A growing body of research confirms what educators have long believed: for children to thrive and develop into whole persons, schools must be places of physical safety and emotional support. Lesley University is committed to the development of educators who understand the relationship between trauma and learning, and to the cultivation of safe and supportive classrooms where children feel seen, heard, and understood. In such a classroom environment, a child is free to take emotional and cognitive risks, while they experience uninhibited, the joy of discovery and learning.
To advance the development of trauma sensitive environments, the Lesley Institute for Trauma Sensitivity (LIFTS) in collaboration with Massachusetts Advocates for Children’s Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (MAC/TLPI), works directly with school districts to help educators understand the dynamics of acute and chronic trauma, its adverse effects on learning, and how trauma sensitive schools can benefit all children. LIFTS is directed by Dr. Sal Terrasi.
In our work with a diverse group of over a dozen school districts, we have witnessed remarkable outcomes that include fewer office referrals, fewer suspensions, stronger classroom communities, and better support networks for educators.
Lesley's Educational Initiative on Childhood Trauma is supported by the Oak Foundation. The Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global social and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged.
The following four courses comprise a graduate certificate program in Trauma and Learning. Individual courses may also be taken for graduate level credit. If you are interested in any of these offerings, contact Juliet LeBlanc at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Impact of Trauma on Learning: An Overview
This course examines the impact of traumatic experience on student learning (both academic and social / emotional) and provides a structured approach to individual and school wide interventions. The biological, environmental, and sociocultural aspects of traumatic experience will be presented, and participants will analyze the effects of their work with students impacted by trauma on their own well being (secondary trauma).
The Impact of Trauma on Learning: Classroom and Student Supports
Trauma affects self regulation, social skills and a child’s sense of health and well being, along with interfering with more traditional academic skills that require language, memory and executive function. This course will address ways to promote these non-academic and academic competencies for students impacted by trauma, including which competencies can be incorporated into the learning flow (as they benefit all children) and which are best taught with an individual support plan.
The Impact of Trauma on Learning: Creating Trauma-Sensitive Schools
This course is designed to expand knowledge of trauma, its impacts, and the process for building trauma sensitive environments through examination of the underlying change theory, processes, and tools needed to establish trauma sensitivity. Participants demonstrate their understanding by either developing a plan for guiding the creation of a trauma-sensitive school or conducting research grounded in trauma-informed inquiry.
The Impact of Trauma on Learning: Action Research and Seminar
Students demonstrate their understanding of the attributes of trauma-sensitivity by working together to design and conduct research that assesses the outcomes of efforts to improve trauma-sensitivity in classrooms, schools, or other learning environments.
Practices for Building Trauma Sensitivity
Using the Flexible Framework from Helping Traumatized Children Learn as their guide, educators enrolled in Lesley University’s trauma courses have recommended the following practices:
Identify and share interests.
Discovering children’s interests can be key to building a relationship with them, especially if they feel less confident or successful or engaged in school. To assist in this process, ask everyone in the school (students, teachers, administrators, and staff) to fill in a visual representation (e.g., 2 intersecting circles) with his or her interests. Then post them for all to see.
Use a morning meeting to create a predictable and consistent environment for learning.
Predictability and consistency can help all children to learn, but are especially important for those who have experienced trauma. Morning meeting times provide students with a clear and consistent start to their day, and when the meeting time is used to preview the day’s events and activities, surprises are minimized and transitions are easier.
Create a classroom “calming area."
High levels of arousal can make it difficult for anyone to learn. But traumatized children are not always able to recognize or say when they are having this experience. By making a space in your classroom for every child to go to when they feel hyperaroused, anxious or vulnerable, you are providing children with the opportunity to learn how to identify these feelings and to better regulate them.
Use a “hot spot” map to ensure safety.
Physical and psychological safety is a cornerstone of a trauma-sensitive school. To promote safety, create a “hot spot” map to identify areas in and around the school for troublesome behavior. Make those areas known to administrators, teachers, and staff. Develop plans for making these areas safe. Monitor success in implementing your plans.
Plan and set priorities for improvement.
Developing trauma sensitivity requires assessing a school’s strengths and identifying areas where teachers and staff see needs. Teams enrolled in Lesley University’s courses on trauma have found it helpful to use a tool developed by Lesley’s Center for Special Education and the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative of Massachusetts Advocates for Children and the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.
- Books by Massachusetts Advocates for Children
Tools for Assessing Your Own School
Do discipline policies balance accountability with an understanding of trauma? Are activities structured in predictable and emotionally safe ways? Does your school contain predictable and safe environments (including classrooms, hallways, playground, and school bus) that are attentive to transitions and sensory needs? Take this survey, and then print it out to refer to as you think about more ways to make your school trauma sensitive.
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