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A Trauma-Informed/Responsive Classroom

I have been asked recently, by both a teacher and a school social worker,
what might be put into place in a classroom setting to help children who may have experienced trauma either known or unbeknownst to the teacher or anyone at the school. They were asking about both the physical environment as well as the social/emotional feeling in the space. I have been doing some research regarding what a trauma-informed classroom/school might look and feel like. And I offer these suggestions which will help all students, truly, not just those who have trauma histories.

1. Relationships: it is very important that teachers build relationships with their students as individuals. And this can be accomplished by greeting each student every day at the door. And acknowledging each child as they leave the classroom at the end of the day.
2. Have a calm classroom. Be aware of the lighting, do not overcrowd the walls to avoid overstimulating the students. Maybe have a classroom pet; e.g. rabbit, guinea pig, gerbil. Of course, jelly fish are very calming, but also rather extravagant, probably.
3. Do teach breathing techniques, a few minutes of sitting and deep breathing. For young children, have them blow up balloons, blow bubbles.
4. Have a safe/calming space with a rug, large pillow, beanbag chair.
5. Teach about stress and how to identify stress in our bodies.
6. Teach affirmations to counter the negatives that kids here both at home and school. And work positive affirmations of characters into the lessons when reading stories.
7. Get to know your students so that you can recognize when a student isn’t okay…what’s predictable is preventable.
8. Have a schedule that you can stick to each day. For so many students who come from trauma backgrounds, the unknown, the unpredictable causes a stress response of freeze, fight, or flight. If you know ahead of time that there is going to be a change in the routine, let your students know. Minimize the unpredictable and that includes if you know that you are not going to be in school the
following day and there is going to be a substitute. Give them the information and try to assure them by addressing any concerns that they have.
9. Teach emotional expression (a part of social/emotional learning).
10. Be flexible with assignments so that you can meet the individual needs of your students.
11. Sensitivity to the different cultures of students and frankly the differences in families. You may have students who are in foster care. You may have adopted students. This awareness will go a long way in preventing triggers in individuals (aka meltdowns).
12. Give your students options whenever possible particularly students who seem to need to have control.
13. Self Care: remember that you have to be okay for your students to be okay. Know your own triggers, know your own limitations; it’s important to recognize when you’ve been triggered and seek some support for yourself.

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