Trauma Sensitive Schools: A perspective, not a profession.

Trauma Sensitive Schools: A perspective, not a profession

As the academic and developmental needs of school children continue to increase, there’s an ever-increasing expectation that teachers help meet those needs.

Not surprisingly, this leaves teachers feeling overwhelmed. They often report that they don’t have the time, nor do they feel qualified, to adequately support students. And, it leaves administrators feeling protective of their teachers who are already stretched too thin.

Administrators will often say, “I don’t want my teachers to be therapists, I need them to be teachers.”

As trauma sensitive school (TSS) trainers, we couldn’t agree more. That’s why TSS training doesn’t teach treatment skills; it gives you as educators the tools to recognize trauma in a student, understand it, and help the student adapt accordingly.

Recognizing Trauma as a Learning Barrier

While no two students are the same, students who have experienced trauma such as abuse, neglect and other household dysfunction, could behave impulsively, have short attention spans, or not relate well to other students.

Some students may have big reactions to seemingly small struggles, such as not knowing an answer, while others may retreat into themselves and not engage in the school environment or learning process at all.

In short, when the developing brain has sustained trauma, it can have an impact on the student’s ability to stay organized, memorize content and solve problems using executive function. Because of this, being a trauma sensitive school isn’t just necessary for behavioral reasons; it’s critical to successful learning.

Getting Started with TSS

In TSS training, we talk about a variety of approaches to recognize and understand trauma and help students adapt. One is sensory regulation and if you use mindfulness in your classroom – as has become popular – you’ve already started doing this. The other is relationships.

  • Regulation is one of our 7 Essential Ingredients (7ei) and it acknowledges the impact that trauma has on the lower parts of the developing brain, where emotions and behaviors are formed.

    Depending on the age of the student and the timing and duration of their trauma, appealing to the cognitive or “thinking” brain may not be the best intervention.

    Instead, trauma sensitive interventions include the use of sensory and regulating strategies such as drumming, singing, dancing, yoga, etc., which have been shown to be effective in addressing the impact of trauma.

    Read about sensory difficulties and the “Just Right” Zone for regulation.

  • Relationship is another 7ei and a great example of the importance of TSS training. One non-clinical way that healing happens for children is through their daily interactions with teachers, coaches, parents and other trusted adults.

    If you think about people you know who have suffered childhood adversity but were able to adapt and create positive lives, most will tell you there was a person who made a difference for them growing up.

    Read more about the importance of relationships on young people.

The way teachers interact with students, and even the classroom environment you create, can all play a role in helping a student who has suffered trauma adapt.

What are some ways you create a sensory-pleasing and relationship-building classroom? Tell us in the comments.

Want your school to be trauma sensitive? An Introduction to Trauma Sensitive Schools training might be right for you.


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