Teacher Reflection: Trauma-Informed Teaching
Audrey Jackson, the 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, teaches fifth grade inclusion at the J.P. Manning School in Jamaica Plain. For more about Mrs. Jackson and her work around trauma-informed teaching, see her blog, Learning Generously.
When you walk into my classroom, you are likely to see kids sitting on brightly colored stabilizing cushions to limit fidgeting, a child squeezing a handgrip, and a few students wearing noise buffering headphones. You would also see students talking in productive and collaborative ways and asking clarifying questions as they teach and learn together. What's unnoticeable is the fact that over 60 percent of my students have an individualized education program and that about a third of the class has substantial emotional and behavioral needs, often as the result of trauma.
I team teach 5th grade with Victor Joyner at the Joseph P. Manning Elementary School, a Boston public school that focuses on including all children and specializes in supporting those who have experienced trauma or mental illness. In my classroom, the phrase "consistency is calming" describes much of what we do. We develop and practice routines, we teach and value teamwork and peer teaching, and we normalize social-emotional and academic supports for every child. One resource we use for teambuilding is Classcraft, a role-playing game. I also do a lot of work with kids to help them understand their brains and development; for example, we use the image of a red mohawk to help kids make sense of their stress network and ways in which they can respond to stressors.
Trauma-informed teaching acknowledges that while teachers cannot function as social workers and health care experts, teachers' actions should be informed by an awareness of trauma and its impact. Without that awareness, students might not get the right supports to facilitate their learning. For example, symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders and with exposure to trauma are incredibly similar, but effective responses can be incredibly different.
If you're interested in learning more, the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative has information designed specifically to support quality practices in schools. In addition, awareness and innovation around social-emotional learning has been increasing in Massachusetts. Social-emotional learning is not the same thing as trauma-informed practices, but there are many areas where they overlap. The all-volunteer organization SEL4MA has resources and events, and you can also follow and engage in the state's work with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning's Collaborating States Initiative. The Collaborative's resources include this brief on what instruction in social and emotional learning actually looks like.
At Manning, we have spent the last seven years refining and improving our trauma-sensitive school and inclusion model. We use a combination of approaches and programs, but the heart of the work is our belief that every child belongs and can thrive at school.
Note: More information about ESE's work around social and emotional learning is available online.