Trauma is defined as an adverse experience, violation, or persistent stress in one’s life that overwhelms the capacity to cope, typically has long-term emotional, psychological, and physical consequences. Trauma arises from a wide range of experiences and intersecting challenges (which can happen to anyone) that include physical and sexual abuse and violence, caregiver substance abuse and addiction, physical and emotional neglect, loss of a parent, poverty, and, for many, the toxic stress of persistent discrimination and systemic oppression. The essential features of trauma are disempowerment and disconnection from self and others.
This episode of Education Now looks at how teachers and learners are navigating trauma today — the trauma left in the wake of a lingering pandemic, racist violence, economic hardship, and pervasive inequality. What are the trauma-responsive strategies that can help both students and adults — and can an effective trauma response lead to better, more just schools? And finally, what does a holistically healthy school community — where everyone’s wellbeing is prioritized — even look like? We’ll offer some answers as we zero in on feasible strategies for schoolwide wellbeing.
- Mark Tappan, Professor of Education, Colby College
- Aysha Upchurch, Lecturer on Education and Artist in Residence, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Uche Amaechi, Lecturer on Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
Key takeaways and prompts for action:
- Telling one's own story is a necessary part of the healing process and provides a vital opportunity for voice, agency, and empowerment.
- Consider individuals as experts on their own experience. This works for adults — it also works for kids.
- Joy is not a distraction from learning and healing but an essential component. Find ways to embrace it in the classroom.
- Trauma impacts the body as well as the mind. Classrooms that promote healing welcome and reimagine the ways students move in and inhabit schools.
Related research and resources:
- Preparing Schools to Meet the Needs of Students Coping with Trauma and Toxic Stress (Research-policy brief by the Ed Research for Recovery Project, Annenberg Institute)
- The TREP Project
- The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments
- Trauma Recovery
- Mental Health Primers from the American Psychological Association (to help teachers identify behaviors that reflect the effects of stress, racism, trauma, and loss)
- Getting Started with Trauma-Informed Practices (Edutopia)
- The Power of Relationships in Schools (Edutopia)
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Trauma-Responsive Schooling: Centering Student Voice and Healing (new book by Mark Tappan, Lyn Mikel Brown, Catharine Biddle)