What is trauma?

The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines trauma as the response to an “event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” Traumatic stress can occur from a multitude of things such as bullying, school shootings, witnessing or being subjected to abuse, severe weather occurrences, homelessness, parents’ divorce, loss of a loved one, a perceived threat or anytime children feel in danger or constant stress. The unfortunate truth is 25% of our students have been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect learning and/or behavior (NCTSN Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators).  As a school community, it is imperative to understand trauma and how to help a child who has experienced it.

What does it look like in a student?

Trauma can look different on every student. This is because of the following:

  1. Kids are different and experience trauma differently. Some things that may be traumatic for one child may not even register for another child.
  2. Kids cannot always easily express their feelings related to trauma. This is because trauma is registered in the nonverbal part of the brain and therefore it can be difficult for children to understand and express themselves verbally.
  3. Responses to trauma often come out in how a child behaves. Some may become introverted, withdrawn or become depressed, others may act out with their words and actions, while others may suffer internally but it not show. These differences can make it extremely hard for educators, schools and districts to recognize when a student is in need and know how to help.

How can you help?

The great news is that regardless of whether a student has experienced trauma or not social and emotional skills can help. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions (CASEL).

SEL competencies are both important for students and for the educators charged with instilling these competencies in them. Educators need to be observant, empathetic, and use good listening skills to be able to recognize when a student is in crisis and need their help. If educators are not able to stay calm when triggered themselves, do not have resilience to get through the hard times, and do not possess coping skills and strong emotion management then they themselves will not be equipped to be there for their students.

SEL skills are crucial for all students, especially those who have experienced or are experiencing trauma. They need to have resilience to overcome their adversity, strong problem solving skills to recognize there is a problem and how to get help to fix it, and learn how to connect their behaviors to their thoughts and feelings. SEL helps students survive trauma and cope with anything life throws at them. Peers that have been taught how to look out for one another, show kindness and respect to everyone, and learn how to reach out to those who may be in need, can make it easier for students to overcome trauma. Integrating SEL into the fabric of the school’s culture is crucial for these students. For students not experiencing trauma these skills will still provide the tools they need to achieve more and be more successful in their futures.

Steps a school can take to be trauma-sensitive

Integrating a comprehensive SEL program is a huge first step. Schools need to make sure all stakeholders are on board, such as administration, teachers, staff, parents, community members, and law enforcement. Students should be given clear expectations and be reinforced with SEL messages daily in everything they do. They should be given a voice and a say in how things run at their school.

Trauma informed schools are those with open communication and where everyone knows their role. Staff is trained in how to implement their school wide SEL model and they should have consistent professional development opportunities to make sure they stay informed and educated on best practices. Having a committee designated to school improvement is helpful. This committee can make sure they are assessing ongoing needs, looking at patterns in student behaviors, coming up with plans for dealing with issues stemming from social media and making sure they are staying up to date on trauma services.

How TEAMology can Help

TEAMology is able to help implement all of these tools into your school. Our K-8 integrated SEL program weaves SEL seamlessly into the school day. We also provide a number of professional development workshops that include:

  • Bolstering Resilience in Students
  • Inspiring Confident Problem Solvers
  • How to Create a School Climate that Leads to Student Success
  • and more!

Contact Us for more information!