Trauma informed practices in schools can revolutionize your school community. This approach highlights that students are more than likely to have experienced some sort of trauma in their lifetimes and that those experiences can shape how they interact with and perceive the work.
By taking a trauma-informed approach to supporting student mental health, schools do a better job of meeting student needs and providing the tools necessary for success.
First, we have to step back to understand what trauma is and the impact it can have on child development. According to the Center for Child Trauma Assessment, Services and Interventions from Northwestern University, child trauma is any scary, dangerous, violent, or life-threatening event that happens to a child (ages 0-18 years old). When a child is exposed to trauma, they may experience severe emotions with lasting impacts on development and self-expression.
Trauma-informed activities for students take this into consideration to create a culture of care that supports the whole child. What does this look like in the classroom?
Establishing routines and rituals (https://apertureed.com/4-ways-start-new-year-strong/) help students know what to expect from their day of learning. At the beginning of the school year, go over the class schedule. It’s especially helpful for morning routines, transition times, turning in assignments during independent work time, and the end of the day. Sometimes, students need reminders of these routines. Educators may consider a buddy system, and established peer check-ins. Other times, it may be beneficial to review expectations with the whole class.
Building developmentally appropriate, culturally responsible, specific rituals for your classroom supports the creation of a safe, reliable classroom environment.
Along with going over rituals and routines at the beginning of the year, you can also offer an “All About Me” get-to-know-you survey. This survey can be re-distributed at the beginning of every quarter or at the start of the new semester to give students a chance to reflect and revise their thoughts and feelings.
In “All About Me,” you can ask for students to share their reading interests, their passions outside of school, and/or things they want to share about their home lives. As you build out your lesson plans you can use this information to connect learning activities to your students’ interests.
Creating a calm corner in your classroom is another one of the great trauma-informed activities for students. A calm corner is a place where students can go if they feel frustrated or anxious. Many teachers fill their calm corners with headsets with calming music, stuffed animals, coloring stations, or books. When you’re establishing your routines and rituals, you can teach students about when they can use the calm corner. Having a dedicated classroom space normalizes the experience of big emotions. Additionally, it provides students access to tools they need for self-regulation.
Childhood trauma impacts all parts of students’ development. School communities that focus on integrating strategies and activities that recognize the five guiding principles of trauma-informed care ensure all students’ needs are met. Things like safety and trustworthiness are foundational to building student-teacher relationships. Without a safe environment, students are not going to be able to learn or perform academically.
Strength-based, trauma-informed approaches equip students with the resources they need to remain resilient despite their adverse childhood experiences. Gaining these skills help students thrive in the future. Focus on celebrating the students and their capabilities to build stronger relationships with them. This will make all the difference in creating a safe community where students feel protected, heard, and valued.
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