Trauma Informed Interventions

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

I honestly never thought much about how trauma impacts my student’s learning. Sure, I knew that certain events in my student’s lives impacted them, but I never truly understood to the degree that they do impact student learning. I knew that little Eric may have it rough at home. And Caroline spent the weekend with her mom so her day will be rough today. But what trauma did they face? What effect will that trauma have on their ability to learn? I never thought of these things.

Trauma is a response to a negative external event or series of events which surpasses the child’s ordinary coping skills. It comes in many forms and includes experiences such as maltreatment, witnessing violence, or the loss of a loved one. Traumatic experiences can impact brain development and behavior inside and outside of the classroom. It is estimated that one half to two-thirds of children experience trauma. The trauma doesn’t have to be directed at the child and it doesn’t have to be violent in nature. The child could witness an event, be threatened, become injured, or even experience losing a loved one.

It can result in a Lower GPA
Higher rate of school absences
Increased risk for drop-out
More suspensions and expulsions
Decreased reading ability
Single exposure to traumatic events may cause jumpiness, intrusive thoughts, interrupted sleep and nightmares, anger and moodiness, and/or social withdrawalany of which can interfere with concentration and memory.

Chronic exposure to traumatic events, especially during a child’s early years, can: adversely affect attention, memory, and cognition; reduce a child’s ability to focus, organize, and process information; interfere with effective problem solving and/or planning; and result in overwhelming feelings of frustration and anxiety.

Physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches
Poor control of emotions
Inconsistent academic performance
Unpredictable and/or impulsive behavior  
Thinking others are violating their personal space, i.e., “What are you looking at?”
Blowing up when being corrected or told what to do by an authority figure
Fighting when criticized or teased by others

As educators what can we do?

We can work on enacting change within our schools. You may not know it but trauma informed approaches are already at work within medical professions and judicial systems all over the country and even the world. The heart of these approaches is a belief that students’ actions are a direct result of their experiences.

The question we should ask is not “what’s wrong with you,” but rather “what happened to you?” 

Sensitivity to students’ past and current experiences with trauma we can work to break the cycle of trauma, prevent re-traumatization, and engage a child in learning and finding success in school

So what are some easy and practical ways you can practice trauma informed interventions in your classroom?

Give children choices. Often traumatic events involve loss of control and/or chaos, so you can help children feel safe by providing them with some choices or control when appropriate.

Increase the level of support and encouragement given to the traumatized child.

Set clear, firm limits for inappropriate behavior and develop logical—rather than punitive— consequences.

Recognize that behavioral problems may be transient and related to trauma. Remember that even the most disruptive
behaviors can be driven by trauma-related anxiety.

Provide a safe place for the child to talk about what happened. Set aside a designated time and place for sharing to help
the child know it is okay to talk about what happened.

Give simple and realistic answers to the child’s questions about traumatic events. Clarify distortions and misconceptions.
If it isn’t an appropriate time, be sure to give the child a time and place to talk and ask questions.

Be sensitive to the cues in the environment that may cause a reaction in the traumatized child. For example, victims of
natural storm-related disasters might react very badly to threatening weather or storm warnings. Children may increase
problem behaviors near an anniversary of a traumatic event.

Anticipate difficult times and provide additional support. Many kinds of situations may be reminders. If you are able to
identify reminders, you can help by preparing the child for the situation. For instance, for the child who doesn’t like being
alone, provide a partner to accompany him or her to the restroom.

Warn children if you will be doing something out of the ordinary, such as turning off the lights or making a sudden loud 

Be aware of other children’s reactions to the traumatized child and to the information they share. Protect the traumatized
child from peers’ curiosity and protect classmates from the details of a child’s trauma.

Understand that children cope by re-enacting trauma through play or through their interactions with others. Resist their
efforts to draw you into a negative repetition of the trauma. For instance, some children will provoke teachers in order to
replay abusive situations at home.

