Schools create trauma-informed learning environments by promoting the wellness of all students, ensuring they feel safe and supported physically, socially, emotionally, and academically. They do this by promoting healthy interactions among students and staff, and teaching social, emotional and self-regulation skills. These skills and interactions are even more essential during this time. The relationships with educators and staff are often a substantial asset when motivating students to reengage with learning.
Educators, staff, and administrators may consider supporting a trauma-informed learning environment by enhancing previously existing relationships with students and families. It is important to acknowledge that families are all in different places with respect to safety, support, and resources to assist with learning, and incorporating activities that strengthen social, emotional and self-regulation skills.
Educators and school staff
Educators and school staff can consider the following strategies during this time to help create and strengthen a trauma-informed learning environment:
- Establish a routine and maintain clear communication. These are crucial first steps. Then, empathize with the difficulties resulting from routines that have already changed due to current events. Explain that there will likely be future changes to routines, and that you will communicate ahead of time when it is possible to do so.
- Provide information in digestible amounts. Moving to remote learning can make assignments feel more overwhelming and daunting. Present directions in smaller bites when necessary and encourage students to ask clarifying questions.
- Encourage students to lead the way in sharing what they do and do not understand about their current situation. You can do this by asking open-ended questions, such as, “How are you feeling about not being in school?” Such questions can lead to insight without letting assumptions guide the conversation. Approach students’ experiences with curiosity. Aim to clarify misinformation and connect students with other important adults (such as family members) who help them feel safe.
- Show appreciation for students’ efforts to complete assignments. Remember that students may be dealing with many different home life situations while trying to maintain their academics. Students may feel embarrassed to share that their personal situation impacts their ability to complete assignments. They may also be feeling vulnerable sharing their home with their classmates online.
- Actively focus on inclusive attitudes during the shift to distance learning.Now, more than ever, students should feel valued and welcomed regard less of their backgrounds or identities.
- Create, and utilize, relational rituals before checking on distance learning assignments with students. For example, students and educators can share one tough moment, one hopeful moment, or one new lesson they learned about themselves during the day. Participating in these rituals can help educators build and maintain connection despite their physical distance from their students.
- Provide opportunities for students to complete social emotional learning practices and wellness activities that affirm their competence, sense of self-worth, and feelings of safety. These activities can promote self-regulation when students are feeling stressed and provide a healthy sense of control over controllable aspects of an overwhelming situation. Some possible social emotional and wellness practices can include the following:
– Promote self-awareness by having students review a feelings chart and share how they are feeling. To help them communicate their feelings, encourage the use of a scale, such as, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how bored are you feeling?” or “Are you feeling a little lonely, somewhat lonely, or very lonely?”
– Recommend quick mindfulness or self-soothing exercises such as smelling a flower (to practice taking big, deep breaths) or completing four-corner breathing prior to completing the lesson. Four-corner breathing simply involves inhaling deeply and exhaling deeply four times. Students can complete this breathing exercise by standing up and taking one inhalation and one exhalation while facing each of the four corners in a room.
– Model and normalize a range of emotions by giving students opportunities to express themselves in nonverbal ways. This may include drawing a picture about how their lesson or day is going or showing the most important thing that happened to them that day.
– Have students complete a virtual or long-distance appreciation or gratitude circle. Encourage students to write one thing they appreciate about classmates. Add your own, and then give each student the appreciations written about them.
Administrators can consider the following strategies during this time to help create and strengthen a trauma-informed learning environment:
- Encourage teachers and staff to focus on socio-emotional learning practices in addition to setting academic expectations.
- Share community resources with teachers that support family well-being (e.g., food and housing) and encourage them to share concerns about families with administration.
- Develop and share pandemic plans (now and future) with teachers; create a plan to continue to share with the entire school community upon return to face-to-face learning.
- Allow space for reflecting on what teachers/staff have learned about their students from seeing their home lives during virtual learning sessions.