Trauma-informed education


In New York, as virtually everywhere, many children face significant adversity in their lives, including abuse, neglect, and all types of household or community instability. For some, chronic or acute exposure to adversity results in trauma, which affects just about every domain in which children function, and which can inhibit their ability to learn and develop. Further, there is a high level of correlation among children’s experiences with adversity, their education attainment, and their involvement in the justice system.

How trauma affects children may be readily observable, though not always readily understandable, to the adults who care for them. Children who have experienced a traumatic event may “view the world as a perilous place and [be] prone to fear.” Their coping mechanisms may be evident in externalized behaviors, such as acting out or being aggressive, or in internalized behaviors, such as withdrawing or daydreaming. Such behavioral responses can lead to lost learning time and can adversely affect relationships with adults and with peers. Children who have a history of trauma may also be unable to process social cues and to self-regulate emotions or behaviors.

The good news is that neuroplasticity — the brain’s ability to learn, adapt, and become more resilient — serves as a mechanism for healing from trauma. This article explores how education systems can support that healing, and it offers a few ways that education leaders can bolster trauma-informed practices in their schools, classrooms, and underlying systems.