As schools closed their doors to slow the spread of the coronavirus last spring, Teaching Tolerance reached out to their community to learn what support could be helpful at the time. Among the most common responses was a call for trauma-informed practices to support students over the coming weeks and months. These are the highlights of that response:
Creating the Proper Context
Maintaining and communicating predictable routines is critical. Doing so helps children to maintain a sense of psychological safety—a sense that they can successfully manage stress or connect with someone who can help them manage stress.
Don’t presume that children understand your routine will be different due to current events. Explain the changes and provide them with a predictable agenda. This will reduce student stress and increase their confidence that significant adults in their lives can take care of them.
Ensure that the information you give to students is digestible. Moving to remote learning which means having fewer direct interactions can make assignments feel more overwhelming and daunting—particularly when multiple directions are given at once. Break down directions into smaller bites and encourage students to ask questions.
And finally, don’t assume that each student’s experience with remote learning or their understanding of a global pandemic is similar. Encourage students to share what they comprehend and do not comprehend about the situation. Clarify misinformation and connect students with other important adults (such as family) who help them feel safe.
Prioritizing Relationships and Well-Being Over Compliance
Remember that students may be dealing with a variety of home life situations while trying to maintain their school work, and there are myriad reasons they may be reluctant to share about why they aren’t completing assignments. Teachers should make it clear that, regardless of challenges, students’ efforts are appreciated.
The primary focus of educators should be on relationships. While it is essential to ensure students have structure and are held to reasonable expectations, they will fare better if they feel their teachers care about their well-being just as much as their behavior and assignment compliance.
This can be displayed by creating relational rituals before checking on distance learning assignments with students. For example, students and teachers can share a tough moment and a hopeful moment that they experienced during the day.
Key Ways that Educators Can Mitigate Childhood Trauma
Sense of Safety
Children feel safe when they believe that their needs and the needs of those whom they care about will be met, and thus there will be safety and protection from harm. Due to the situation, many students have had their sense of safety compromised.
To foster a sense of safety, educators can:
- Reach out and offer to connect with their students, or suggest that they speak to another trusted adult if they have safety concerns.
- Encourage students to call friends or family members.
- Help students facilitate virtual playdates or social gatherings to restore some normalcy.
- Encourage families and caregivers to refrain from watching the news in front of their children, maintain as much of a regular family routine as possible, and plan activities such as long walks or bike rides, or playing games together.
Connectedness means to have relationships with those who both understand and want to support you. Between social distancing and the closure of many public places, it behooves educators to find creative ways for students to feel connected.
To foster a sense of connectedness, educators can:
- Ask students about something fun they have been doing lately.
- Greet students by name and create a touch-free or virtual ritual (similar to a handshake, hug, or high five) to foster connection.
- Organize students into small groups to work on projects or activities online by phone, or through the use of web-conferencing sites that allow students to see, hear, and interact with each other and their teacher in breakout rooms.
- Talk directly about the importance of connecting with others.
Hope is the expectation and feeling that things will work out alright. Right now, many students (and educators) are feeling discouraged, hopeless, or angry. Feeling a great sense of loss from missing usual activities makes it more difficult to feel hope.
To encourage a sense of hope, educators can:
- Encourage students to connect with a family member or someone in the community to ask how he/she remained hopeful in troubled times.
- Share stories of hope and help from this current crisis or other times of crisis.
- Share a positive affirmation or a hero’s strength. Encourage them to discuss it and elicit from others what it would take to achieve the same.
Inform students that people find help in different ways such as through spiritual beliefs and practices, and discuss with them what brings them hope.