Hearing education and mental health in the same sentence can sometimes bring on unwanted feelings of the unknown. They are both separate systems that operate independently, but when they work together, the impact on teachers and students is significant.
For far too long, we have looked at education and mental health separately, yet issues of mental health are prevalent within the education system. This is why now, more than ever, it is imperative to find a way to incorporate mental health practices in the school setting—specifically those that focus on trauma.
Yes, I said the word “trauma.” The word that makes some people shudder. Often, when a student shares their trauma or an adverse experience, it is impossible to “unhear” what was shared and educators who do not have experience in dealing with trauma do not know what to do with the information that was shared. The next steps are crucial because a student’s well-being and life are at stake.
Therefore, educators need to be informed and aware of how to proceed following the student’s disclosure. Due to the lack of support and knowledge, a lot of students are left to figure out their next steps, and/or educators who show a high level of compassion are often left to navigate resources for their students on their own. In order to equip educators to be successful while maintaining a safe and healthy education setting, we have to face the fact that dealing with trauma, although complex, is necessary.
What if we developed not only trauma-informed educators, but trauma-informed schools, where resources and supports are readily available? A trauma-informed school promotes learning about and understanding the whole student, which can increase positive academic outcomes. It also provides a positive learning environment where students can—and are—willing to engage and educators can—and do—provide support for students personal experiences. Developing a trauma-informed school, helps to develop socially and emotionally responsible citizens, creating safe spaces for the next generation. It’s a win-win for the whole community.
What does it look like to create a trauma-informed school for your students? Here are six steps I recommend you take to get started.
- All school supports should be trained on the issue of trauma and how to report trauma.
- Develop a team of trauma-informed leaders within the school, who have a “safe place” for students within their office or their room.
- Develop ways in which mindfulness activities (i.e. mediation, yoga stretching, listening to calming music, etc.) can be implemented throughout the day. Educators should model this as well to help integrate the practices into school culture
- Utilize trauma-informed language. (i.e. “I hear you” ... “I believe you” ... “I support you.”)
- Be willing to address events that effect the community. Educators should receive coaching on how to guide discussions.
- Collaborate with community supports. It’s important to make sure that your school community receives guidance and training from experts. Developing a community resource book could assist with this to ensure you have a list of experts on different topics when you need them.
We need to change our perspective on how we view schools as just learning institutions. Schools can be much more than that. For a lot of students, school is a safe place were stability exists and they are served at least two hot meals each day. Because of this, the school has the moral advantage to implement trauma-informed care for students and educators. Students have no control over where they live or the circumstances they were born into, but we as adults have control over how we respond to their needs.
Dr. JaQuinda Jackson is a native of Simpsonville, S.C. where she resides with her husband and her two children. Dr. Jackson has a private practice which focuses on children and adolescents who have traumatic backgrounds. Dr. Jackson is motivated in doing work around trauma-informed care and social emotional learning. Dr. Jackson also works closely with various schools in order to assist in developing and building out efficient mental health programs.