Childhood Trauma and Schools – Educating the Educators……

When I was in college, I thought I wanted to be a teacher, in many ways, I still do.   The opportunities that teachers have to mold and impact young lives is truly amazing and yet terrifying at the same time.   What you all who are teachers do is THAT IMPORTANT.

But, as this article (written about Pennsylvania but applicable anywhere) points out, childhood trauma impacts education and needs to shape education and educational changes.   A couple of key quotes from the article:

“Childhood Trauma is not “poverty.” It is a response of overwhelming, helpless terror to events some call “adverse childhood experience” (ACE). It can result when adults who are supposed to love and protect, instead, cause hurt: physical, emotional and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; single-parent homes (because of separation, divorce, incarceration); violence; community violence; substance abuse; and mental illness.”

“Conversely, I can assure you from hard experience, with scars, that attempting to “educate” first, without understanding and without dealing with the neurobiological impacts of childhood trauma is exactly like putting the cart before the horse.’

Childhood trauma has the power to literally change children’s brains, as well as their cognitive and social functioning and ultimately their life trajectories. The neuroscience is clear. Childhood trauma connects directly to education via its toxic stress effects on brain development.  When children live in an unresolved chronic, traumatic state of survival, the toxic stress damages the function and structure of their young, developing brains. These injuries relate specifically to the prefrontal cortex and academic processes, especially crucial executive function, memory and literacy. The physiological process also leads kids to distorted perceptions of social cues, which alter their social behaviors in response. Eminently logical defenses in the midst of trauma (hyper-vigilance, dissociation) become ingrained habits, and then destructive once the threat is extinguished, but the defense pattern remains.”

While the author says it much better than I could, I want to add a couple of points in agreement – and on a more day to day level……

  • For children who have suffered trauma (see the definition above) having teachers who understand those dynamics increases the likelihood that their schooling will be a positive experience.   At AFSN, we want to help with that.   Let me know if you know schools who would like to talk about that more.
  • It is not just traumatic for that particular child to be in school without addressing the trauma, it is disruptive to the entire class and to learning for everyone.   So, educating the educators on how to help and work with trauma inflicted children increases the possibilities of a solid education for everyone.
  • “The children are not bad or sick; they are injured.”    Let me repeat that,  “The children are not bad or sick; they are injured.”

So what?   Let me offer three possible “what’s” to answer that question:

  • If you are a parent who is dealing with the effects of trauma in one or more of your children, please talk to their teacher, the principal, the staff and attempt to educate them on the impacts that trauma can have on children.   It will help them understand your child better and it will help them be a better teacher – and it will make their lives and the lives of other families better.
  • If you are a teacher or anyone in the educational system, read through the article and ask yourself,  “Are there kids in my class or in my school that might fall into this category of traumatized children?  If so, does this information change the way that I see and deal with the actions of that particular child?”
  • If you are an educator and are in a position to impact professional development at your school, strongly consider bringing someone in to educate your staff on the dynamics of trauma and what it means in the classroom.   Your parents will thank you for it.   Your students will thank you for it.   Not sure who  or how to do that?   E-mail me and let’s talk.    I’d love to and I know others who would love to come and talk to educators about the impact of trauma in a classroom.

Remember, “these children are not bad or sick; they are injured.”   You and I can both play a role in their healing…….



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