Teachers do amazing work every day. Students walk into their classrooms with a limited amount of knowledge, and after a semester or a year with the teacher, what they know is dramatically greater and they’re prepared to learn even more. That’s even more amazing when you consider that the average teacher works with a group of students whose life experiences and home lives are remarkably different.
Educators and scientists are learning, too, and one of the things they are increasingly realizing is how a student’s earlier life experiences shapes their ability and willingness to learn today. It can also affect their behavior in the classroom and even impact their test scores.
Specifically, previous trauma in a child’s life can have a significant impact on learning. By trauma, we’re referring to what are known as adverse childhood experiences (ACES), situations in children’s lives that have affected their sense of safety or well-being. Some examples include being the victim of physical or sexual abuse, living with a parent who is suffering from a mental illness or substance abuse, or being a witness to domestic violence in the home. Others you might think about include experiencing a high number of medical procedures, being bullied, or having been homeless. When children face severe or multiple ACES during their young lives, it can affect their ability to self-regulate their attention, behavior, and emotions; develop trust in adults; and understand, organize, and remember subject matter.
One of the most important ways schools can support students is through what’s known as trauma-informed classrooms. These are not special spaces. Instead, they’re ordinary classrooms that have been set up to create a calming, supporting environment for students who have experienced ACES, with fewer elements that are likely to distract or aggravate them, and with access to supportive resources when needed. It’s also important for teachers to understand strategies for helping students cope with their feelings in healthier ways.
Our team has created workshops based upon ACES research and other evidence-based models to give teachers and administrators practical ways to create and maintain classrooms that encourage learning and support the needs of students coping with the aftereffects of traumas. To learn more about our workshop, or to schedule our team as part of your school’s professional development program, contact us today.
Brittany Smith is one of Care to Change’s professional counselors. She focuses on helping young children and teens who have faced challenges find the guidance and support needed to become healthy adults.