9 Trauma Sensitive Classroom Strategies You Must Practice!

What does a trauma sensitive classroom look like?

Trauma Affects the Brain

Trauma Sensitive Classroom Strategies

Trauma sensitive classroom begins with the question: what is trauma? “Trauma is an exceptional experience in which powerful and dangerous events overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope” (Rice & Groves, 2005). The experience doesn’t have to be life-threatening to be considered trauma, or to trigger a trauma response. Adverse childhood experiences can have a significant impact on child development. Some examples of adverse childhood experiences can be: parental divorce, witnessing domestic violence, death of a loved one, physical abuse, sexual abuse, parental incarceration, homelessness, and bullying. Educators need to be prepared to support students who have experienced trauma, even if we don’t know exactly who they are. Students with toxic and trauma stress are more likely to struggle with academic success. Trauma doesn’t discriminate. It happens across all communities, cultures, and socio-economic status populations. Students are resilient, and within positive learning environments they can learn, grow, and succeed. What does a trauma sensitive classroom look like? The following are strategies for creating a trauma sensitive classroom.

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Trauma Sensitive Classroom: Learning Environment?

A trauma sensitive learning environment is an environment that is safe, predictable setting for students to learn, thrive, and grow. It is an environment where all students are safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Some big ideas to create a trauma-sensitive learning environment is the following four things:

  1. Self-awareness: What are our fears that cause us to react? We must care for ourselves before we can care for others.
  2. Relationship: We must foster strong interpersonal relationships before we can take care of others in a healthy way.
  3. Belief: We must communicate to our students what we believe about the trauma and how we are going to support them through it.
  4. Positivity: Life is a wonderful journey. We must find the positive in each situation so our students know they can overcome trauma.

What does a trauma sensitive classroom look like? It is crucial to the recovery of someone suffering from trauma that you are creating a trauma sensitive classroom.

Trauma Sensitive Classroom Strategies: Self-Awareness

Awareness in a Trauma Sensitive Classroom

The teacher is in charge of the setting and the environmental tone of a space. The following are strategies in support of self-awareness:

  1. Stay true to your values. Your values keep you true to your integrity and beliefs. Ask yourself the following questions: Do you know what your purpose is? Why did you choose a teacher career pathway? Why have you stuck with teaching? What do you want to look back on as your best achievement? Post these answers somewhere you can see them, and visit them often when you feel frustrated or down.
  2. Stay out of the “crazy making”. When a child gets whisked up into a tornado, do not get whisked up in the tornado with them. You need to stay in a healthy headspace. In order to stay in our healthy headspace, remember the following: What are the things that set you in a tail spin (triggers)? How is the current tornado the child is experiencing making you feel in that moment? What is the child really bothered by and what does the child really need from you? Calmly and patiently respond appropriately. What are you going to do to defuse the situation? If the situation is predictable it is preventable. Be sure to prepare students for any unforeseen changes that are coming, or could happen, develop relationships with your students, avoid power struggles, provide a class buddy, have routines and expectations set-up.
  3. Do NOT make it personal. Childhood trauma can affect the brain, development of the brain, emotional growth, and impede academic progress. Students behaviors a driven by needs that haven’t been met. It is not about YOU, although it may feel this way at times. To keep the focus on your students ask yourself: what is my role in this situation? Who am I working for? What is about to drive my behavior? If it is fear, anger, or any toxic emotion, it’s time to check yourself, and remind yourself that it is not about you.

Trauma Sensitive Classroom Strategies: Attend to Your Relationships

Nurture your Relationships

If we truly nurture the relationships we have with our students, colleagues, and those at home, this would solve most of the reactive problems that we have. Instead of interacting with colleagues and students, try connecting. Strong relationships are at the core of safe, predictable, trauma-sensitive learning environments. It’s always possible to build authentic relationships and connections with even the most difficult students and colleagues if we are in our good head space. Here are 8 questions you can use to begin to build strong relationships with students:

  1. What is your name?
  2. What are you interested in? What are your hobbies and interests?
  3. How do you prefer to learn? (or test them)
  4. What are your goals?
  5. What is your favorite subject? What subject are you best at? What is your most proud accomplishment in school?
  6. Who is your favorite staff member at this school?
  7. How often do I interact with this child?
  8. What interventions have worked?

