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Trauma In the Classroom

Secondary Level

Sandy Vaughn

on 17 October 2018

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Transcript of Trauma In the Classroom

Trauma in the Classroom

1. Gain a basic understanding of trauma and how it impacts brain development, behavior, and learning.

2. Learn how to recognize and respond to symptoms of trauma.

3. Learn what YOU can do to support and connect with challenging students that may have a history of trauma.
Symptoms that can result from an event or series of events that pose a threat or perceived threat of death, serious injury, or violations to the physical safety of the self or others (APA, 2000)

At the core of symptoms is a breakdown in the capacity to regulate internal states or emotions (Herman, 1997;Van der Kolk, 2005)

Not all traumatic events result in clinical symptoms
Poverty & related stress increases the likelihood of exposure to trauma
What % of our students live in poverty?
Take-away Message

1. Trauma impacts YOUR students.
2. Trauma causes changes in the brain.
3. YOU can work with traumatized students!
How Does Trauma
Affect the Brain?

Trauma can derail brain development
Conditioned to interpret things as threats
Chronic state of activation (
"fight or flight"
Hyper-sensitive "alarm"
Learning brain used less frequently, resulting in delays in learning, motor skills, etc.
When a Student is


kicks in,
"survival brain" in control, "thinking brain" off-line
Attempts to reason/give consequences may be futile and exacerbate situation
Brain energy is being used to regulate emotional and physical responses which depletes energy available for cognitive engagement
The Good News!

Have a "chill zone" corner in your classroom with putty, stress balls and other sensory outlets for kids who are feeling triggered (never used as punitive)

Establish external safety
Establish predictable routines, keep a schedule visible with day's event
Explicit preparation for transitions and changes
Assume nothing! Check for understanding
Make classroom appear uncluttered and orderly
Mark transitions (breathing exercises, movement, stretching, etc.)
- Importance of adult connection!

- YOU matter in the life of a
student with a history of

- YOU can make a difference!
Looking through a different lens

Step #2 Define the problem collaboratively
working as a team, what is the concern?
check for understanding
What can YOU do?
Common Misperceptions
Students don't care
Unmotivated, rude, disinterested, "bad" kids
Their disruptive behavior erupts out of nowhere
What about Discipline?
Clear expectations, rules, consequences
Role model expectations
Be firm but kind
Reduce Consequences and
focus on Solutions
Offer 2 or 3 choices
Community meetings
Student Voice
Differential Discipline
What Traumatized Students Need
What do we mean by "Trauma"
Trauma in OUR Classrooms
Classroom structure and avoiding triggers
Kids with trauma histories can react strongly to non-verbal cues such as tone of voice, body language and facial expression.
When you approach a child, take a deep breath and do a 10 second scan of your body
Know your physical reactions when you get angry. Does your voice become louder? Do you clench your jaw?
Give them space! 3 feet recommended
Approaching a traumatized child with neutral body language will help them hear what you are saying instead of reacting to your body language
The Neutral Body
Types of Childhood Trauma
Child Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, neglect)
Victim/Witness of Violence
Domestic, community violence
Traumatic Loss
Medical procedures

Sudden change or unpredictability
Loss of control
Feeling singled out, embarrassed, or rejected
Sensory overload
Sometimes praise, intimacy, and positive attention!
(Kinniburgh & Blaustein, 2005)
Common Triggers
When the student is calm:
Help students learn to identify when he/she is feeling upset or agitated (triggered)
Help students learn to cope!
Calming down/breathing
Disengaging from stimuli
Asking for help
Time for a
restorative conversation!
Invite the student to meet with you
Sit down together in a quiet space
When a Student is Triggered:

Help re-establish feelings of safety and control:
Wait until you are calm!
Use a calm voice and slow speech (speak softer than the student )
Use neutral body language and slow movement
Communicate using empathy and validation
"I can see you're mad; what do you need to help you calm down?"
"I can see you're upset. Why don't we take a break and re-visit once we're both more calm."
Try not to shame or embarrass the student or make demands he/she can't meet (for example, "stop crying!")
* Remember not a good time for reasoning or disciplining
* Try not to take it personally (Q-tip)
How Does Trauma Impact
Student Behavior?

"Fight or Flight"
Altered baseline of arousal
Overreact to situations others
would find nonthreatening
Aggressive and/or explosive
Defiance with rules or authority

Student may appear:
"Zoned out"
"who cares?" attitude
give up easily
Excessive compliance
Learning disabilities or delays are common
Often truant or unable to stay in class
Impulsive, act out,
risk taking behavior
Unable to stay on task
May distract others
Traumatic experiences during childhood lead to:
Negative Beliefs:
The world is unsafe
People cannot be trusted
It's my fault, I'm bad
Piled up feelings:
powerless, hopeless, guilty, angry, afraid, confused, unworthy, unlovable, sad
Video Break
A child's brain is still developing and positive emotional experiences produce neurological activity which can rewire the developing brain, increasing it's capacity for attention, memory, and learning
Hope for the "Thinking Brain!"

Importance of self care to do this work!
How do you take care of yourself?
Wrapping Up

Step #1 Empathic questions & listening:
elicit and understand the students concern
use open-ended questions, build rapport
"I've noticed you've been coming to class unprepared. What's up?"
Step #3 Invite the student to solve the problem collaboratively
Restorative Conversations:
"The thing is, I'm concerned that if you don't do your homework, you're going to fall way behind in class..."
"I'm wondering if there's a way to find a solution that works for both of us.
I'm wondering if there's a way for you to let me know when you're having a hard time ..."
"What do you think would help you feel better in class?"
Cerebral Cortex: "Thinking Brain"
Brain Stem
Limbic System: "Survival Brain"
Basic Brain Structures:
1. "threat" is perceived
2. activates limbic system's amygdala (alarm)
3. turns on sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
4. body is mobilized for

5. Suppression of activity in cerebral cortex
6. once "threat" is over, homeostasis.
Brain's Adaptive Response to Threat
What happens with prolonged & persistent exposure to trauma?
Chronic alarm reaction
Altered neural systems
"Survival Brain" hijacks "Thinking Brain"
* video break "teachers"
* video "discipline"
Sandy Vaughn, LCSW, PPSC
Heather Graham, ACSW, PPSC
National Survey of children aged 2-17 (Finkelhor et al. 2005)
More than 1/3 had witnessed violence
More than 1/8 had experienced child maltreatment
1/3 of children living in violent urban neighborhoods have PTSD, nearly twice the rate reported for troops returning from war zones in Iraq (Stein, Jaycox, Kataoka, Rhodes, and Vestal, 2003)
All students want to do well!
Assume something has gotten in their way
Separate behavior from student
An approach with respect, empathy, and hope will get results!

Video Link:
Video clip (at 2:46):
video clip (at 0:0 - 2:46):
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