The following is a highlight of the discussion from a recent webinar on trauma-informed strategies. You can watch the entire webinar, Interactions at the Heart of Healing – CLASS-based Strategies for Supporting Teachers and Children, which is part of our free Trauma-informed care webinar series.
Trauma is not just about a specific event or a series of events, but how it's experienced and the kind of lasting effects. I think it's important for us to remember that the same event might be experienced and impact different children in different ways.
When we think about some of the causes of trauma, we also need to know that this is not a unique experience of a few but it's something that is impacting many of our children and with COVID-19, we know those numbers are going to be much higher. We also know that it's inequitably distributed and the impacts of this trauma are really at a physiological level for children.
As children are feeling stressed both in the moment of trauma but also as they sort of re-experience that in the classroom it's truly impacting their brains their stress hormones in ways that change their behavior and so what we see on the outside are these external behaviors but we have to remember that often the behaviors aren't matching what children are feeling.
3 Key Practices for Supporting students experiencing trauma:
It’s not about the average child; it’s about every child. How can we make sure that we’re giving all children equitable access to these interactions in our classrooms? We know that sometimes the children who need us most are not the ones who we’re naturally drawn to want to spend time with.
I always say that seeing teaching transforms teaching. Sometimes when we're in the moment it becomes hard to be reflective, but the opportunity to watch yourself interact with children, especially children with whom you're struggling, I think sometimes can be so powerful, because you just see things in a new light.
Watch this short video and think about what the teacher is doing to support this child who is entering the classroom after a stressful and traumatic weekend.
You can see the teacher was acknowledging the child’s emotion, “You had a really rough weekend. You don’t seem happy.” She then proceeds to offer different ways to comfort this child by asking her, “Would it make you feel better if I read you a story?” In that moment you can clearly see how this teacher’s calm voice and physical affection that she was giving her by placing her arm around her starts to calm this child. This demonstrates the importance of those relationships that we develop. The children have to know that we are their alternate secure base and this teacher definitely demonstrated that in this video.
Routines are especially important for children with traumatic experiences because sometimes that structure that we provide is the only structure that they receive. So knowing that when they come into the classroom they know what to expect- they know that Ms. Ramon is going to be there to greet them at the door. When they come in, they're going to sit down and have their breakfast and then we’re going to circle time. Those routines that we place for our children really provide that level of security that’s important for them to have.
The time has come for hard conversations.
That’s the feedback we have been receiving from educators across the country. There are plenty of tough conversations educators are trained, taught, or feel equipped to handle with children and families - gently bringing up a developmental concern, facilitating a disagreement between students, or explaining what happened with the classroom goldfish are all part of a day in the life. But in the last year, since the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, educators are increasingly asking for help in communicating more comfortably with young children about diversity and difference.
I was supposed to be an architect, instead I was a teacher of young children; it felt like my calling.
When I started my coursework, they tasked me with visiting multiple classrooms. It overwhelmed me when in some classrooms, children were crying, teachers were frustrated, and no one seemed to enjoy the day. I thought I had made a mistake. Thankfully, I had a professor who inspired me to continue. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the behaviors I observed in both children and teachers, the professor charged me to uncover the root of those behaviors.
And so, my journey to support social-emotional development began.
Every state, every district, every school, every teacher faced decisions that they had never anticipated in the last academic year. As the end of the 2020-2021 school year approaches, it’s time to reflect on those decisions, learn from others, and prepare for the fall ahead.
This past year of hybrid and virtual learning due to the pandemic highlighted the gaps in learning and the inequities that we already knew existed. It is apparent, now more than ever, that there needs to be a narrow focus on bridging the divides (e.g., digital) that exist and meeting students where they are in order to promote growth and put less emphasis on standardized testing. This would allow teachers to concentrate on curriculum with greater impact, differentiate their instruction, and utilize effective strategies that they know make a difference for children’s outcomes.