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How to Support Students With Trauma-Informed Practices

According to statistics from the CDC, one in four American children experiences abuse, whether it be physical, sexual, or emotional. Additionally, of the one in five women and one in 71 men of the population, "12% of these women, and 30% of these men were younger than 10 years old when they were raped." These statistics are harrowing, but they are important pieces of information that ought to be acknowledged when considering our role as educators.

Trauma-Informed Practices (TIP)

As the research on the long-term effects of trauma become more substantial, so does our ability to understand and aid in the healing process of trauma-affected individuals. Trauma-informed practice (TIP) is a vehicle through which educators, administrators, support workers, and anyone working with children can support the social and emotional needs of people impacted by trauma. 

One definition explains trauma-informed practices as "a strengths-based framework grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma. It emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for everyone, and creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment."

meta-analysis of social and emotional learning practices implemented in schools across the world also confirms, "[Social and emotional learning] practices boost academic success, decrease disruptive behavior, and reduce emotional distress in the long term." This data shows the significant role that social and emotional learning plays in the well-being of all students and suggests that emphasizing social and emotional learning in the classroom has long-term positive outcomes.

The CDC's Guiding Principles

To increase awareness of the effect trauma has on communities, the CDC's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response (OPHPR) created a six-principle guide for a trauma-informed approach. 

This guide notes that "Adopting a trauma-informed approach is not accomplished through any single particular technique or checklist. It requires constant attention, caring awareness, sensitivity, and possibly a cultural change at an organizational level." 

The CDC's six concepts that ought to be emphasized when working with trauma-affected individuals are:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness & transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration & mutuality
  5. Empowerment & choice
  6. Cultural, historical & gender issues

Each of these plays an intricate role in allowing trauma survivors to learn comfortably and effectively.

An Online Consensus from Educators

It might seem like a given to educators that trauma-informed practices in the classroom will improve social and emotional learning with students, but the actual "how" is not so straightforward. In an article for, Alex Shevrin Venet looks at what educators had to say on the subject during a Twitter conversation. From this discussion, Venet saw topics trend toward three vital points that educators agreed were an absolute must.

1. "Relationships [with students] have to come before content."

Venet cites Mathew Portell, a principal from Fall-Hamilton Elementary in Nashville, saying, "Trauma affects children in so many different ways. Some kids are reactive, while others are reserved. It is key to know the students' stories in order to know how to support them." 

Initial conversations should be unrelated to academics or classroom behavior. Rather, they should be focused on anything of interest to you or your student to build trust and friendship. The trauma-filled conversations will come as a relationship builds.

2. "The whole school model."

Putting efforts towards improving individual relationships and increasing trust with students can be difficult if there isn't enough support from the community. Venet notes that "many teachers . . . highlighted the need for a consistent, team-based approach" to implementing trauma-informed practices in schools.

3. "Social and emotional support for educators."

The idiom that one can't pour from an empty cup holds true in the context of educators wanting to prioritize trauma-informed practices. Venet writes that "social and emotional support for teachers . . . helps buffer the effects of secondary traumatic stress and vicarious trauma." Acknowledging that educators have social and emotional needs and honoring those needs will create a better environment for trauma-informed practices to thrive.

Be Patient

Students who have suffered abuse may take some time to come around. However, through patience and continual positive reinforcement, your students will allow trust to form, and you will be able to teach them effectively in the way they need.

Additional Resources and Guides on Trauma-Informed Practices


Written by Taynne Wallace
Education World Contributor

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