Your Students and Trauma

How Teachers are an Integral Part of the Healing Process

The last year or so has presented us with challenges one after

another on a global scale. No one has been excluded. Due to

this, I became inspired to reflect on my professional experiences

as we faced repeated uncertainty. I would like to share some key

thoughts around our potential to be more capable in a crisis

than we think, simply by doing what we do best, which is being


The main request for support in my line of work has centred on

“trauma related” concerns for children. Covid lockdowns have

magnified issues for many families where there were already

existing problems at home. Teachers felt and continue to feel illequipped

to help. There is an assumption that psychologists have

the magic formula for dealing with these issues. I would respectfully

suggest that this is not the case. We may have lost sight of the

basic needs for anyone immediately following any emotional

upset or traumatic incident. Some children may require specialist

medical support, however there is also much that can be done by

a lay person, such as a teacher, that can play an essential role in

sustainable care, alongside support from expert interventions.

My area of expertise is behaviour analysis. I challenged myself

to come up with an operational definition of possible “trauma”

behaviours in order to provide basic support for teachers. We use

emotional words a lot in education and as a scientist and teacher

I remind clients that this may be a barrier to finding a solution.

For example, saying someone is traumatised by an accident is less

helpful than saying someone is finding it very hard to focus on

their daily life due to being in an accident. Linguistics do matter

and if we become highly charged using emotional language we

cut off from being systematic and responsive to a person’s needs.

Defining behaviours helps us find solutions and teach replacement

behaviours. It also means we know what behaviour we are

addressing and what to look for when evaluating an intervention’s


“Linguistics do matter and if we become highly charged using emotional language we cut off from being systematic and responsive to a person’s needs.”

A caveat here – we are NOT replacing the emergency or medical staff

or counsellors. Their work may well be going on concurrently. The

importance in collaborating with professionals and sharing information

can’t be stressed enough.

Start with a definition of trauma – a deeply distressing or disturbing

experience… (Subjective)

(a) severe emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely

upsetting experience:

Scenario – A child has experienced upsetting situations at home

during Covid Lock Down and staff have said the student is off

task, ignoring peers and being defiant and oppositional (labelled

behaviours). See the chart below for the labelled behaviours defined

as observable and measurable behaviours.

Example Checklist:

Example Actions List:

Communication with the family may be as simple as a check-in call. Follow school policy on contacting the appropriate agency if you have health and safety concerns.

All of these are short term actions that can be implemented regardless of the degree of trauma – while ensuring related professionals and services (duty of care) are kept informed.

Consider the following:

What other behaviours suggest someone is suffering trauma?

What can we do?

What can’t we do?

Relationships, stability and some form of routine are the fundamentals in dealing with trauma. As teachers, we often under sell our skill set, and possibly over estimate that of other professionals. Remind yourself what you have to offer, and recognise the value of simply caring enough to listen and spend time with a child who is suffering.

6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All