What Is Trauma?
Trauma is not an event but a response to a stressful experience that can leave a person feeling hopeless, helpless, and fearful for his or her life, survival, and safety.
Studies estimate that two-thirds of all students experience a traumatic life event before the age of 16. Trauma can affect a student’s ability to learn, form relationships, and function appropriately in the classroom.
Grief vs trauma: Trauma is not the same as grief. Click the link at the left to see a chart that juxtaposes their differences (adapted from The National Institute of Trauma and Loss of Children).
Common Traumatic Experiences
Typically, traumatic experiences evoke feelings of extreme fear and helplessness. Some common examples include, but are not limited to, the following experiences:
- child abuse and maltreatment,
- school-related violence,
- gang violence and threat,
- criminal victimization,
- medical trauma,
- domestic violence,
- community violence,
- parent/self incarceration,
- foster care/out-of-home placement,
- parent divorce/separation, and
- parent drug use.
It is important to note that everyone has different reactions to traumatic events. Reactions are based on one’s age, personal resiliency characteristics, and other supports in one’s life, to name a few. Therefore, not everyone who experiences traumatic events will be traumatized.
Trauma-Informed Care and the PBIS Framework
Trauma sensitive schools (TSS)
- realize the prevalence of trauma in students' lives;
- recognize the impact of trauma on academic and behavioral functioning;
- respond by providing universal and multi-tiered supports that are sensitive to each student's unique needs; and
- are mindful of creating policies, procedures, and practices that avoid re-traumatization.
Trauma sensitive schools (TSS) incorporate these five fundamental principles into the vision and fabric of their schools:
- School staff members must understand the prevalence of trauma for young people and the impact it can have on their behavior and learning.
- Staff members working in TSS adopt a perspective shift that enables them to see the behaviors of their students as a way to get a need met, rather than being compliant or disobedient. Only after this perspective shift is one truly trauma-informed.
- Staff members of TSS understand that relationships heal and build school connectedness. Relationships are also an important strategy for building trust with students who have been traumatized so that they feel safe in school. Staff takes the time to get to know all students, regardless of their behaviors, in an effort to help them heal from difficulties or make them feel that they belong in school. TSS also understand that academic and personal achievement is optimal when students have healthy relationships with adults and peers.
- Caregiver capacity also needs to be addressed in providing a collaborative staff climate in which the staff is supportive of one another and works as a team. Staffs at TSS are also encouraged to engage in regular self-care to remediate the effects of vicarious trauma and teacher burnout in order to prevent compassion fatigue, the loss of empathy for those in your care.
- TSS encourage empowerment and resiliency to make students feel safe in school through interventions that teach students how to use sensory input to stay calm, using sensory calming strategies in a self-regulated way. They also use programs schoolwide that incorporate four domains of resiliency: relationships, self-regulation, academic competence, and health and wellness. TSS ensure that all prevention and intervention strategies or programs incorporate these four areas, focusing on educating the whole child, rather than just focusing on academic instruction. Educators working in TSS also take the time to personally reflect on the cultural relevance and sensitivity of their practices to ensure that school programs and interventions do not traumatize or re-traumatize students.
All interventions can be delivered using the framework for PBIS:
- Tier 1: classroom-wide intervention within the four domains of resiliency listed above
- Tier 2: small-group focus on alleviating mild symptoms or reinforcing interventions at Tier 1 (application)
- Tier 3: intensive ongoing individual supports
Again, to ensure intervention effectiveness, school staffs need to experience a perspective shift from perceiving behavior as a way to manipulate or act disobediently to seeing behavior as a way to communicate needs and get needs met. The fidelity of interventions is not reliable without training. Please contact the Violence Prevention Team (see below) for enquiries regarding schoolwide training.