Trauma Sensitive Classroom Strategies: Forget Labels

Forget Labels in the Classroom

What does a trauma sensitive classroom look like? Teachers tend to pass on negative messages about a students behavior that automatic makes us think, “well it’s out of my control. Every other teacher couldn’t help this kid”. Stay away from this type of gossip and conversations that will cause you to prejudge a student. The things we cannot control are: attendance, services granted to student, how our colleagues view us, a parents behavior, how the student chooses to behave under stress. What we can influence, is the way we treat a student, the amount of attention we give to the student before they struggle, our attitude and communication with our colleagues, how we interact or respond to an upset parent, and the environment we provide for the student. We do not have control over others, we only have control over ourselves.

Trauma Sensitive Classroom Strategies: Our Emotional Response

It’s Ok to not Be Ok

We can only control how we respond. Can you think of a time you reacted to a problem in the classroom and made it worse? Here are some strategies to use when you feel yourself getting angry, or becoming reactive:

  1. Take a deep breath. Examine your concerns about the situation and remind yourself that it isn’t about you.
  2. Ask three people who are generally non-reactive how they would handle the response.
  3. Do some research on trauma response strategies.
  4. Talk to an administrator, mentor, or coach for a brainstorming session
  5. Reference a creating a trauma sensitive classroom reference guide.

Trauma Sensitive Classroom Strategies: Not Damaged

What does a trauma sensitive classroom look like? Childhood trauma is very real, and it significantly can change or impact a student or ourselves. However we can be forever changed without being forever damaged. We should acknowledge the trauma but also acknowledge that students can still survive, continue to grow, and lead a normal life.

Sometimes We Are Not Ok. And That is Ok

Life is not all puppy dogs, and cotton candy, everyone knows that. It’s ok to get students to acknowledge these realities, and find ways to manage them. Ask students the following questions:

  1. What are you struggling with right now?
  2. What something that’s impeding or stopping your success or happiness in the classroom?
  3. Why is this stopping or interfering with your happiness?
  4. Who is a healthy person you can talk to about it?
  5. Come up with some healthy ways to cope with the situation.

When we address these very real issues we are creating a trauma sensitive classroom environment.

Watch Out for Fear!

Ask yourself often, why am I responding this way? Am I responding with the worst case scenario in mind? Try to think of a positive outcome occurring rather than focusing on a negative or worst possible case scenario happening. Some behaviors that could signal emotional, relationship, or control needs are: manipulative, bossy, dramatic, aggressive, clingly, attention-seeking, oppositional etc. What does a trauma sensitive classroom look like? If you receive these behaviors: provide a break, give them a stress tool, give them a safe-quiet space, give the student a job, connect them with another adult or student, provide some choice, provide a healthy snack, give a few quiet minutes.

Be Patient

What does a trauma sensitive classroom look like? Sometimes it is bests to offer forgiveness even to yourself. Give students a different way to see you, foster connections and safety with others, use gratitude to appreciate the things that you do have. Stay away from blame. Let’s look at some examples. If a student laughs too loudly in the hallway, do we pull them aside and redirect them to a desired behavior, such as asking them to take a deep breathe, or do we pull them aside to reprimand them, or send them to the office? The first is a better response and will be welcomed with a more positive reaction.

Give Yourself and Others Some Grace

How to Create a Trauma Sensitive Environment

Yes, people want to be acknowledged for the positive things they do. It is part of being a human. Give out compliments. We are in the profession for giving, this is an area we shouldn’t fall short. A compliment should:

  1. Praise provides meaningful feedback that supports a students develop a strong identity and sense of self-worth. This can help build their resilience for when they go home to a less than desirable environment.
  2. Praise should be genuine. If you provide praise that is not, the kid can stop trying.
  3. If we praise growth, energy, and flexibility, our students will develop a healthy sense of self.

Give yourself some praise! When we take the time to focus on what we are doing right, not wrong, we feel better and more competent. If we spend days caught up in our problems or mistakes we run the risk of harming our own self-confidence, which puts us in a place for burnout.


A Trauma Sensitive Classroom

Practice these 4 self-care strategies for a better, healthier life:

  1. Health: exercise for 40 minutes or more at least three times per week.
  2. Love: Give yourself compliments everyday
  3. Competence: Learn or try something new once a week
  4. Gratitude: Everyday write down something you are grateful for, and within 24 hours, demonstrate that gratitude somehow.

If you follow the strategies above you will be well on your way to fostering resilient learners strategies for creating a trauma sensitive classroom.

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What are some of your tips for Trauma sensitive classrooms? Write in the comments below.

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