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Trauma-Informed Teaching: What it is and Why it is Important

Trauma-informed teaching has become a hot, new topic in the world of education. Why is that? The human mind, especially those of young people, can be very complex and unpredictable. However, more and more valuable information about the mind is being discovered every day. These new discoveries inform us how to better communicate with others and understand what might be going on inside our heads. 

As a result, schools and educators have increasingly made it a point to consider the mental health and individual emotional situations of each of their students through strategies like trauma-informed teaching. There are many facets to this and it can be a lot to handle with the number of things that educators already have to juggle. The tutors at Educate. Radiate. Elevate. know this all too well, as they put a great deal of effort into their tutoring sessions. Keep on reading to learn more about this revolutionary teaching strategy and to discover how E.R.E. uses it!

What is Trauma-Informed Teaching?

Trauma-informed teaching is not really a curriculum or type of lesson plan, but rather more of a mindset and attitude that educators bring each day. Dr. Shantel Crosby, Dr. Penny Howell, and Dr. Shelly Thomas of the University of Louisville wrote a research article titled “Social justice education through trauma-informed teaching.” In this article, they state “Trauma-informed practice in schools requires educators to recognize the prevalence, impact, and indicators of childhood trauma and to respond to student behavior in ways that support traumatized youth without retraumatization…. It also requires that teachers demonstrate insight and flexibility in their classroom management and instruction practices.” In other words, trauma-informed teaching is a lens that teachers use to change their mindset, tone, and discipline strategies to contribute to a sense of safety and security for their students who may be experiencing trauma.

While an educator who wants to utilize trauma-informed teaching should be familiar with the types of trauma their students may experience and the impact it can have on their lives and learning, they are not expected to be their therapists. Rather teachers should make room for the effects of trauma in their instruction, remaining aware and compassionate. Trauma can affect children in many ways including reduced attention span, decreased autonomy, lack of interest or motivation, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and more. An awareness of this as well as how to create a safe, stable environment for all students can be a huge step in the right direction.

Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies

Build a Relationship

One of the things that should be a point of focus for educators from day one is establishing a relationship with their students. Get to know them, their likes, their dislikes, their learning styles, things they struggle with, things they excel in, and more. This will not all be revealed right away for all students, but the sooner you work on this the better. After all, students will be more comfortable and feel more welcomed around educators who seem to be interested in their well-being and care about them as people. 

Continue to maintain this relationship by checking in with students at the start of each lesson to get a better understanding of them as a whole and how they are feeling at the moment so you can plan around that. Let them know that asking questions is okay, that honesty is appreciated, and that you are working with them. Remember, you are not their friend, so build these relationships while maintaining professionalism.

Be Predictable

One of the biggest reasons to be a trauma-informed educator is to understand how something that may seem harmless to you can be quite upsetting to some children whose home life is uncertain and unsafe. For example, unpredictability in the lesson may feel like sudden, uncomfortable shifts for some students and can invoke a negative response. And with trauma-informed teaching, educators need to make sure that the teaching environment is as safe and predictable. There are a few ways to start establishing this kind of environment.

For instance,  when reading through a new passage, let students know what new vocabulary may appear within the text. This can not only help them understand the reading more completely but also make things more predictable. When it comes to transitions, instead of switching quickly and without warning, inform your students in advance of the plan and remind them as the transition nears. Say something like “In five minutes, we will be stopping our current activity and moving on to….” A modification like this is a small one, but it can help make students feel more at ease. This is also true when it comes to procedures, expectations, and disciplinary action.  Make sure the students know what to expect in advance and provide reminders as needed.

Be Engaging

Trauma can make it difficult for some students to maintain attention. Some students may not have access to reliable nutritious food or outlets for physical activity. This can make them drained and tired during the day. Other students may not get enough sleep to give them the energy to focus. Things like having to work after school in order to provide their family with enough money or living in a home that keeps them awake at night for one reason or another can lead to this issue. As a result, students in these types of situations might frequently lose focus and struggle to retain information.

To help mediate this, it can be helpful to ask the student to paraphrase information back to you every now and then so they can demonstrate that they are focusing. You can also consider finding a better workspace for the student, whether that be seating them somewhere else in the classroom or having them work in a different room at home, if possible. Sometimes, students may ask to frequently use the restroom, or get a sip of water. If this persists, work in engaging brain breaks or small stretching routines they can do for a few minutes before returning to work. And if the issue of attention or focus needs to be directly addressed, be mindful of your tone and message so as to not cause additional trauma for the child. Steps like these can go a long way in keeping students engaged!

E.R.E.’s Usage of Trauma-Informed Teaching

At Educate. Radiate. Elevate., we understand that trauma-informed teaching is simply a good practice that benefits all students, whether they have experienced trauma or not. Our highly-qualified, experienced tutors are continuously trained in trauma-informed teaching methods. They learn about all different scenarios traumatized children may present during their tutoring term, including difficulty communicating feelings, lack of participation, anxiety, and trouble focusing. 

They are dedicated to E.R.E.’s mission of helping underserved students prepare for school and life by making room for their students’ previous experiences, mental health, and individual needs. Our tutors’ training also includes being culturally responsive, teaching metacognition and executive functions, and instilling interpersonal skills in their students. If you would like to learn more about becoming a tutor for E.R.E., visit our website! 

In Conclusion

It is essential for educators to consider the mental well-being of their students. Being trauma-informed is a great way to start being a more inclusive and considerate teacher or tutor. There are many ways to implement trauma-informed practices in your teaching. Methods such as establishing a relationship with the student, setting predictable routines, and being more engaging are great teaching practices for all students. The tutors at Educate. Radiate. Elevate. know this better than most. If you want to support E.R.E. and the mission to lift underserved students out from between the cracks in the education system, consider donating to Educate. Radiate. Elevate. You can help create a ripple effect that will last for generations.

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"Hi, I'm Lindsey.
Every other month, I share short emails full of hopeful stories, updates on your impact, and relevant news. Thousands of people enjoy them."
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Lindsey Wander
Founder and President