How Trauma Informed Schools Use PBIS for Interventions & Support


Students and families are affected by traumatic experiences in various ways. Each day when a student comes to school they bring those experiences with them. The effects of trauma, no matter how large or small, impact student learning and academic achievement.

Students and families are affected by traumatic experiences in various ways. Each day when a student comes to school they bring those experiences with them. The effects of trauma, no matter how large or small, impact student learning and academic achievement. In these cases, school leaders and teachers become responsible for providing supports and interventions to address trauma.

Trauma can be catalyzed by societal events, family experiences and/or individual peer-to-peer interaction. The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study explores the impact of compounded stressors on the course of a child’s life. The findings from this study validate the need for positive intervention for all students affected by trauma. PBIS allows schools to be more intentional about trauma-informed practices and how to support the whole child in schools.

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PBIS interventions provide trauma-informed schools with direction on progressive approaches to holistic support for students. Administration and staff learn to recognize when students are having a difficult time and work to provide the appropriate support. Critical to this practice is developing a school culture that respects and supports students as individuals. Trauma-informed schools are strategic in developing response plans, mandating intervention trainings and expecting clear communication with anyone involved, aligning with the tiered system of support in a PBIS program.

Additionally PBIS promotes positive social and emotional learning interventions. Trauma-informed schools are using these methods to inform their instructional practice. The PBIS framework equips schools with the tools necessary to implement evidence-based strategies to improve outcomes for students. Combining the two allows a school to address trauma as a part of their PBIS program.

Using PBIS in Trauma Informed Schools

Below are a few ways to use PBIS and trauma-informed practices together.

Awareness is critical in a trauma-informed environment. Educators must increase knowledge of trauma in the school community and its impact. Teachers and staff should participate in workshops and trainings that advance their knowledge of trauma and teach appropriate responses. As staff are able to identify signs of trauma, they can better engage students and families.

An important part of learning about trauma is developing language to discuss the impact it has on students. This increases the recognition of the experiences and promotes care. At the school level, awareness can be facilitated by professionals specializing in trauma-care, like school social workers or counselors.

Staff should also focus on developing an understanding of each individual student. Understanding begins with relationship building and communication. This helps teachers and support staff to identify instances where a student may be responding to trauma. Traumatic experiences impact student’s social and emotional behavior responses. Being able to read behavior signs will help teachers in providing targeted responses. For example, if a student is displaying abnormal behavior the teacher can deduce whether or not this is a response to something happening outside of the classroom. Instead of punishing the student, the teacher can determine what additional interventions are needed for support. PBIS helps to ensure consistent implementation of the interventions and provides a way to measure the overall effectiveness.

Leadership in schools plays a critical role in developing a culture of respect and positive reinforcements. Administrative teams must be strategic in building action plans that build on trauma-informed best practice. They are responsible for the school-wide plan to identify traumas, implement interventions and provide continuous aid. For example, instituting clear policies at multiple levels within the school or ensuring students are aware of and can properly access resources. Leaders also facilitate the shift from punitive consequences in response to behavior, to constructive interventions.

PBIS provides guidelines around staff participation, student social and emotional supports and opportunities to build a positive school culture. For trauma-informed schools, PBIS provides the schoolwide structure for identifying trauma and appropriately responding to it. PBIS promotes equity and positivity while keeping both students and families at the center of the work.

Here at Kickboard we have seen many schools support their trauma informed program by using our PBIS mobile app, web platform, and professional development services to support their project based learning initiatives. Kickboard helps teachers to track student behavior, identify cultural trends and implement systems to improve behavioral results.