Trauma is often considered a taboo topic, yet it is such a prevalent issue facing education today. Many children are attending school with unresolved needs due to a trauma they have/are experiencing. Yet education appears to be finding it difficult to measure the full effects of trauma on student’s learning.
The effects trauma has on student’s academic performance
According to the Massachusetts Advocates for Children and Harvard Law School, recent neurobiological, epigenetics and psychological studies have highlighted how traumatic experiences in childhood significantly impacts concentration, memory, organisation, and language abilities.
The ability to progress in school relies on a student’s ability to self-regulate their attention, emotions, and behaviour.
However, in the presence of trauma, this is increasingly difficult as it has the power to disturb the development of communication, reduce confidence and distort the individual’s connection with their world.
Trauma can create a cycle of destruction as there are often negative and stressful thoughts that decrease their ability to progress and connect with others.
Trauma-informed education is a key element to modern education but as trauma is unique to the individual, this requires resources and a committed coordinated response.
Signs of the effects of trauma on student’s to look out for:
- Persistent Low-level avoidant behaviour
- Behaviour deemed as aggressive
- Reduced academic performance.
- Difficulty focusing and concentrating.
- Lack of safety awareness.
- Reduced self-organisation.
- Apathy & lack of effort.
- Perfectionist tendencies.
- Potentially extreme shyness & difficulties engaging with others.
- Insecure or ambivalent attachments.
Understand the correlation between behaviour and communication:
All behaviour is communication, and behaviour described as
aggressive is usually a coping mechanism, allowing the individual to feel safe and in control. Aggressive behaviour is usually due to the inability to portray social conventions and emotions in an appropriate manner. Ensure you question the why. Before reacting, take a minute to understand why a child is behaving a certain way.
Keep in mind people show trauma in a variety of ways, these are usually the more common characteristics. Look for the signs, and follow your gut, those suffering usually don’t voice their feelings and asking for support can be difficult.
Approaching the situation:
The natural response may be to ask a student. However, those with trauma usually hide their feelings. In fact, acknowledging the situation could have contrary effects, causing issues to deepen. As an educator, engage with the student to signify trust, reporting the situation to a trained professional. This ensures they can be approached with their well-being put first.
Why should schools understand the effects of trauma on student’s?
Unresolved trauma can have devastating effects in later life. Addressing the situation early can reduce the impacts of childhood trauma in adulthood. Additionally, understanding trauma will ensure teachers don’t misunderstand students’ behaviours. Behaviour challenges, difficulties with learning and relationships are often deemed as laziness/attention-seeking rather than a cry for help.
Implementing trauma-informed practices:
There are 6 principles of trauma-informed practice:
- Cultural consideration
Trauma-informed practices are implemented to support those needing additional support; however, such practices will benefit all students. Allocating these practices across the board ensures all areas are covered. While some may be afraid to speak up others may not even recognise, they have experienced trauma, thus beneficial to all.
What are protective factors?
Protective factors are attributes of individuals, families, communities, and the larger society. They mitigate the developmental risks caused by trauma promoting healthy development. Implementing protective factors for students experiencing trauma make it easier to cope, which should improve their self-esteem, self-efficacy, and coping skills. Using this practice for all students also has its benefits. Firstly, including all students ensures those experiencing trauma don’t feel singled out. Additionally, protective factors can also support students’ general well-being’, allowing them to take control of their mental health, reducing impacts in adulthood.
For more information about trauma-informed practice take a look at the government website.
As we progress in education, we need to re-evaluate the purpose of school for children. While our key focus should be academic development, implementing a stronger focus on general life practices creates a perfect correlation with learning and development.
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