Some of us have goals of starting or returning to school after treatment. What does that look like for each individual? As humans, we all come to the classroom with different learning styles and life experiences. Too often those life experiences include significant trauma.
Estimates are that six out of ten men and five out of ten women experience trauma at least once in their lives, and for many people, that trauma occurs before they start college. These statistics show how important it is for education to be trauma-informed whether it takes place in the classroom or through remote learning.
What does trauma-informed education look like? When education is trauma-informed, teachers and other members of an educational institution have made a point to acquire an accurate understanding of the diverse and often severe effects trauma can have on survivors. They then use that knowledge to better assist survivors and make them feel comfortable and supported in an educational setting.
The following five principles of trauma-informed education were created by Maxine Harris and Roger Fallot to help people better understand how to create a safe and supportive educational environment for those who have experienced trauma.
#1. Ensure Safety
Trauma survivors need to feel protected from potential harm. Even if there is not any immediate harm presenting itself, individuals who have endured trauma may view the world as unsafe and unpredictable in any situation, no matter how “safe” it appears. Although this is something that trauma treatment can help them work through, healing is a long process that requires patience from not only the survivor but also other people in their lives.
Educators can do many simple things to create a better sense of safety. For example, they can arrange a seating chart that ensures none of the chairs face away from any exits and keep the assigned seating the same throughout the semester. Creating weekly or even monthly academic schedules and sharing them with students can help them feel calmer because they know what to expect. Stability and routines can go a long way in promoting feelings of safety.
#2. Establish Trustworthiness
Trauma may have disrupted some students’ lives to the point of chaos, and one thing that many survivors seek following these intense disruptions is planning and structure. Setting clear boundaries and giving clear instructions is a great way to develop trust with students. It is important to create a plan and follow through with the plan. Keeping routines and sticking to schedules can help an educator establish trustworthiness with their students.
#3. Prioritize Empowerment
Many trauma survivors have experienced a significant lack of control in their lives. They have not been able to decide what happened to them, which may have damaged their sense of agency. As a result, they may experience a variety of mental health issues.
Trauma-informed educators can help them regain a sense of control. Giving the students options and letting the choose based on potential outcomes can give them a sense of empowerment, which can make a significant difference. After students make their choices, it is important to give them positive feedback for taking control of their future, even if it is just for a class project.
#4. Emphasize Collaboration
After experiencing trauma, individuals can feel useless and powerless. In a classroom setting, it is crucial to ensure all students feel engaged in the learning and the classroom environment. Making a point to encourage quiet students to speak up in class and assigning projects and discussions that can engage students in groups can help trauma survivors gain confidence about active class participation.
#5. Maximize Choices
Maximizing choices go hand in hand with prioritizing empowerment. When we give students the freedom to choose what they would like to do instead of telling them what they need to do, it builds confidence.
Trauma may have taken a lot of the student’s agency away, and they may not know how to make choices for themselves. Practicing this in a safe classroom environment can translate to confidence in the outside world and help them in their personal and professional lives.
Effects of Trauma
Students who have gone through trauma may withdraw from participation or have a more difficult time understanding instructions. These students may not feel confident in trying to answer questions or their ability to perform to their full potential on assignments. Students may lash out with disproportionately strong emotions, and they may do things for reasons that may not make sense to educators.
At times, it can be difficult to effectively communicate with them. Trauma creates many barriers for both the student and the teacher trying to get through. It is important to be patient, have empathy, and understand that these students are doing the best they can with what they were given.
It’s too late to reverse the trauma that these individuals experienced, but it is never too late to help them work through the hardships and come out the other side as the incredible human beings that they are. Taking the time to make simple changes to accommodate these students can change their lives for the better.
Trauma-informed education can help survivors regain a sense of safety, control, and confidence in classroom participation. Individuals who have endured trauma often withdraw from learning environments. They sometimes feel as though they are not good enough to participate in academic exercises and feel as though they do not have a choice in their futures. Trauma can create intense emotional and physical walls for people, but trauma-informed education is a tool that can break those walls. Everyone deserves a great education, and teachers should be patient, empathetic, and understanding of the hardships trauma survivor students have gone through and may currently be going through. It is important to remember that trauma is inflicted on others, and they didn’t choose their situation. Everyone learns differently, and students who have been exposed to trauma may need that extra attention or consideration. To learn more, call 449 Recovery at (949) 435-7449.