Why more educators are becoming trauma-informed

Trauma can be caused by anything from homelessness to having to care for sibling to academic pressure and bullying
By: | December 30, 2019
When students are having trouble in school, trauma-informed educators are now pulling kids aside for a talk or giving them breaks from class.

More schools are working to become trauma-informed as educators try to help students cope with the difficulties in their lives in and outside school.

Student trauma can be caused by anything from homelessness to having to care for sibling to academic pressure and bullyinh, educators say.

Detentions and suspensions will only be used as a last resort in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten in Bristol Tennessee City Schools, which adopted a new trauma-informed discipline policy in December, the Bristol Herald Courier reported.

Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten educators disciplining students will encourage “self-control, self-esteem and cooperation.” Older students will receive counseling and participate in restorative practices that ask them to reflect on problematic behavior and repair any harm done. However, they may also face detention or suspension, according to the Herald Courier

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In Georgia’s Floyd County Schools, Alto Park Elementary School plans to become a trauma-informed building in the new year, the Rome News-Tribune reported.

When students are having trouble in class, educators are now pulling them aside to talk or giving them breaks, according to the newspaper.

“When we lay academic expectations on top of the social and emotional needs (students) have, they can’t get regulated. They shut down,” the News-Tribune quoted Principal Suzie Henderson as saying at a state house of representatives hearing.

And in Pennsylvania, the Sunrise of Philadelphia after-school program takes a trauma-informed approach to helping students process their feelings, according to Youth Today.  Students, for example, make crafts and write poems that allow them to explore feeling of sadness and loss, the website reported.

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Trauma-informed practices also guide teachers in helping students become more resilient by, for instance, helping them find their talents and allowing them to have more choice during the school day, according to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Child Trends has identified the four R’s or trauma-informed care as:

  • Realize the widespread nature of childhood trauma
  • Recognize symptoms such as hypervigilance or daydreaming
  • Respond by making necessary adjustments to the child’s environment
  • Resist re-traumatization by removing triggers from a child’s environment

Educators at San Jose USD in California have been training in trauma-informed instruction since 2017.  “Now we’re not simply just saying, ‘We’re going to recognize [students] for being good,’” Dane Caldwell-Holden, San Jose’s director of student services, told District Administration. “We’re going to say, ‘When things don’t go well for you, we have interventions that are going to try to support you that so they don’t have to happen again.”

Elsewhere, districts are providing teachers with professional development in serving students dealing with a particular source of trauma: homelessness.

“Teachers have their eyes and ears on students for the majority of the day, so they’re in a position to notice who changes their behavior or falls asleep or is talking about moving around—things that might trigger a deeper conversation,” Barbara Duffield, executive director of the nonprofit SchoolHouse Connection, told DA in 2019.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Project UP-START identifies and provides attendance and academic support to students who endure “unstable housing.”

“There’s a lot of pride in our community, and the word ‘homeless’—that stereotypical person under the bridge—carries a lot of stigma,” Debra Albo-Steiger, the district’s homeless student liaison, told DA. “We ask if you know anyone in ‘unstable housing’ and then provide a list of our services. It removes the stigma, and gets out the word in a nonthreatening way.” As a result, student and family participation in services has greatly increased.

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