Trauma Based Education

Understanding Trauma-Informed Education

It has only been in the last couple of years that ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) have found their way into the public consciousness, with Oprah even mentioning them in an episode for 60 Minutes. And because adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have such a significant impact on children, the concept has gained traction in the field of education. A new way of approaching education is being driven by growing awareness of the physiological, social, emotional, and intellectual consequences of trauma and adversity on kids. This new way of doing education is pushing reforms in our educational institutions.

However, there are some misconceptions about how these changes will take place. As the principal of Fall-Hamilton Elementary, a trauma-informed school that has received international recognition, I’ve faced numerous misconceptions regarding trauma-informed education during my five years in the position. As educators work to better understand the impact of trauma, including childhood abuse and neglect (ACEs), and how building and maintaining positive relationships can act as a buffer against the negative effects of trauma, it’s critical to understand what trauma-informed education is and is not, and what it is not.


1. Trauma-Informed education is primarily concerned with a student’s Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) score: The ACE research, undertaken by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is credited with raising public awareness of the possible detrimental health consequences of adverse childhood experiences in adulthood.

Although increasing knowledge is a desirable thing, trauma-informed education is not only concerned with students’ Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) scores. We should utilize the ACE study as a springboard to dig deeper into understanding the wide range of adversity that children are exposed to, but which was not included in the study. For example, studying the influence and impact on kids in our schools of variables such as racism (explicit, implicit, and systematic; and microaggressions), poverty, peer victimization, community violence, and bullying is part of trauma-informed education.

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2. educators must be aware of a student’s ACE score to successfully intervene: Educators don’t need to be aware of a child’s ACE score or specific traumatic experience to deliver effective interventions. Being trauma-informed is an attitude that educators should adopt while working with all students.

Researchers have discovered that having secure, supportive relationships fosters a sense of belonging in kids, which is important for all students but especially important for students who have suffered trauma and are healing from their experiences. Every conversation, according to clinical psychologist Karen Treisman, “represents an intervention in some way.” As instructors, we must be aware of the importance of everyday positive interactions and affirmations for our kids and how to maximize their effectiveness.

3. Trauma-informed education is about repairing children: Our children are not broken, but our educational systems are. Using trauma-informed practices does not try to repair children; rather, it aims to fix dysfunctional and unfair systems and structures that alienate and abandon kids from vulnerable communities.

If we think of our trauma-informed approach as a means of repairing children, we are operating from a deficit mindset. Many children are doing the best they can under the circumstances. We must meet all students where they are and assist them with relationships that are strong, secure, and loving, regardless of their background.

There must be a clear awareness of the difference between punishment and consequences for trauma-informed instructors to refrain from imposing sanctions on pupils who engage in improper behavior. Consequences, by definition, are intended to educate, whereas punishment is intended to cause personal misery.

It is critical to establish clear boundaries and expectations, and then to provide kids with the assistance they need to succeed. When pupils fail to fulfill expectations or violate boundaries, it is critical to teach and re-teach the expectations through a system of consistent repercussions and consequences for failure.

5. You may need to intensify a disagreement with a pupil to bring them back to reality: It is the concept of remaining calm while assisting a learner who is experiencing anger, irritation, or fear to calm him or herself. A dysregulated adult will be unable to regulate a similarly dysregulated child. Increasing our degree of intensity is not a method that will yield results.

As a substitute, we should employ tactics that respect the student’s emotions and desire for space while also allowing their systems to quiet down in a safe environment. First and foremost, we must ensure that we are truly calm before validating the student’s experiences and emotions to determine the fundamental cause of those emotions.

This does not imply that the student should be excused for any terrible decisions he or she may have made; rather, it implies that the student should be in a position where they can understand and accept any repercussions, which is important if they are to learn from the experience.

The following are examples of what I mean by “teacher,” “therapist,” and “psychotherapist”: It is important to remember that trauma-informed work is a journey rather than a destination as educators investigate the nuances of being trauma-informed. However, this does not imply that teachers must perform the duties of professional therapists. Our role in assisting students who have experienced trauma is to emphasize relationships, just as we do with all of our students. We hope that the strong, secure, and caring relationships that we develop with our students and their families will serve as a conduit for healing and increased resilience.