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The Importance of Trauma-Sensitive Schools

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Melissa Bolton

National Council for Behavioral Health

The Importance of Trauma-Sensitive Schools

December 12, 2016 | Trauma | Trauma Resilience | Comments
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“Students who have experienced trauma have a completely different worldview,” Pamela Black, educational consultant for trauma-sensitive schools.

Walk into any classroom in America and take a look around. You’ll likely see an average of 30 students, a teacher, some colorful decorations and an assortment of notebooks and backpacks. Know what you won’t see? You won’t see that 24 of those 30 students have likely experienced trauma.

Normally children use their mid-brain and cortex for socioemotional learning, regulation and thinking. However, children who have experienced trauma operate primarily through their lower brain, which relates to survival. Trauma-affected students may feel chronically unsafe and worse, are unable to use the socioemotional skills necessary to convey these feelings to concerned adults.

The result? Decreased school performance — children who experienced an adverse childhood event are 2.5 times more at-risk for placement in special education classes, suspension, poor grades and language difficulties.

Tips for creating a trauma-informed community include developing a self-care culture among school staff, increasing cultural competency, empowering students through a growth mindset and encouraging collaboration and transparency among faculty, parents and students.

An important component of trauma-sensitive schools is their punishment policies. Trauma-sensitive teachers know that students’ traumatic experiences often manifest as misbehavior in the classroom. Instead of taking students’ actions personally through punitive punishment, trauma-informed teachers adopt a more compassionate and constructive approach to discipline. For example, knowing that excluding a child is retraumatizing, a trauma-informed teacher would not remove them from the classroom but instead focus on increasing the child’s sense of connection and belonging.

A new National Council Trauma-Sensitive Schools Learning Community, which begins in January, will give schools access to tangible change strategies. School faculty can collaborate with faculty from other schools, through the National Council Learning Community, to share best practices and learn how to build a core implementation team for change. The goal for all schools it targeted outcomes, like decreased critical incidents, higher staff retention rates, decreased detentions and fewer arrests.

We need to ensure quality education for all students — and limit trauma’s bad outcomes, like throwing children and teens into the school-to-prison pipeline, drug and alcohol misuse, illness, mental health problems and more.

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