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Teacher helps her student with their work in a classroom

Cultivating a trauma-informed approach in schools

Ahead of World Teacher Day (5 Oct), Gerry Diamond discusses the importance of a trauma-informed approach in schools, and how doing so can have an impact that lasts a lifetime.  

As a teacher of nurture at Clydebank High School, I am an advocate for teachers becoming more trauma-responsive in their practice. When I am asked what educators can do to cultivate a trauma-informed approach within schools, here’s what I say: 

First, focus on relationships.

Then, I would focus on relationships.  

The third thing to focus on is relationships. 

We know children have their own individual experiences and there’s no quick way to know how one should work with them. The key, though, is in the relationships we create with young people. 

These relationships must develop within an environment of respect between teacher and student. A young person’s interactions with their teacher is an opportunity to provide them with an experience of safety and attachment that could be very different from what they’ve experienced elsewhere. A teacher who creates a classroom full of connections, attachments and relationships is a teacher whose approach is on the way to being trauma-informed.

Mutual respect must be authentic; a student knows when a teacher is merely mouthing platitudes.  It’s not about grand declarations or showy gestures but active listening and validation. What we’re trying to create is an open communication channel that works for all parties. 

The butterfly effect

Little moments of interaction can ripple outwards. It could be a quick chat in the corridor. It could be a compliment. It’s remembering what a student’s interest is, and then asking about it in a way that shows their interest has inspired you to keep an eye on that subject in way you might not have were it not for that student. 

These things might only take minutes. But if you can create these moments, as well as a safe and nurturing environment, young people will feel your relational presence. These moment, these experiences, matter.  

In my experience, most teachers appreciate this and do try their best to create nurturing and respectful environments. But what might be less known – – and what is vital to learn about – is the science behind trauma, brain processes and development. 

Why understanding neuroscience is important

Science shows us that the brains of students who have suffered trauma don’t develop at the same rate as their peers.

Understanding the neuroscience that underpins trauma means a teacher has a better sense of how to approach a situation, the language and tone requiring to be used, and the time that any discussion should take place.  

An educator who comprehends the developmental effects of trauma on a student is more likely to have a robust and effective toolkit for responding to behaviour in the classroom that embraces rather than alienates the young person.  

Working with pupils who have experienced, or are experiencing, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is undoubtedly a challenge for educators. But with the correct tools as well as an understanding of how trauma can effect education and a learner’s educational experience, we can start to create learning environments that work for young people. 

Gerry Diamond is nurture lead at Clydebank High School

Gerry will be leading ‘How to Create More Trauma-Informed Responses in Schools’, a free online event run by Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) on Thursday 5 October at 4pm.

Find out more and book

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