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Trauma and What to Do

For students who have experienced trauma, triggers are not readily known meaning that outbursts can occur in classrooms. A teacher’s response will either escalate or de-escalate the situation. In the prior blog, trauma and its warning signs were defined; but now, the shift moves to a proper response.

First, teachers and leaders must embrace the fact that students facing trauma is widespread and under-reported. This acknowledgement is a critical step as knowing about it creates an impetus to help with it. Second, teachers and leaders need to understand basic signs of trauma. If you missed the earlier blog, then go here as it provides some necessary information.

In 2019, Hanover Research put forward a document called “Best Practices for Trauma-Informed Instruction” that maps the progression for how trauma can emerge in the classroom:

1. Student reveal signs of distress

2. Teacher connects with the student

3. Teacher redirects behavior through choice

4. Teacher and student discussion what happened and determine next steps

If a student demonstrates signals of distress, how should a teacher respond?  It is important to have a toolkit to prevent a reaction that escalates the situation. Everything starts with a nurturing classroom environment built upon respect that is rooted in strong relationships with students. If the environment and relationship are not what they should be, then any basic strategies will never reach their full effect.

A list of strategies for both teachers and leaders can be found here to view or download for later use! By no means is this exhaustive, but these tips offer a great start in the right direction.

Students dealing with the effects of trauma deserve an education just like all other students. For students working through traumatic experience, trust is everything. If that trust is built early and maintained through the challenges, the students will grow over time.


  • Ongoing training for staff on the identification of and response to trauma
  • Develop guidance for teachersPractice wellness and self-care for school employees
  • Create partnerships with local agencies
  • Leverage best practices that already exist in the school
  • Evaluate behavior to determine next steps – punitive or restorative?
  • Implement SEL program whole school


  • Ask how the student is doing as a proactive approach
  • Expect over-reactions
  • Manage your emotions
  • Modify your voice tone and volume
  • Check facial expressions
  • Adopt a non-threatening posture
  • Find a quiet place for student to de-escalate
  • Intervene quickly to mitigate an explosion
  • Shorten your sentences
  • Ask questions instead of lecturing
  • Praise positive responses
  • Give the student choice
  • Understand that change takes time
  • Involve the school counselors
  • Maintain high expectations
  • Coach/process with the student what happened
  • Keep record of the triggers (when, where, and how)
  • Find a mentor for the student
  • Communicate with the team but keep it as confidential as possible
  • Empathize not antagonize
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