It’s been reported that one out of every four children attending school has been exposed to a traumatic event that can affect their learning and/or behavior. Educators need the right information, with the right tools, to be prepared at the right time.
When children have experienced chronic and pervasive trauma, their thinking skills are literally hijacked by their emotional brain, shutting down their ability to focus, initiate tasks, follow directions, organize work, and control impulses. Everything a child needs to be successful in school.
The Emotionally Regulated Classroom:
Educators can model emotional self-regulation for their students.
They can demonstrate how to notice, name, and respond to intense feelings instead of reacting to them. Doing so, will build resilience within and beyond the classroom.
Educators can use classroom design to prepare a space that promotes self-regulation. Classrooms should, generally, be well organized, clean, well-labeled, and provide resources for overwhelmed students.
Many of the principles and techniques used to interact with students with trauma are broadly applicable to conversations with all students.
Clear, assertive, comfortable communication can establish trust and provide structure.
However, it is important for educators to realize that the emotional and social needs of students with trauma are different.
Students should be made aware, in a clear, specific fashion, what their teachers and staff expect of them.
School discipline policies should be communicated at the beginning of the year to all students, faculty, and staff, and should be consistently described.
Allowing students an opportunity to inquire about, and even challenge, rules, will increase their sense of procedural justice.
If students perceive the procedures as basically transparent and fair, they are more likely to go along with an individual decision or policy they do not agree with.
Regulation Strategies for the Classroom:
One strategy to regulated the classroom is called “Two Before Me.”
In a group discussion, a student may initially speak up whenever they have the opportunity & are called on.
However, after speaking, a student must wait for at least two other people to speak before they can raise their hand or contribute again.
This prevents conversations from being dominated by a limited few people and can reduce conflict/arguments.
Another strategy is the “Suggestion Box.”
Students with trauma often find it scary to communicate their needs or express displeasure.
Students who have been neglected may not be used to identifying or sharing needs at all.
To encourage these students to express their needs, supply them with a suggestion box or cubby hole in a circumspect place in your classroom.
Set aside a weekly or monthly time where the contents of the box are discussed or provide written answers to students concerns on a bulletin board.
You can name this box something other than a suggestion box. Perhaps call it a comment box or question box or come up with a name the class decides together. Remind students that it is OK to write feelings they are uncomfortable to say out loud as long as the feeling is not directed at a specific person, or intended to cause harm.
In the “Ouch/Oops” strategy, the classroom learns how to manage hurt feelings and resolve conflicts.
If your class adopts this rule, anyone is free to say “Ouch” if something a peer or teacher says rubs them the wrong way.
For example, if someone said something hurtful, accusatory, or generally offensive, the person who caused the “Ouch” is required to say “Oops”. It is then up to the person who said “Ouch” to determine how the conflict should be resolved, like having a private discussion or a mediation with the teacher or other peers.
Educators will need to watch for misuses of this strategy, such as a student using “Ouch” frequently to derail a conversation or target a disliked peer. Also, students may “Ouch” something benign a teacher says that they don’t like, such as assignment due date. And students may refuse to respond with an “Oops” if there are no firm rules on it.
If necessary, educators may want to restrict this strategy to personal discussions to prevent misuse. Generally speaking, older students are somewhat more likely to use “Ouch/Oops” strategy correctly but with some practice, it can be a useful regulation tool for all ages.