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Cultivating a Trauma-Informed Learning Environment Post-2020

Categories: Curriculum & Access, Early Literacy, Education & Teaching, Educators, Reading Strategies for K-12, Student Centric Learning, Teacher Best Practices

Educators are facing unprecedented challenges in this pandemic. Teaching routines, instructional delivery, parental concerns all-turned upside down. More children are feeling hypersensitive about the uncertainty, especially those who have been impacted by adverse childhood experiences and trauma. Research tells us young children are extremely vulnerable to trauma due to their limited coping skills, dependence on caregivers, and rapid early development. How can we adapt our teaching in this post-2020 trauma-sensitive era? It requires new knowledge. 

In our January Spotlight, Michelle Gonzalez Gerth, a classroom teacher and PESI Certified Clinical Trauma Professional and Crisis Management Specialist with the American Association of School Counselors, addressed five areas educators can use to develop a trauma-informed and equitable learning environment. 

This blog covers just the highlights of this discussion. To learn the explicit strategies in detail, view the full presentation on-demand and receive CE certificates. 

Five areas to create trauma-informed and equitable learning spaces 

Gerth says, "Creating a learning space that is trauma-informed and equitable for one child with trauma is good for all children. She challenges the common use of the phrase, "Kids are resilient, they bounce back," and points to research by the U.S. Department of Education and Rehabilitation Services, showing an uptick in mental health and behavioral issues. In her presentation, she goes into detail laying out proven steps to create a trauma-informed learning environment and frames each approach using an adult's perspective.  

1. Predictability - Adults know what their day will typically be like. Gerth advises us to help children make sense of their learning day and be consistent and familiar with routines and processes. 

2. Connection - Adults want people to be accepted for who we are and see our best selves. Gerth advises fostering authentic relationships with children. Help them identify feelings towards themselves and others. 

3. Flexibility - Adults want flexibility and fluidity in our lives, not rigidity. Gerth wants us to teach children about change and changing environments and give them options.  

4. Empowerment - Adults want to be heard and develop a sense of cooperation in lieu of power struggles. Gerth says to teach children good decision-making skills and acknowledge their unique talents, strengths, and weaknesses.

5. Equity - Adults want others to respect their points of view. Gerth promotes autonomy, equity and openness to different perspectives.  

"Safety and equity must be at the heart and soul of everything teachers create," says Gerth. "When we know better, we do better." She nudges educators to engage in self-care. To think about their own belief systems, and question their assumptions about marginalized children. "Make sure every child has a voice,” she adds. “Understand why children are behaving differently in today's learning environment. Know that many children are dealing with challenges and trauma-related experiences that affect their ability to learn and feel safe.” 

To learn this framework in explicit detail, view Michelle Gerth’s full presentation on-demand. She concludes with a traditional African tribal greeting and response focusing everyone on a child's well-being as a measurement of how the community is doing, 

The greeting: "How are the children? The response: "The children are well." 

Literacy and Leadership

Take steps now to reframe your teaching knowledge to be trauma-informed and to broaden your knowledge on literacy and leadership. Join Learning Ally for our next Spotlight series event on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion on March 30, 2022.  Dr. Sherril English will discuss the foundational importance of literacy in achieving equity in disadvantaged populations.