As schools across the country continue to shift as a response to Covid-19, some classes will have a blended learning component which means teachers and staff must be prepared to serve students through several modalities, while others are shifting to virtual or opening schools for in-person learning. Flexible learning environments have been important to the pandemic response as well as the implementation of trauma-informed practices to support students and families during this time.
Trauma-informed practices in the school are not just for students who have experienced specific traumatic experiences but instead are an holistic approach to student support. The steps to implement trauma-informed practices directly impact the school environment by making it more inclusive for all students. Trauma looks different for each student and it’s important that schools are prepared to address unique traumas identified or unidentified within the school. Not every student will be open about their experiences during the pandemic. Take great caution in engaging students and create spaces that allow teachers and staff to proactively address student needs.
Traumatic experiences can impact students in a way that may change a student’s behavior. Teachers and staff should be mindful of these shifts as students change learning environments and must be prepared with trauma-sensitive practices in response.
10 Point Checklist for Trauma-Sensitive Classrooms
Establish classroom routines that students can adjust to as they transition back and forth between settings. This is important for students as they reconnect with the classroom space and others. Clearly communicate the routines and lead by example. Give students time to process the routines by communicating in small chunks and with time to practice on their own. Take some time to share, re-iterate and practice as students may need to be affirmed as they are able to meet those routine expectations.
Students may or may not be prepared to discuss their home environments, but staff can support them by teaching breathing exercises, and providing quiet corners as tools for coping. Teach students to practice meditation strategies to calm their anxiety and center themselves in the classroom.
Take time for students to reconnect with each other, with staff and with the school environment. Students may have experienced loss as they missed their friends and teachers which means they will need time to rebuild their relationships. Focus on showing the student that the teachers and administration really care about them and are there to listen and support their learning. Be mindful of students who may have been participating in virtual learning, and may need support in transitioning to in-person learning methods. Take time to answer questions and be sensitive to students who may be learning at a different pace.
Stay Connected to Families
As much as your program allows, continue to almost over-communicate with families. Keeping them involved and in the loop about the transitions in the classroom also helps them to support their student at home. Do not stop sharing details about the curriculum or learning and continue to provide multiple learning modalities as well as supports for students. If there is an opportunity to provide updates and positive reports, do that so parents/families can continue to encourage their students.
Set a Positive Tone
Students may return to school with some negative energy and thoughts about the pandemic and how they experienced it. This is an opportunity to create some positivity within the classroom. Leverage posters, mantras and other visuals that encourage hope and positiveness to influence student perceptions and classroom experience. Use PBIS strategies to highlight the positive things students do instead of bringing attention to poor behavior choices.
Provide Space for Student Voices
Allow students to use their voice and share as much as possible. This can be through written reflection, group circles, having students choose a song of the day or create a drawing. In any way possible encourage students to articulate their emotions. These may be related to their transition or any of their sensitivities and can be used to inform how you engage with students and ideas about support.
Encourage students to take some agency in places that they can control. Throughout the day create times and spaces where students can choose their level of engagement. This allows students to take a break or self-regulate their participation throughout the day. Allow students to identify ways they can make choices for themselves. For example, students can identify ways they would like to engage with others, or choose to participate in group or do an individual activity.
As students adjust, find time in the day for some breaks from learning. This will encourage students to process the day but also give them time to rest. Do not expect that students will be operating with maximum effort during full lessons. Find time for them to learn in small chunks and check for understanding. During these breaks, implement some of the meditation practices like breathing patterns or even time to stand move around if possible.
Sanitized & Physically Distanced Environment
For any students feeling any anxiety about their return to school having spaces that are sanitized and for them to distance themselves is helpful. Safety precautions may include temperature or sanitizing stations, extra masks, and taking precautions with cleaning procedures in place.
Each day, have a place to take notes and reflect on the day. This may include connecting with other teachers and administration to debrief the day. These notes will be helpful to identify areas of growth and specific needs from students. This will also allow for the teacher to make changes as needed to better support the students.
As students are returning, remember that everyone experiences trauma and stress differently. This checklist is not exhaustive but does provide some initial points of engagement within the classroom environment. As a reminder to staff and other school personnel, be patient during this time. Be flexible and focus on the students well-being in order to create a positive learning environment.
The CDC has also provided a checklist for students, families and school staff with additional ideas about how to prepare for a transition to in-person learning. As a teacher or administrator, also find time for yourself to reflect and adjust. Serving with a trauma-sensitive approach involves a lot of energy and personal self-care. You can do this! Take care of yourself!