The words "trauma" and "traumatic" have taken new meanings during the last century, including more than just in the context of war and its consequences for survivors. Some children experience trauma from an early age by living in abusive households or facing discrimination. Others can run into traumatic situations at school, such as being the victims of aggressive bullying or suffering an accident.
It may seem like it's hard to shelter children from these experiences nowadays, especially with a worldwide pandemic that has been altering the course of their lives with yet unknown outcomes. However, graduates of a Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction – Early and Middle Childhood Education program are well trained to address the challenges students face.
How Does Trauma Manifest?
Trynia Kaufman from Understood.org defines "trauma" as "a physiological and psychological response to any deeply upsetting or threatening situation." She points out that although most kids tend to recover from traumatic events without any long-term issues, some will continue operating in a high-alert mode long after the experience. "It can cause students to overreact to seemingly neutral interactions, like a teacher asking them to turn in a homework assignment," Kaufman writes.
Other signs of trauma-induced triggers include excessive aggression/outbursts, physical and emotional pain, and an inability to focus or accomplish what was assigned in class and falling behind on classwork. The last point is of extreme importance to educators since a child who struggles emotionally will have a harder time catching up with their peers if the problem is not addressed from the beginning. It may also imply that problems are piling up, leading the student to doubt their self-worth.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all, students may be coping with it differently. Teachers must assume that trauma will impact everyone differently. Using trauma-informed teaching strategies may help pupils to feel a sense of togetherness by being connected in a time of uncertainty.
How to Address Student Trauma
So, what does trauma-informed teaching mean? There are a few ways to go about applying this thinking to the classroom. First, understand that students may act somewhat out of character from time to time. If possible, give them space to vent or integrate activities in which they talk about what they're going through. Open communication is key. This may mean having a "check-in" at the beginning of the day, asking students directly about how they are feeling, and accepting that there may be days that you won't accomplish as much as you had hoped.
As the authors of Learning for Justice pointed out, "doing so helps students to maintain a sense of psychological safety — a sense that they can manage stress or connect with someone who can help them manage stress." It's also important to remember to be culturally sensitive, as some of these suggestions may cause even more stress in some students.
Another practical tip is to stick to a routine. When everything else seems to be falling apart, having a grasp on what is going on in school, albeit mundane, can be quite grounding. Any changes to the schedule should be communicated clearly, both to students and parents. Double-check that your pupils understood what you said.
Lastly, trauma-informed teaching calls for the human to come before the educator. School assignments cannot come at the expense of a student's mental well-being. Sometimes that means taking things slowly or stopping your class plan altogether and starting over. Students look at their teachers for inspiration, and often that means giving them the hope they need at the moment in order to push through, even if you are still struggling with the effects of the pandemic yourself.
Learn more about Barry University's Master of Science in Curriculum & Instruction – Early and Middle Childhood Education online program.
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