Trauma-informed teaching: Research-based strategies to help students who have endured trauma.

Trauma-Informed Teaching: Research-Based Strategies to Help Students Who Have Endured Trauma

Not only do 60% of American adults retrospectively state that they experienced some form of childhood trauma, but 26% of children experience it before their fourth birthday. While these statistics from the National Center for Mental Health Promotion are all terribly sad, they’re a reality that you must acknowledge and come to terms with as an educator who uses trauma-informed teaching.

It’s easy to become frustrated with students that exhibit maladaptive behaviors, but doing so is counterproductive. It can lead to these behaviors becoming worse. More importantly, it can exacerbate a student’s mental health issues and stop them from coping with trauma in a productive way.

Here, we’re going to talk about some research-based classroom management strategies that you can use with your students. Read on to become a more sensitive and effective educator!

Use Proactive Research-Based Classroom Management Strategies

Unfair and harsh behavior management is never acceptable when working with students with trauma. Instead, you’ll want to lead by example and make yourself out to be someone that they can respect. Read on to learn how!

Greet Students Daily

A daily greeting may sound like a small and insignificant thing to do, but this is far from the case. In fact, studies show that greeting students at the door each morning increases classroom engagement by 20% and decreases disruptive class behavior by 9%.

Saying hello and making eye contact with a smile is essential to making students feel welcome and valued in the classroom. It takes about one minute out of your day and is shown to make a world of difference.

However, it is important to note that you should not force a handshake or fist-bump on students who do not want one. Many of these students may suffer from touch-based trauma and not want to make physical contact with another person. Forcing them to do so is not only disrespectful of their bodily autonomy, but it also may lead them to act out.

Supervise Actively and Be Attentive

After students are seated and the school bell rings, you’ll want to supervise them as they perform their daily tasks. Don’t just sit in a corner grading papers or performing other tasks. Active engagement with students will ensure that they remain focused on the task at hand and interested in what they are doing.

Make sure that you are attentive to what students need as you supervise them. Help them with tasks that you notice them struggling with by listening to and addressing specific concerns.

Listen to Student Needs

In addition to paying attention to what students need help with during specific tasks, you’ll want to give them designated time to ask questions. This will ensure that everyone is on the same page. For some specific research on why this is beneficial, click here. However, the bottom line is that no one will fall behind and everyone will feel as though their questions and input matters.

You also should consider meeting with each student occasionally one-on-one and ask them what they think that they need in the classroom. This will provide you insight as to how you can improve your teaching methods to make it more engaging for students. If you notice trends in what students are saying, your life will become much easier!

Clarity and Consistency

Some of the most important measures that you can take for effective trauma-informed teaching are clarity and concision. Here, we’re going to discuss how you can communicate expectations and rules clearly as well as the importance of consistent discipline. Read on to learn how this can be done so that your students know what they need to do while in the classroom.

Make Expectations Accessible

The University of Washington stresses the importance of posting course materials and deadlines with advance notice in a way that students can access.

Whether you choose to post a syllabus and schedule on a website or on the bulletin board in your classroom, it’s important that students are able to access it whenever they need to. Doing so will allow them to prioritize the deadlines that are approaching fastest. They will then have no excuse not to know when things are due as these dates will have been placed in a place that they can consistently access.

You also will want to include expectations for classroom behavior in the same location that you post the syllabus. If you don’t want students using their cell phones or tablets while in class, for example, include your cell phone policy on the syllabus. It also is a good idea to write out what penalties will be imposed for breaking the rules- will the phone be confiscated on the first offense or will a warning be issued first? Including this will ensure that penalties are fair and consistent.

Set Quantifiable Goals

Research has also indicated that setting quantifiable goals is important within classroom settings. Scholars from the University of Bradford indicate that if people don’t have a clear picture of what they are working toward, they are less likely to put in the effort to achieve goals. This is, even more, the case for students who are young and have underlying mental health issues.

While ‘score highly on the upcoming biology test’ may sound like a good goal, it is unclear. What is a ‘high’ score? Some students may interpret this as a passing ‘C’, while others may strive for an ‘A.’ This goal is simply too subjective to be effective.

A better goal would be: ‘Get a B on the upcoming biology exam in two sections and get an A in one section.’

This is clear and informative. It gives students a concrete goal to strive for.

It’s also critical that the goals you set are realistic. If the bulk of your students have been getting Cs and Ds on homework assignments, then stating that they should get an A on the exam is unrealistic. Asking them to strive for a C+, on the other hand, is.

If students perceive your goals as unmeetable, they aren’t even going to try to meet them. Moreover, when students fail to meet (unrealistic) goals time and time again, they will become discouraged and likely to act out.

Assess and Reassess

Even if you think that you are setting realistic goals, you may want to assess and reassess expectations when students fail to meet them.

If over half your students are not meeting the quantifiable goals that you set, it’s possible that they weren’t as realistic as you had originally thought. On the other hand, if most students are constantly exceeding the set goals, you may want to set higher goals so that they push themselves to improve both academic performance and behavioral performance. This is a great way to motivate students to do the best that they can in all areas.

Furthermore, if students are not meeting behavioral goals, you may want to reassess your methods of implementing them. Have students failed to meet the dress code on a consistent basis this month? It’s possible that you have not provided them with adequate motivation to do so.

Positive reinforcement for students who have met these expectations is a great way to be positive and motivational. Furthermore, the revocation of privileges for those who do not meet behavioral expectations, such as time on computers or tablets or individual choice of seats, will motivate students to follow posted policies.

Be Consistent With Expectations

Another thing to keep in mind when implementing trauma-based teaching strategies is that expectations need to be implemented consistently and fairly.

If you seem to be playing favorites- a totally normal and human thing to do subconsciously- it will demotivate other students who think that they are not good enough. For this reason, you will need to assess and reassess your own behavior at intervals to ensure that this is not happening.

Furthermore, it’s natural in any classroom setting that some students will be ahead of others. While it is important to acknowledge the hard work of those who are ahead, you can’t hold them to higher standards than the other students outright. You’ll need to find different ways to reward positive behaviors and academic performance. If they perceive expectations as unfair, they’re more likely to become unruly and not want to work.

To learn more about implementing consistent expectations for teaching students with trauma, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter. Here, we will give you further insight into trauma-related behaviors that your students may exhibit so that you can set realistic and consistent expectations.

Begin Trauma-Informed Teaching Today

While students who exhibit maladaptive behaviors can be difficult to connect with, it’s more important than ever that you do so. Trauma-informed teaching is essential in classrooms, where teachers must be sensitive to student needs and ideas.

Now that you know some research-based classroom management strategies that you can implement in your curriculum, it’s time to get started. Teachers, this means that you should sign up for the free monthly managing student behavior series that we discussed in the above section.

Furthermore, if you are a school counselor, special education director, school psychologist, or behavior interventionist, schedule a 30-minute online personal demo of our software application. This application will help you to create legally-defensible behavior intervention plans in under an hour, so get started!

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