Although not all children have religious beliefs, be attentive if the child experiences severe feelings of anger, guilt, shame,
or punishment attributed to a higher power. Do not engage in theological discussion. Rather, refer the child to appropriate

What do you do in your own classroom to support your students who have been through a trauma?

I'd love to know!

FIVE Common Mistakes from the Special Education Classroom!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

As an admin, I visit several classrooms each week. I see great teaching, and I see not so great teaching. I’ve seen several running themes across my experiences. I’ve compiled the five most common mistakes I have seen in the special education classroom, in hopes to help you identify if
you’re making any and how you can fix it if you are! I promise it will make your life easier!

I think this one is HUGE in special ed. classrooms. Visuals should be included for schedules, embedded in classroom expectations, used in prompting, used within instruction and reinforcements, and to help calm students down. Visuals help promote independence and save time and energy of classroom staff.

My biggest pet peeve is staff presuming competence when a student is in crisis or even in instruction. In instruction, I’ve seen many teachers who ask students to read or even complete read aloud’s to students and presume that they know and understand all of the words without any visuals. It’s especially telling when students will complete work, and can’t answer any of the questions. Not always – but in many cases, we’ve broken it down to determining that the student didn’t have an understand what the actual meaning of the words were. Once we help shape that meaning, students have a better foundation to build comprehension on.

During meltdowns, we, as teachers, tend to revert to trying to talk kids out of their melt downs. Why on earth, when we use pictures during instruction for students, and give them visuals galore, do we STOP using them when they are in crisis mode!? We think we can talk them into stopping their melt downs. I’ll let you in on a secret to some- Visuals HELP! Even if we know that our kiddos can understand our words, visuals help to register the action, and many students are able to comprehend pictures before they can receptively understand and follow our words. I could go on and on honestly! But I’ll stop right here. J

I interview and help hire new teachers for our classes all the time. Another big mistake I see in interviewing teachers, and visiting classrooms, is teachers not implementing a classroom wide management system. When I ask this question in an interview, I typically get, “well I do different things.” When I press further, they can provide behavior interventions they would do for different students, but don’t seem to understand that even the students who don’t have behavioral issues can be a part of using the classroom wide management system plan.

Classroom wide management plans should be the foundation of your classroom. You can use clip charts, a token economy, behavior economy, any type of system where you are recognizing good behavior and providing a reinforcement for that good behavior across the classroom.

Here's an example of a token board:

Some easy websites that can get you started are…

& many of you are likely familiar with Class Dojo, but it’s worth repeating. 

I’m going to do some math for you here. Are you ready?

Down time + a room full of bored students = time for behavioral outbursts.

Do you see what I did there? ;)

But seriously, some teachers struggle to realize the importance of having their materials ready at the BEGINNING of the day, and NOT having students wait around while they prep parts of the next activity.

Just as important as being prepared it’s amply import to have a set schedule for students & Staff. It helps everyone know what to expect every day!

I’ve observed in plenty of classrooms where I struggle to not fall asleep, so I can only imagine the poor kids having trouble staying engaged as well. I’ve seen several teachers do the “stand and deliver” In special education- I can ALMOST guarantee you that your students are NOT auditory learners! So ADD some movement, some visuals, and let them get their hands on some manipulatives! Instead of letting students read about planets, having them watch videos, make a solar system model, sing songs, and research about the planets.

Do your students struggle with fine motor skills? There's no rule that says they have to do pencil paper activities everyday. Mix it up. Do some "Turn Its" or some dry erase marker fun. Just that change can make a task a bit more desirable for a student. That’s just one example, but think of how each activity you present can be presented in a different way to engage your students!

Let’s face it. As teachers, we are the decisive factors in our classroom. Haim Ginott said it best:


WHAT we say matters. HOW we say it matters. HOW we react the situations in the classroom matters. If a student only hears, “NO, STOP, DON’T” how do they know what they should be doing?  


That’s why we are in this profession. We want to be the difference makers in our student’s lives. We want all the work and interventions that we pour in to them to MATTER. So it makes sense that it starts with us.

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