In my district, when we returned from our summer vacation, we learned we would be spending the year learning more about being “trauma informed.” According to Treatment and Services Adaptations Center, “in a trauma-informed school, the adults in the school community are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress. …The goal is to not only provide tools to cope with extreme situations but to create an underlying culture of respect and support.” While I do not consider myself an expert in being trauma informed, I am in the process of learning and understanding the implications. At our kick off professional development, we were given a short story to read about a child who had experienced trauma in their short life. This trauma played out in school with risky behaviors, labels, and tense interactions with teachers and administrators. Often, the adults interacting with the child misunderstood the child’s response to situations and inadvertently caused a situation to become more volatile. As a teacher, many of us can relate and often I have found myself reflecting about my interaction with a child and wishing I had responded differently. This is the beginning of the learning for me.
Many of the kids who are in our classrooms today have had experiences in their lives that have caused trauma. In fact, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network claims that one in four children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that will impact their learning and behavior. This data is probably not too surprising to educators who work closely with their students. We know how much of what can happen outside of school hours impacts how well a student can perform in school both academically and behaviorally. Teachers see and experience this every day in their classroom. My heart has hurt for many of my students.
I was surprised to learn about the ACE’s study done by the CDC and Kaiser. It is known as one of the largest studies of children who have experienced abuse and/or neglect. This study discovered that early experiences with trauma can lead to “risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and early death.” Follow this link to learn more about the ACE’s study and the ACE Pyramid. Considering how trauma can impact a child’s health, I cannot ignore how trauma often plays out in schools through behaviors. If anything, I want to help prevent further trauma to a child by learning best practices around helping students who have experienced trauma.
In my role as an instructional coach, I am often asked how can teachers help students who are causing disruptions in the classroom or students who seem disengaged with the learning process? There are many layers to answering this question: understanding what causes the behaviors, building a strong school culture, and helping students who have experienced trauma to find strategies to help regulate their emotions. When I consider what has worked best for me in the past, when working with students who have challenging behaviors, my success comes from building strong relationships not only with the child, but also trying to bridge a positive relationship with the family as well. It was always my instinct to give a struggling student more love and positive feedback.
As a result of learning more about being trauma informed this year, my school site decided as a team that when we approach students to help them redirect behaviors we will approach them with this: “How can I help you?” This empathy based approach has helped de-escalate a situation every single time.
The quote that I always keep close is, “Kids who need the most love, ask for it in the most challenging ways.” This is why I stick to the saying “hug the porcupine.” This is my mantra when working with children (and adults) who may be showing me porcupine needles. In those moments and tense situations, I choose to love rather than prickle. I choose kindness and patience, over resentment, labels, and accusations.