How to Teach in Times of Extreme Trauma Like Now

homeschooling trauma education

Image via Shutterstock.

By Ileana Rodríguez

April 22, 2020

With schools closing until the end of the year, and everyone experiencing loss and uncertainty, trauma-informed education offers useful tools for parents and educators.

Most students across the United States will not return to school before the summer break. Over the weekend, the state of Florida announced that schools would remain closed the remainder of the school year. Classes have moved online or lessons sent home via paper-packets. Parents and teachers are continuing their kids’ education virtually, facing challenges and frustrations.

COVID-19 has forced us to learn about the complex relationship between a new illness and pre-existing conditions that make some more vulnerable than others to the ravages of the disease.

A similar relationship can be drawn between school closures –with the corresponding move to remote and virtual learning– and the prevalent inequities in access to quality education for low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities.

Schools that lack coherent curricula, were not effectively integrating technology already into instruction, did not have effective family engagement approaches, and overall operated with low expectations for their students, are struggling to meet student learning needs.

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The lesser opportunities for Latino students to be successful at school under normal circumstances are aggravated by the unequal access to the technology and connectivity for online learning and the damaging effects of isolating quarantines, potentially setting them back even more.

Students in quarantine may be experiencing feelings of sadness, boredom, fears, frustration, and anger and research shows that students who are experiencing a traumatic situation are simply unable to do their best work. School administrators and teachers are being encouraged to integrate trauma-informed education practices into online courses and how they are engaging with kids and families.

What Is Trauma-informed Education?

Trauma-informed education is an approach that seeks to engage kids and families in ways that are sensitive to the possibility that they are experiencing trauma. Some kids may be doing just fine, but this approach assumes that others don’t.

Schools that are sensitive to trauma understand how it impacts the growing brain and kids behaviors and provide the kinds of support that allow all students to thrive. It is an approach that has been used with some success, reducing issues with discipline and improving learning outcomes.

Trauma-informed education is a serious undertaking that takes planning, but leaders in the field have shared some steps that educators and parents to support students: 

Routines. Educators and parents are encouraged to promote a sense of safety for students by establishing predictable and manageable routines. This however, does not mean lowering expectations or entirely giving up on providing rich educational experiences for students as much as possible.

Genuine connections. Relationships and connections are also a good way to promote a sense of belonging to reduce the negative effects of isolating quarantines. This is possible in an online environment, where educators may provide some social contact among students and with their teachers.

Sense of hope. Providing a lifeline to normalcy and a sense of hope is also an essential function of virtual learning during school closures. Students believe of themselves what adults believe of them and as much as they tell them is possible. Therefore educators and parents play a critical role in holding the banner of belief in their kids and hope for the future.

Self-Expression. Writing has also been found to be helpful to process and reduce the impact of traumatic experiences. For Latinos specifically, writing about the emotions of the difficult experience has been found to be helpful, more so than writing about the facts of the situation.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we already had monumental work to change the course of educational outcomes for low-income, students of color and students with disabilities that impact learning.

The basics of trauma-informed education along with holding high and hopeful expectations are the least we can do for our students during these trying times.

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