Engaging Students and Families



From the beginning of the year, our goal was to learn how to engage students and families with a focus on students who have experienced trauma. We had previously participated in a study group to learn more about brain-based instruction, which led us to ask more questions about how trauma, specifically, influenced how our students learned and engaged in school. Who knew that it would be so relevant to our school year? After the coronavirus outbreak, we started incorporating other online resources specific to the current situation, but we found that our yearlong study of trauma-sensitive instruction was especially helpful in responding to and understanding the effects of the pandemic on our students.

As a group we selected The Trauma-Sensitive Classroom: Building Resilience with Compassionate Teaching 1st Edition. This text was an amazing resource to have at the beginning of the school year and during this current time. The book provided us with great scientific background knowledge to understand trauma and how it may manifest in the classroom. Additionally, we were provided with strategies to implement to help our students. I highly recommend this text, especially for anyone trying to learn what trauma is and what signs to look for in a student.

Even though we teach different grade levels and subjects, one way that we all have integrated what we have learned into our classrooms is through morning meetings. This is a great time to build community with the students, give them space to share, and provide them with support. Now that we have a better idea of how to identify signs of trauma, we are able to use this time to identify students who might need extra support. We also use this time to teach strategies for dealing with the emotional stuff that we all have to deal with. Students sometimes use this time to share about family pets or trips to the park, but they also use it to share things that are troubling or scary to them. Some classes also have students do a daily check in of how they are feeling – on a scale of “great” to “I need you to check in on me”. This gives the teacher, and the class, a way to gauge where we are emotionally every day, and provide support if needed. We have been able to uphold the spirit and purpose of these morning meetings, even through the coronavirus outbreak. We see that the built-in support that these strategies provide have strengthened our classroom community, leading to a safer learning environment for our students.

Working in Chicago and particularly Chicago Public Schools, many of us have worked in communities that service students that have experienced trauma. While we have all learned how to teach students academically, we struggle with how to help students who are struggling socially and emotionally. This is particularly true this year. With the coronavirus outbreak causing schools to close, remote learning now the norm, as well as many students dealing with parents who have lost jobs, being able to help students deal with what is going on at home is so important. For teachers, we are now dealing with something we have never studied in school but are now expected to both teach and help our students deal with what is going on in this new norm. We have been working to pass on the information that we learned, through sharing resources with the staff, families, and the students themselves. We hope to continue to share and use these strategies with whatever school may look like in the fall.

Some of the most impactful things that really resonated with us from this text were:
● “The outcomes of a trauma-sensitive approach should be to prevent further adverse events; build self-regulation capacity in individuals in the system, both adults and students; help individuals who are exhibiting adverse effects of trauma to recover; and avoid re-traumatizing individuals who have experienced adverse events.”
● “We know chronic stress and trauma can have severe, debilitating effects on children’s development that can affect their health and well-being for a life-time.”
● “It’s hard to focus on learning when you don’t feel safe.”
● “Finding the balance between warmth and demandingness is a challenge.”

Resource Links

If you read any, start with this one! We really liked the overview that it gave of our current situation and how it affects students, as well as so many resources, including those for students and families.

We liked this one because it gave us strategies to support ourselves in order to best support our students.

Gives a good overview of what trauma is, how it impacts students, and what we need to understand about it.

From a Twitter chat where educators discussed trauma-informed social and emotional learning environments.

Every year WITS offers
Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees over

0 hours

of free, educator-led professional development workshops.

support teachers, make a donation