauma, and how these relate to brain development.
  2. Learn how to recognize trauma: Recognizing when student behavior might be the result of trauma or distress can help educators identify students who may need extra support.
  3. Acquire skills to lead impactful conversations: Educators should learn how to lead conversations with students to address how they are feeling. Based on such conversations, they can respond appropriately by assessing the need for referral and motivating students to seek help when needed.

Once educators learn these foundations, it’s helpful to practice them. In a virtual environment, this can be possible through role-play with virtual humans, or with colleagues. Role-playing scenarios can help educators gain confidence in their skills before talking with their actual students.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in 2017, the torrential flooding caused one-third of the city’s residents to be displaced. Once school resumed, teachers and staff needed the tools to be able to address student distress and apply self-care. A partnership of UNICEF USA, Mental Health America of Greater Houston and simulation company Kognito reached over 57,000 Houston-area educators with online trauma-informed training.

Read: Schools need billions more to open safely, union and PTA leaders say

Meeting student needs now—and when schools reopen

Of course, it’s important to provide students with learning curriculum. But academic success will prove to be a challenge if their mental health needs are ignored. As the country endures this collective trauma, educators are the frontline of defense in helping students cope.

In your district’s COVID-19 response, make sure your staff is prepared to apply trauma-informed practices to help support students. And as we look ahead to returning to the classroom, online trauma-informed training now can proactively equip school staff to meet students’ needs through yet another transition.

Mindy Nichamin is senior marketing manager at Kognito.

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