There are three kinds of trauma that affect people; acute trauma from a single event, complex trauma from exposure to multiple traumatic events, and chronic trauma from repeated exposure to stressful events like bullying.
An adult or child could experience trauma due to any event they find emotionally or physically harmful or threatening. Every person has their own ability to cope, process, and react from trauma and something that is traumatic for one person might not be traumatic for another. Some children might not be aware they have experienced trauma or name it until they are into adulthood.
Students that are experiencing or have experienced trauma may show signs like aggression, negative thinking, being on high alert, difficulty expressing emotions or with self-regulation, or even physical symptoms.
One difficulty that educators face currently is being able to identify every student who has experienced trauma and how to be best prepared to support students who are struggling. Educators should use trauma-informed teaching techniques that will benefit all students. Trauma-informed teaching is not a specific curriculum but a way to build relationships with students and help them emotionally and academically. It is important especially in this pandemic that teachers address the areas that are affected by trauma; sense of safety, connectedness, and feelings of hope.
Below are some trauma-informed activities for students during this Covid-19 time.
Consistent Schedule and Behavior System
Teachers should maintain the same schedule every day in their classroom. Students who have experienced trauma thrive with predictable routines, roles, structures, and responsibilities. The expectations for student behavior should also be clear for students to learn and adhere to. It makes it difficult for students who see multiple teachers every day if each teacher has a different way of responding to behavior and administering consequences.
Community Circle for Relationship Building
Teachers can use community building exercises daily in their digital or in person classrooms to help build social and emotional skills. This is the time where students can cultivate relationships and make connections with other students. There are many songs, community building games and activities that happen during this time. Some schools use a part of their community circle times for the social and emotional curriculum.
Teachers can help students identify their assets and strengths every day through affirmation statements. Some children hear positivity spoken to and about them at home but some hear more negativity. Affirmations is an activity that teachers can use to help students start the day on the right foot. Teachers can have all students repeat the same affirmation each day or they can customize the affirmations for each student. When students understand this activity they can choose the affirmations they believe of themselves to say each morning without teacher prompting. This will help students change their inner negative self talk and become more positive. Some affirmation statements are, “I am smart. I am kind. I am capable of anything. I am powerful beyond measure. I can choose my attitude.”
Students can build their sense of connectedness by engaging in compliment circles where students and staff compliment each other. In earlier grades, this can be one sentence complimenting a chosen student of the day. For older students, compliment circles can grow to compliment academic effort on a selected work piece where students give supportive feedback on a students’ effort and skill.
Teachers can model how to share and express emotions through journaling. Teachers can share both positive and negative emotions and experiences and how to appropriately share and express those feelings. Journaling can be structured with a prompt given by the teacher, gratitude journaling, or free journaling where students choose their own topics. Teachers can use student journals in one-on-one conferences to build relationships and help students understand their emotions.
Students can engage in partner activities, small group projects, or connect with outside community members for projects. These activities will help students contribute to others, become comfortable in sharing their ideas, learn how to respectfully disagree and work well with others. Teachers can help students and families feel valued, loved, and appreciated by going one step further and doing things like drive-by visits, video messages, video calls, or special dates with the teacher.
Teachers can help students build their self confidence by allowing students to lead parts of lessons. Certain parts of the daily schedule lend themselves to student teaching like songs, circle activities, warm ups, review, closing activities and games. Teachers can use a rotation schedule or choose students based on academic and behavioral performance.
Teachers can build competence, advocacy skills, and resilience by allowing students to try different class activities, quizzes, tests, or projects. An easy way to do this is to have 10-15 minutes at the end of every week where students choose which activity or test they would like to have a redo on. Allowing the opportunity for second chances reinforces that during trying times that seem out of your control that there is always something you can do better yourself.
SEL Lessons and Activities
If your school has a Social and Emotional Learning Curriculum, it provides teachers with read-alouds and activities that tie to the theme students are learning that week or month. If your school or district does not have a SEL curriculum, there are many activities that can be done with students to build their social and emotional skills. Simple activities like breathing, yoga, and mindfulness activities can help students who have experienced trauma.
It is important that during times like the Coronavirus when so many more of our students are experiencing trauma, that educators layer trauma-informed activities into daily classroom instruction to help our students cope and thrive.