A Journey to Calm: Becoming a Trauma-Informed School

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Trauma-Informed Statistics

Is your school trauma-informed? Do you know that more than 25% of American youth experience a severe traumatic event by their 16th birthday? According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network of that 25% many experienced multiple and repeated traumas. As teachers and administrators, we need to be trained to identify students who are suffering. Becoming a trauma-informed school can support students and staff in the teaching and learning process.

Each day students enter our schools with troubling issues that keep them from their full learning potential. However, teachers and administrators don’t always know what children experience outside of the school day. According to the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, over 60% of children surveyed experienced some form of trauma, crime, or abuse in the prior year. Some suffered multiple trauma. Consequently, the effects of the trauma follow the children into their school day. Then the reaction to the trauma can be disruptive or explosive in the classroom.

Teachers Want Calm

Teachers and principals want a calm learning environment. Many are not trained to comprehend or deal with the disruptive or explosive behavior displayed by traumatized students. Often the exhibited reaction results in a suspension or expulsion. These consequences happen because often school personnel is not equipped or trained to handle the behaviors presented by the students. Educators are qualified to teach, not to psychoanalyze emotional behaviors. However, in this day and age, educators must go beyond their initial training and become trauma-informed.

As previously stated, teachers and principals want calm learning environment. Becoming a trauma-informed school is a journey to calm. It is a process, and it takes three to five years. Start small! Develop one or two priorities each year. Buy in is key to success. Here are some steps and tips to begin your journey to becoming a trauma-informed school.

Review and Survey

Review your data. Look at the number of suspensions, expulsions, and misconducts. Do a deep dive to understand when behavioral incidents or misconducts occur most often. Then get an understanding of where and why the events are happening. Are incidents occurring at a specific time of the day such as morning entrance, dismissal, recess, or lunch? Break down your data even further. Do the behavioral incidents involved particular students or specific classroom?

Next, survey students, parents, and staff for opinions and information. You can gain a wealth of information from the school’s stakeholders. For example, a school in Chicago used the data from the My Voice, My School Survey to recognize the students’ feelings and opinions around bullying and safety issues in the surrounding neighborhood. From the students’ responses, the staff became trained and implemented the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. It was here that they began their process of becoming a trauma-informed school. They didn’t stop here but continued to build a system and SEL programming.

Review and Revise

Review the current school-wide behavior plan. Revise it or develop a new one if needed.  Review teachers’ classroom management plans and strategies. Make sure that all staff members are more than familiar with what is in the school-wide behavior plan. Remember, during this journey to becoming a trauma-informed school, training the staff is vital and buy-in is vital, too.

Implementing SEL Programs

Social-emotional learning programs are an essential part of the journey, but implementing SEL programs require training and professional development of all staff members. Think of it as a significant investment of time and money for the good of the students and school. Train the teachers, auxiliary staff, janitors, lunchroom staff, and school volunteers. You need all hands on deck and the same page! Some SEL programs you may be familiar with are PBIS, CHAMPS, Second Step. Calm Classroom, etc. Once you choose a program or programs, monitor the progress of the implementation. Afterward, survey teachers and staff to see how it’s working or to see if additional support is needed. 

Investment of Time, Money, & Resources

Becoming a trauma-informed school requires an investment of time, money, and resources. Therefore, you need to consider hiring counselors, social workers, or counseling interns. School budgets are limited, but if SEL is a priority, you must invest the financial capital.  Unfortunately, every school does not have full-time counselors, nurses, or social workers; therefore you may need to use discretionary funds to hire additional staff members. Also, look into hiring counseling interns from local universities or colleges. Perhaps, it may be free or minimal cost. Many social work and psychology students must complete an internship before receiving a college degree.

Implement a Care Team and Referral Process

What is a care team? It consists of members of the school staff, i.e., administrators, counselors, teachers, social worker, and support staff. The care team meets weekly or bi-weekly to discuss progress or individual students.  If or when a teacher or parent has a concern about a particular student, the care team meets to discuss the student’s progress. The discussion can be about the student’s academic, emotional, or social well-being. From the discussion, usually, a plan is developed to address the student’s issues. The team can recommend counseling services, anger management groups, psychological tests, or tests to assess the level of trauma.

When implementing a Care Team, it is crucial to develop a referral process. Communicate the process to all staff members. Also, inform parents of the care team and the referral process.  Remember, becoming a trauma-informed school involves all stakeholders.

Make SEL A Priority

The journey to calm for your school must be a priority. Make SEL a priority and an investment of time and money. In the long run, you are investing in your students’ health and safety. Also, you are addressing their social, emotional, physical, and academic needs.

The journey to calm and to become a trauma-informed school does take time and effort. Therefore, success means you must continuously and consistently search for additional resources and partnerships. Building your program is important, but building relationships is a very key component. Furthermore, being a trauma-informed school or educator means not just teaching students but relating and meeting them where they are.

Moving forward, remember to start small! Develop one or two priorities each year. The process takes three to five years. Buy-in from stakeholders is key to success. See below for additional resources.

Additional Resources
Child Trauma Toolkit by National Child Traumatic Stress Network


Child Trauma Basic Facts by National Child Traumatic Stress Network


Trauma Sensitive Schools


Olweus Bullying Prevention Program

Calm Classroom

Second Step


National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence

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