OCM BOCES-Responsive Classroom® Blog: Trauma in the Souls of our Classrooms – Part 1 of 3

As a certified trainer for the Responsive Classroom I have to take part in professional development each spring with the developers of the Responsive Classroom approach, the Center for Responsive Schools. This year we were given an academic choice (a Responsive Classroom practice) to delve deeper into either the topic of Equity or Childhood Adversity. I decided I was most interested in the topic of childhood adversity. Ironically, the Winter 2017 issue of neaToday was devoted to “Trauma: The Effects on Children and Learning.

Now upon completion of this professional development, I now feel all educators need to learn more about this topic because through my own research I discovered that the problem is bigger than we might think! According to an article called How Teachers Help Students Who’ve Survived Trauma (Lehey, 2014) from The Atlantic “One in every four students currently sitting in American classrooms have experienced a traumatic event.”  This statistic was startling to me and learned too this statistic is even higher in impoverished communities. It made me wonder how many teachers with a class of 25 students would know that most likely six students in their classroom have experienced trauma.

According to the Adverse Child Experience study shared in Lehey’s article, “ACE Study suggests that adverse childhood experiences such as neglect, abuse, household violence and substance abuse “are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death as well as poor quality of life in the United States.” Furthermore, these negative outcomes are dose-dependent, meaning that the more adverse experiences a child experiences, the higher their subsequent risk for negative outcomes.”
(Lehey, 2014)

According to Neena McConnico, Director of Boston Medical Center’s Child Witness to Violence Project“Young children exposed to more than five adverse experiences in the first three years of life face a 75 percent likelihood of having one or more delays in language, emotional, or brain development.

McConnico further explained that children who witness violence often have trouble in the classroom because their post-traumatic stress can manifest itself as inattention, sleep dysfunction, distractibility, hyperactivity, aggression, and angry outbursts. Alternately, these children may withdraw and appear to be unfazed by their trauma. “These children,” McConnico added, “are the children I worry about the most, the ones who sneak under the radar and don’t get the help they need.”

Teachers who suspect their students may be dealing with violence or other traumatic situations at home can be an essential source of stability and support.

McConnico outlined a few ways educators can help students cope, learn, and heal from the effects of a traumatic childhood:

  • Prioritize Relationship
  • Listen
  • Create Opportunities to be successful
  • Establish Predictable Routines
  • Incorporate Downtime” (Lehey, 2014)

At this point in my own research I was making so many connections with the practices of Responsive Classroom. “Knowing the children we teach – individually, culturally, and developmentally – is as important as knowing the content we teach” is one of our Guiding Principles. Responsive Classroom teachers use practices such as Morning Meeting, Teacher Language, Closing Circles, Interactive Modeling, Rule Creations, Quiet Time, Energizers, Interactive Learning Structures, and Academic Choice to build relationship with their students and provide them with a positive and predictable learning environment that supports learning. These practices are so important to support all students in the classroom. “Students feel safe when limits are understood when teachers express clear timelines, expectations and consequences” according to Lehey. This is exactly what Responsive Classroom teachers do from day 1 of the school year. Lehey concludes her article with a point that personally all teachers need to hear, “For the 25 percent of American children who experience trauma at home, school may be their only harbor from that tempest, and teachers represent so much more than purveyors of facts and figures. To these kids, teachers offer reassurance that not all adults are harmful, that even if they are not made to feel worthy at home, there are people in the world who will value, support, and love them.” (Lehey, 2014) To Read Full Article – CLICK HERE

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “Trauma in the Souls of our Classroom” Next month!

Patrick Shaw @pshaw63
OCM BOCES – Staff Development Specialist
Certified Responsive Classroom® Trainer by the Center for Responsive Schools (Developers of the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching and learning)


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