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trauma informed teaching

What is “trauma-informed teaching”?

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

As a substitute teacher, you step into various classrooms, each with its unique set of challenges and dynamics. Among these challenges is the increasing need for trauma-informed teaching—a concept that has become essential in today’s educational landscape. But what exactly is trauma-informed teaching, and how can you, as a substitute teacher, incorporate its principles into your practice?

Understanding trauma-informed teaching

Trauma-informed teaching is an approach that recognizes and responds to the impact of trauma on students’ lives. It involves creating a classroom environment that is safe, supportive, and conducive to learning for all students, especially those who have experienced trauma. This approach is grounded in the understanding that trauma can significantly affect a student’s ability to learn, form relationships, and manage emotions. Trauma can slow down or completely hinder our ability to learn, and can manifest in students in a variety of ways. They might be more distracted, irritable, take longer to complete assignments and are more likely to get in trouble for behavior issues.

The basics of trauma-informed teaching

It’s important to be able to recognize when a student is struggling so that you can best support them. Oftentimes, however, students won’t speak up. While some students may join your class with preexisting trauma, it can occur at any time. Keep an eye out for changed behavior. For example, if a typically outgoing student becomes more reserved, or an organized student begins forgetting assignments, it might be time to look a little deeper.

While teachers and substitute teachers understand the importance of building positive relationships within their classrooms, these relationships are even more crucial to students who may be struggling.

Build and nourish relationships

Recognize and manage your own emotions, as this helps you support your students better when they are dealing with their feelings. Take the time to build trusting relationships with students. Show genuine interest in their well-being and be consistent in your interactions. When students share and open up, take the time to listen actively and validate students’ feelings and experiences.

It’s also important to communicate regularly with students’ families to share observations and gather suggestions. They might offer useful insights or seek your advice for home strategies.

Handling intense reactions

Be prepared for students to occasionally overreact. Give them time and space to calm down, assuring them that their reactions are a natural response to trauma.  Ensure the classroom is a safe physical and emotional space. This includes clear rules and procedures to handle emergencies and bullying, as well as fostering an atmosphere where students feel secure and valued. This means being approachable, consistent, and empathetic.

Supporting emotional regulation

Integrate activities that teach and reinforce coping skills, such as mindfulness, deep breathing, or journaling. Offering choices can help students feel a sense of control and agency, which is crucial for those who have experienced trauma.

This can look like creating opportunities for students to talk or write about their experiences, which can help you understand their behavior and respond empathetically. View student behavior as a form of communication, not a personal attack. Focus on understanding the underlying message rather than reacting to the behavior itself.

Recognize that challenging behaviors may be a student’s way of communicating unmet needs or expressing distress. Instead of punitive measures, seek to understand the root causes. Maintain a calm and consistent response to behaviors. This helps students feel more secure and understood.

Creating an inclusive environment

Be mindful of the diverse backgrounds and experiences of your students. Strive to create an inclusive environment where every student feels seen and respected. Incorporate culturally responsive practices that honor and reflect the diverse cultural backgrounds of your students.

Tips on trauma-informed teaching for substitutes

  • Learn about the students: If possible, review the class profile or speak with the regular teacher to understand any specific needs or triggers of your students.
  • Set clear expectations: Establish and communicate clear, consistent expectations for behavior and classroom routines. This predictability helps create a safe space for students.
  • Be observant and flexible: Pay attention to students’ cues and be prepared to adjust your approach as needed. Flexibility is key to responding to the needs of students who may be having a difficult day.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Focus on positive behaviors and provide regular encouragement and praise. This builds a positive classroom environment and reinforces desired behaviors.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek support: Don’t hesitate to seek support from school counselors, administrators, or fellow teachers if you encounter situations that require additional expertise.

Resources for educators

Learning more about trauma-informed teaching strategies can help teachers support their students. Check out the following resources for additional support:

Trauma-informed teaching is not about having all the answers but about approaching each day with empathy, understanding, and a commitment to creating a safe and supportive learning environment. As a substitute teacher, your role is crucial in this process. By incorporating trauma-informed practices, you can make a significant difference in the lives of your students, helping them feel valued and supported in their educational journey.

Remember, every effort you make to understand and support your students’ needs contributes to a more positive and effective learning experience. Keep learning, stay compassionate, and continue to be the steady presence that your students can rely on. Your impact is immeasurable.

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