Friday, February 23, 2018

Trauma Informed Schools

Let's get down to the real stuff from the beginning, teachers: According to the ACES Studya child with four or more “adverse childhood experiences” was 32 times more likely to be labeled with a learning or behavior disorder than a child with no adverse childhood experiences. And plain and simple, an adverse childhood experience means a child who has experienced trauma.

Our students have often faced situations that feel insurmountable and virtually impossible to tackle. But - with the right support and resources, a school team can become trauma informed - able to recognize signs of trauma, and respond to the effects of trauma, in a way that is empirically validated and backed by behavior science.

Often as special educators, we are on the front lines of assisting children with challenging behaviors.  When trauma is the culprit, what do we do? 

First off - LEARN. 
There is now tons of research and resources surrounding the treatment of children who have experienced trauma. Some of my favorite resources that have really helped me feel equipped and to learn and grow are below.

Psychological First Aid - This was originally practiced by first responders when they responded to a crisis. It's been found that these practices can really help educators respond to their students, too! The foundations of PFA are:

  • Listen — Let your students know you are available to listen to their concerns and talk about the event. Listen attentively and pay attention to what students say.
  • Protect — Help students feel protected by continuing to listen to their concerns. Talk to them about what is being done in the school and community to keep them safe.
  • Connect — Reach out to your students regularly. Communciate with other people involved in your students' lives, such as parents, grandparents, or other teachers. 
  • Model — Be mindful of your verbal and non-verbal cues. Commit to your own self-care. Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation.
  • Teach — Help your students reach and achieve small goals and applaud these achievements. Remind students that time will help.

Attachment and Trauma Network - This network of supports is very teacher-friendly but also offers lots of parenting resouces so we can best support our students caregivers. This group has also started offering a yearly national conference that is solely dedicated to becoming trauma-informed!

Support for Students Exposed to Trauma - Signing up on this website gives you a host of resources to implement an intervention program for late elementary through early high school aged students. The entire program is evidenced-based too - woo hoo! :)

Then Learn Some More!

When I first began exploring the concepts of childhood trauma, I went to my favorite resource - BOOKS! Personally, these two books, still, have given me the most tangible and applicable information. 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk is a unique take on trauma, and what it does to your body. It has given me so much insight of how adverse experiences don't just create fear and anxiety, but so many other physical effects. Having this knowledge has helped me hugely in meeting my students where they're at. 

Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene is the first book I had ever read about children with significant behavioral challenges and trauma. Greene coined the phrase, "Kids do well if they can", which has truly become the mantra of my current school! Greene has written many other books, all worth reading, but I have found this one is the most explicitly related to us as special education teachers.

 As a special educator working in a residential treatment center, all of my students have experienced extreme situations of trauma. Personally, I have found that the best things I can do are to give space, validate feelings, problem solve, and listen more than I talk. These resources have helped me grow in my ability to support the unique social emotional and behavioral needs of my students that need me most. How do you connect and support your students who have experienced trauma?


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