Posted in Creating and Maintaining Learning Environment, Developing as an Educator, Planning Instruction/Designing Learning

How does a teacher intervene and improve learning for students who may have experienced trauma?

I just got done reading The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog. I was drawn to this book as a recommendation on Twitter. Wish I could remember who, but the title grabbed me as well as the reviews. As a classroom teacher, I look to improve my practice in assisting students who struggle with behaviors in class as well as improving how I respond or deal with these behaviors. I find my administrators have been less available to respond to behaviors, students often are sitting in the office with no real interventions, and I am left reflecting on what I could have done differently. This explains my journey to improve my practice of dealing with students who display challenging behaviors.

Perry’s book is a collection of case studies that describe experiences of child hood trauma and practices that helped children in maneuvering through life. The book was very informative and I did read it slowly – had to pace myself as it was really difficult to not become overwhelmed by the time it would take to assist each child. I am, afterall, not a therapist. Dr. Perry would investigate each child’s history and uncover when the trauma happpened and the impact on the brain’s development during that time. Often this resulted in later behaviors of immaturity, lack of connections with others, lack of ability to concentrate or learn easily, as well as many other student behaviors that can be seen in our classroom today. Our tendency as teachers is to say “What is wrong with you?” What Bruce Perry asked was “What happened to you?” He would get information through drawings or connections. His treatment was to take things slow, honor the personhood of each child, allow them some control, honor the place where brain development stopped, give caretakers tools for connecting with the child, and focusing on love and support rather than discipline. It’s all about relationships.

Here is a moving video clip from Correspondent Candid regarding Oprah Winfrey’s 60 minute interview of Bruce Perry, the author of The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog. It shows the impact of what school and a teacher can do to impact students who have experienced trauma. for further information

I have learned that many behavioral challenges that students display may be an indication of early trauma some of which I may never completely know. What I have learned from this book, video, and additional articles is that there are things I can do to help students that may have been affected by early trauma.

  • create relationships with students
  • create a safe and caring classroom
  • be predictable
  • make each student especially the ones with challenges feel valued
  • set up a safe place in class where students can calm themselves
  • teach students about the brain
  • teach students ways to calm themselves down and self regulate
  • be aware of teacher self care so you can model wellness and be calm yourself as you deal with difficult student behaviors
  • build a support system for this students using teachers, classmates, and families focusing on loving support rather than punitive consequences.

I do want to add though that safety is important for the student, teacher and other students in class. At any point safety becomes a concern – call for help. I also think it is important for teachers to enlist the help of others through the Student Study Team or other teacher groups where additional resources and help can be identified to help families or caretakers. One of the wonderful quotes from the book comes from Chapter 10, when Dr. Perry tells parents

"Your efforts are heroic. You must be exhasted. "

My actions so far included a new unit on The Brain and Growth Mindset. I have created a Draw and Label (SEAL technique) as well as the three day lesson plan script. I also have some links to other activity resources listed in the script. I have changed from a harsh bell to a meditation chime and work with students that upon hearing it – everyone including the teacher takes a deep breathe and remain quiet until the chime stops. I teach mindfulness using a book called – Master of Mindfulness, How to be your Own Superhero in Times of Stress, which is written by a group of 5th graders and shares some wonderful personal examples of stress that might be shared by students and techniques that have helped them practice mindfulness. I have created some small crocheted keychain fobs that hook on student backpacks so no matter where they go, they know that they are part of a school family and that there is a teacher that cares about them.

Golden Bear Family

I use a book called What Have You Done Davy? and teach the children about restorative practices so when behaviors happen, there is a way to make an amends and restore compassion and understanding within the classroom community.

I try very hard to elevate the status of these students in class and recruit the compassion and understanding of their classmates. This way we create a supportive community that will help students with challenges, grow and practice new ways of interacting with others. It takes lots of practice to learn anything new and so I really work to be patient and help classmates be patient as students learn new ways to interact. I am on the right track, but books like this one will keep me informed of how much we have learned about the formation of the brain and the affects of early trauma on brain development.

Here are some additional resources that you might want to explore or perhaps you could share some resources with me and other readers of this blog.

6 thoughts on “How does a teacher intervene and improve learning for students who may have experienced trauma?

  1. Hey,

    I love this article. If you are ever in Portland, please visit us at Tigard High School. We are using NME as a lens for our work. Thanks for posting!

    1. Alfonso,
      Thank you for commenting on my blog. My district is trying to educate our educators more about Brain Development and Trauma. We are getting better at assisting students and understanding the impact of trauma. Thank you for work with NME, and if I’m in the area I will certainly look you up to learn more.

  2. Wonderful, informative article. Just ordered Master of Mindfulness-had never heard of it until now. Thank you!

    1. Karen,
      You will really enjoy the book. It is written a lot like a graphic novel and students talk about some difficult situations in their life. They also provide links in the book to practice mindfulness meditation. My students LOVE LOVE LOVE the sharkfin breath mentioned in this book. I know you will enjoy it.

  3. Ran across this in Dr. Perry’s tweet. This is a book review, strategies, and resource list all in one! Thank you for adding your voice to the trauma-informed movement! I was a teacher educator for 33 years and am now an author of two books on childhood trauma–because it was never understood as the cause of difficult behaviors! I have shared your website with my former students, now teachers! Lots of great information and ideas! Thanks!

    1. Janyne,
      Thank you for getting the message out. I always hope to improve my teaching practice and assist my students. I know most teachers want the same thing. We will create a supportive community for all students by getting this message out.

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