A Practitioner’s Guide to Educating Traumatized Children

February 2017
woman curled up in a ball in a persons hand

There is nothing new about the presence of traumatized children in our schools; often without realizing it, teachers have been dealing with trauma’s impact for generations. What is new is that trauma researchers can now explain the hidden story behind many classroom difficulties that hamper our educational systems. The idea that school can moderate the effects of trauma is supported by research from both developmental psychologists and trauma experts.

According to researchers and practitioners, at school, traumatized children can forge strong relationships with caring adults and learn in a supportive environment. Teachers play an important role by connecting traumatized children to a safe and predictable school community and enabling them to become competent learners.

Over the past 30 years, researchers have built a strong evidence base for the “trauma-informed” approaches the medical and judicial systems have implemented. Based on that evidence, educators are becoming more sensitized to students’ past and current experiences with trauma, and they are developing their own approaches to help break the cycle of trauma for their students, as well as prevent retraumatization. Accordingly, educators are beginning to recognize and support traumatized students by engaging them in learning and supporting their success in school rather than punishing them.

Creating a trauma-informed school climate requires the entire school community—certified and classified staff members, administrators and front office staff members, counselors and nurses, bus drivers and janitorial staff members, cafeteria and yard-duty staff members—to deepen its shared understanding of trauma’s impacts on learning and agree to a schoolwide approach. All staff members must work together as a team with a sense of shared responsibility for the physical, social, emotional, and academic safety of every student. Along those lines, when students’ needs are addressed holistically, the staff works together to help traumatized students improve their relationships, regulate their emotions and behavior, bolster their academic competence, and increase their physical and emotional well-being.

This resource provides background information on the effects of trauma on students and a set of research-based trauma-informed classroom practices.

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