Trauma Informed Teaching Strategies

Resources for Trauma-Informed Teaching

Trauma: An event, series of events, or a set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. [from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration]

Trauma-Informed Teaching: Teachers are proactive and responsive to the needs of students suffering from traumatic stress and make small changes in the classroom that foster a feeling of safety. [Jessica Minahan, ASCD]

“Trauma-informed educators recognize students’ actions are a direct result of their life experiences. When their students act out or disengage, they don’t ask them, ‘What is wrong with you?’ but rather, “What happened to you?’” [Huang et al., 2014]

What trauma might look like in postsecondary learners

  • Difficulty focusing, attending, retaining, and recalling
  • Tendency to miss a lot of classes
  • Challenges with emotional regulation
  • Fear of taking risks
  • Anxiety about deadlines, exams, group work, or public speaking
  • Anger, helplessness, or dissociation when stressed
  • Withdrawal and isolation
  • Involvement in unhealthy relationships

Core values of trauma-informed practices

  • Safety, both physical and emotional
  • Trustworthiness
  • Choice and control
  • Collaboration
  • Empowerment

Strategies for trauma-informed education

  • Empower students
    • Offer choices for participation and give students a sense of agency in their lives
  • Check in with students
    • Ask your students how they are doing and give them a way to reach out for help
  • Prepare for significant anniversaries
    • If a student mentions a significant date that is traumatic for them, make note of it and check in with them when that date comes up to see if they need additional help
  • Be sensitive to family structures
    • Change the language in syllabi and assignments to use terms such as “caregiver” or “guardian” instead of “parent” to respect differences in family structure
  • Avoid romanticizing trauma narratives
    • Ensure your lesson content does not depict trauma as romantic or desirable
  • Identify mentors and other support systems
    • Connect students to peers and adults who can provide additional support
    • Provide information to students about Student Counseling Services

Quick tips for encountering an obstacle or setback

  • Students are the experts on their own lives
  • Do not expect instant trust
  • Be absolutely trustworthy and reliable
  • Normalize and validate feelings that come from experiencing trauma
  • Ask students what will help them feel more comfortable and how you can best work with them
  • Realize and accept that difficult behaviors have probably served students well in the past and may be hard to give up
  • Maintain appropriate boundaries

Read more about trauma and trauma-informed practices in education