The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines trauma as a widespread health problem that “occurs as a result of violence, traumatic experiences abuse, neglect, loss, disaster, war and other emotionally harmful experiences.” Traumatic circumstances can occur singly as an acute event or occur repeatedly as with situations of neglect and abuse. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, working in coordination with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, more than 38% of children in each state have suffered a traumatic event ranging from the death of a parent to living with someone with substance addiction. These children then show up in the classroom, armed with their backpacks and pencils, as well as their fears and chronic – some experts say ‘toxic’ – stress. For this reason, educators nationwide must begin to foster trauma-sensitive classrooms where the diverse needs of children can be met with empathy and support. This is where trauma-informed professional development can come to the rescue.
Trauma can take a wide range of forms. As mentioned, it can stem from abuse and neglect at home, but it can also result from an assault outside of the home. According to recent statistics, four out of ten students report they’ve been the victim of an assault. One in four children say they’ve been the victim of a robbery or vandalism. Witnessing violence or other traumatic events like natural disasters can be traumatic for children.
To better address trauma-related issues, SAMHSA has developed a framework to help trauma survivors, families, and communities understand the connections between suffered trauma and behavioral health. With the trauma-informed approach, educators learn how to identify signs of trauma as well as how to foster an environment that does not re-trigger traumatic feelings and impede healing and recovery. For classrooms to embrace this approach, administrations are tasked to support the initiative, including making provisions for class training.
SAMHSA outlines six key elements of a trauma-informed approach that include:
In classrooms that embrace a trauma-informed approach to learning, there are some key benefits for the students as well as the instructor. All students, those suffering from trauma and those who are not, benefit from a supportive environment that emphasizes empowerment, trust, safety, etc. Students who are coping with traumatic events benefit from instructors who are tuned into their needs and trained to foster collaboration. This includes looping in professional mental health providers, such as counselors, when necessary to enhance support for students who may be struggling. Teachers benefit from this collaboration. Plus, additional training helps them better manage traumatized kids, helping children avoid negative behaviors in favor of healthier coping methods.
To develop a trauma-informed classroom, teachers need training. Both schools and individual teachers need to consider the many benefits of professional development in this field. For current teachers, continuing education that foster trauma-informed learning environments can help. With the right training and support, teachers can expect to be able to:
Online education modalities for teachers are becoming more prevalent. School districts that are contemplating this type of professional development must consider elements such as program cost, schedule, and expert legitimacy. While a conference may provide excellent introductory material on the topic for educators, it’s most likely online coursework that will give districts the building blocks they need to create a comprehensive program for their schools.
Online courses devoted to the topic and multi-session programs are good examples of post-conference approaches to trauma-informed professional development. There are platforms and resources available today to help teachers and schools develop trauma-informed classrooms.