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How Trauma-Informed Teaching Can Benefit Students

When you look at a classroom full of students, how many would you speculate have had some form of trauma in their lives? One or two? A handful? Ten percent, at most? You may be surprised, then, to learn that nearly half of American children have experienced some sort of trauma. Trauma in childhood is more prevalent than you think, and schools can best serve their student population by deploying trauma-informed teaching practices.

Defining Childhood Trauma

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are distressing events that occur in childhood. ACEs are actually quite common, with about 64% of U.S. adults reporting at least one ACE before the age of 18. These experiences can include:

  • Witnessing violence, both in the home and in the community
  • Abuse (physical, verbal, sexual)
  • Parental abandonment or neglect
  • Mental illness, either in self or in family members
  • Suicide attempt or completion by family member
  • Bullying
  • Domestic violence
  • Substance abuse or addiction within the household
  • Instability in the home (financial, physical, emotional)

ACEs can produce lifelong repercussions, including chronic health issues, mental illness, and substance abuse. Children who experience these types of traumatic events may also experience poor educational outcomes, lower income, and fewer job opportunities, among other consequences.

Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies

It’s often said that children are resilient, and it’s often assumed that a child exposed to traumatic experiences “won’t remember what happened” as they grow older. While this may seem true on the surface, physical and psychological changes within the brain affect learning and behavior. Deploying trauma-informed teaching strategies can help students to develop resiliency and learn to regulate their emotions. When a classroom environment is a “safe space” for students to develop appropriate responses to emotional triggers, it is possible for these individuals to recover from trauma.

Trauma-informed teaching strategies involve the intentional building of teacher-student relationships. Students with trauma may respond to:

Predictability in the classroom

Routines can provide a sense of stability in the classroom. Many traumatized children are reactive to unpredictability, and having a classroom routine helps them to know what they can expect.

Clear expectations

If your school uses PBIS to impact student behavior, you know the power of a schoolwide matrix. Adapting that matrix to your classroom allows you to extend those expectations into your specific environment. Recognizing students when they meet those expectations can give them a boost and help build self-esteem.

Restorative practices

Many traumatized students are intimately familiar with disciplinary procedures in your school. Adopting restorative practices in the classroom can help them to build the skills they need to thrive.

Calming strategies

Learning to regulate emotions is a big job for a developing brain. Traumatized students often have bigger obstacles in the way when it comes to this important task. Helping them to learn how to calm down through mindfulness exercises, physical activity, or by using calming tools allows them to interrupt negative thoughts and build resilience.

Social-emotional learning (SEL)

Intentional instruction in the development of social and emotional skills can benefit all students, regardless of their exposure to trauma. However, children who have experienced traumatic events may have a greater need to develop these skills than their peers. Social-emotional learning, or SEL, is a lifelong process, and traumatized students may need more intensive instruction to master the skills appropriate for their age group.

Intentional communication

Traumatized students are often accustomed to chaos, and as such seek to be “in control” of everything they can. This can look like confrontation or defiance in response to direction in the classroom, as a traumatized student engages in a power struggle with an authority figure. You can circumvent much of this power struggle by giving that student a sense of control through offering choices.


Poor student behavior is often coupled with big feelings that make a student feel overwhelmed. Their feelings are valid – but they need the tools to process these feelings in an appropriate way. Simply shifting your mindset away from judgement and irritation, toward a more compassionate, empathetic view can change the way you connect with a student.

Encouragement of ability

Trauma can affect a student’s self-esteem, leaving them feeling isolated and inept. Provide them with acknowledgment and recognition to help them feel valued, capable, and successful. Their strengths and their abilities can be a springboard to better self-image.

Creating a Trauma-Informed Classroom with Navigate360

Reaching and teaching students who have experienced trauma can be challenging. It requires patience, compassion, and in many cases, creativity. Fortunately, Navigate360 has tools that can help you deploy trauma-informed teaching in every school in your district.

Start by training educators on trauma-informed teaching strategies. Navigate360 offers “Trauma-Informed Teaching for Educators” professional development, delivered through an asynchronous course or through a virtual or in-person session. This course helps educators understand childhood trauma, recognize the effect trauma has on student learning and behavior, and apply teaching strategies for building safety within the classroom environment to support students who have experienced trauma.

In addition to equipping educators, incorporate SEL into the classroom with Suite360 – with solutions for students, staff, and families – to extend SEL strategies into every area of a student’s life. Ensuring students develop SEL skills can help them deal with the effects of trauma in a healthier way. Along with SEL, schools and districts that employ a PBIS framework can easily create positive school climate with PBIS Rewards, allowing them to digitally manage their initiatives and recognize students for positive behavior. Finally, schools can reduce the likelihood of student self-harm through our Suicide Awareness & Prevention Curriculum, which provides critical suicide prevention training for staff at every level.

The prevalence of childhood trauma doesn’t have to translate into poor behavior, academic deficiency, or student self-harm. Trauma-informed teaching, paired with Navigate360’s solutions, can help put students on a path toward lifelong success! Contact us for more information!

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