HOW YOU CAN CREATE A CLASSROOM ENVIRONMENT FOR STUDENTS THAT IS RESPONSIVE TO TRAUMATIC EVENTS.
BY ADRIAN MICHAEL GREEN
School shootings, acts of terror, violence and other events that make constant headlines can cause a lot of anxiety and confusion for students. Things that happen inside your very own school that has a large impact can even cause students to think about their safety and well-being which is normal after a tragedy has occurred. Here is a list of best practices you can use to provide a trauma informed environment for your students.
Reassure students that they are safe. Emphasize that one of the safest places they can be is in school. Be sure to know what the safety protocols and procedures are in place at your school and that every student knows at least one adult they can go to if ever they feel threatened or at risk. This can be a counselor, dean, team lead, nurse, anyone willing to take on that role in order for students to know who they can be in direct contact with.
Create time and space to be available to listen and talk. Understandably you have specific content to teach and help guide students through. However, if the classroom is triggered and feels tense it would be extremely helpful to acknowledge what has happened and check-in with students with what they need. You can choose to set a time for how long you and your students talk about the incident and then return back to the content.
Use your community agreements in this moment. Even just hearing a teacher say something and giving them permission to come to you if they want to talk after class helps their feeling of psychological safety.
Encourage students to share their feelings. To be able to pinpoint their emotions normalizes sadness, fear, anger, stress and other responses rather than feeling them inside their body and not knowing that what they are experiencing is natural. Encouraging students to share helps them manage, accept, and express themselves without them thinking something is wrong. Validate their feelings. If they want to give a one-word answer and not go deeper, that is okay. If they don’t want to talk, thy can write, draw or even have quiet time to reflect.
Encourage students to act. If students are feeling a sense of helplessness or are unsure what they can do, let them know that they can always do something big or small that can serve as an outlet but also restores their sense of control. Through purpose learning, this can be identified as a teachable moment to inform students that this is a need in the world that they can do something about. You might offer some suggestions like writing to a local newspaper or politician, host a class meeting, raise money or learn more about the issue.
Limit media exposure. Depending on what happened, the majority of media outlets will be reporting on it and it can feel overwhelming. Talk to your students about their use of social media and television/phone devices to intentional choose not to always be on it so they don’t get continually triggered. Run a lesson with them about media literacy so they can sift through the situation more informed and with care.
Know when to seek outside help. There are times when you as the teacher will feel directly impacted or don’t know how to engage. Be sure to know what resources are available to you and ask for help +/or send students.
Maintain a normal routine. Take care of yourself and remind students to practice self care. Maintaining normal routines includes getting school work done and attending class so not to get behind and add more stress but do what you can to remind students (and yourself) to get rest, eat well, take care of one another.
Selected References and Resources
Nine Tips for Talking to Kids about Trauma (2015) Kira Newman. After a tragedy students will have questions. This Greater Good article gives nine ways on how to respond.
School Shootings and Other Traumatic Events: How To Talk To Students (NEA) Cindy Long. The National Education Association provides helpful resources and critical response guides.