We look forward to the education conference we are co-hosting on September 28: How Educators Can Create Trauma-Informed Systems in School Communities, where we will address this critical issue, share concrete strategies to strengthen protective factors against toxic stress experienced by many students and, thereby, improve the learning environment for all students.
On average, every classroom has at least one student affected by trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, nearly 40% of students in the U.S. have been exposed to some form of traumatic stressor in their lives. Traumatic events – like sexual or physical abuse, domestic or community violence, death of a loved one – often cause children to have upsetting, overwhelming feelings that can negatively impact their daily life, development, ability to function and ability to recover. These experiences can lead to continuous states of grief, loss, abandonment, neglect, as well as persistent anxiety, fear, and depression.
For some students, school is the only place where they know they are safe and can form healthy relationships. However, students affected by trauma oftentimes have difficulty engaging at school, as they struggle to learn and connect with others. Their behaviors may come off as being defiant, demanding and disengaged.
Trauma-informed education shifts the question from “What is wrong with this student?” to “What has this student been through?” and “What does this student need to reach their potential?” When students are dealing with harmful relationships at home, educators and counselors may be the only people who help these students learn what a trusting, supportive relationship feels like. School personnel have a central role in children’s lives and they are uniquely situated to identify, respond to, and be impacted by students’ traumatic stress symptoms.
Acknowledge Alliance helps schools improve upon or expand their trauma-informed approach by working with both students and educators. It’s crucial to train educators on the trauma that students walk in with, so that they can support their students in the classroom with empathy and be aware of their challenges in terms of learning. Our team of mental health professionals also provides ongoing training and support to our counseling therapist interns, who in turn help students who are deeply traumatized. Many of the high school students we serve have been victims of violence and extreme physical trauma. Furthermore, it’s essential to support school personnel in not only dealing with students’ trauma, but sometimes, also their own.
The core of our work at Acknowledge Alliance centers on building resilience: the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy or even significant sources of stress. Being resilient does not mean that trauma has been erased and that further difficult situations won’t arise. But, by using resilience strategies, students and educators can gain better understanding of their situation, focus more on the positive, self-soothe in moments of distress, set healthy boundaries, let go of anger through compassion, develop a positive support system, and overcome tough times with grit and gratitude.