In today's fast-paced and demanding world, the impacts of trauma are more prevalent than ever before. Students enter classrooms carrying a diverse range of traumatic experiences, from personal hardships to broader societal challenges. Ideally, educators understand and address these experiences, creating safe and supportive environments that foster healing and growth. This is where trauma-informed teaching comes into play, revolutionizing the way we approach education.
Trauma-informed teaching is an approach that recognizes the profound impact of trauma on students' social, emotional, and cognitive well-being. It involves understanding how trauma can affect learning, behavior, and relationships and using that knowledge to create a compassionate and supportive educational environment. Rather than asking, "What's wrong with this child?" trauma-informed teachers ask, "What happened to this child?" This shift in mindset paves the way for healing and growth.
Successful trauma informed teaching involves several key factors.
Creating a physically and emotionally safe space is paramount. Trauma-informed teachers establish clear expectations, routines, and boundaries while emphasizing trust and respect. They prioritize building connections with students, promoting a sense of belonging and security. Check out our blog post on fostering emotional safety in relationships to learn more on exactly how to do this.
Educators must develop a deep awareness of the signs and symptoms of trauma. This enables them to recognize potential triggers and respond with empathy and understanding. Being fully present with students is helpful here. By being attuned to the individual needs of each student, trauma-informed teachers can adapt their teaching strategies accordingly.
Trauma can significantly impact students' ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors. Trauma-informed teachers employ strategies that help students develop self-regulation skills. This may include mindfulness exercises, breathing techniques, and other tools that promote emotional well-being.
Collaboration between teachers, administrators, support staff, and families is vital in creating a trauma-informed school community. By working together, educators can share insights, experiences, and resources, ensuring a holistic approach to trauma-informed teaching.
Nonviolent Communication and How it Can Help
Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, can aid in re-routing the brain's trauma responses. Many people, not just students, react to fairly neutral external stimuli with exaggerated responses due to trauma in the brain. Our brains are designed to keep us safe, so when it perceives that a situation is unsafe, regardless of if that is true or not, it will typically trigger a reaction of fight, flight, or freeze.
The funny thing is (or not-so-funny thing), those trauma responses that happen when a person is not actually in danger tend to lead to disconnection, which sometimes takes the form of more trauma or even violence. In a school environment, this could look like a child getting into fights or screaming at a teacher or maybe completely shutting down and failing their classes.
Nonviolent Communication takes the trauma response out of our language by replacing blame and judgment with curiosity and empathy. When educators use NVC with students, they foster emotional safety, create deeper connections, and start to re-wire the trauma response in those students who have experienced trauma.
It works like this: when a person - let's say a student - has experienced a traumatic event, they may have fear, anxiety, anger, and a whole slew of other emotions around circumstances related to that event. If they are exposed to similar circumstances or stimuli relating to that traumatic event, their brains will try to keep them safe by responding as if there is another trauma that is about to occur, even if no harm is coming. By exposing people who have experienced trauma to those stimuli, and then repeatedly following it up with physical and emotional safety, the brain slowly starts to recognize that that particular stimuli is not necessarily a trigger for alarm, but rather something neutral.
(For a great read about ending the trauma epidemic via NVC, check out this book.)
NVC training for educators available. The teachers being trained in this trauma-informed practice have reported greater ease in their classroom environment with students, and even greater connection with co-workers. If you are an educator and you would like to learn more about this trauma-informed training, check out this Intro to Nonviolent Communication Training.