Five Ways Becoming Trauma Informed Renewed My Love of Teaching

Updated: Sep 19, 2019

So it's the start of a new school year and you are much longer until retirement? Am I right!? Come on, you know you asked yourself this question.

Teaching is hard and summer vacation is so much fun!!! But if retirement isn't right around the corner for you, we have to figure out how to enjoy the remaining years. Not only enjoy, but love, look forward to, and be fulfilled by these years! Luckily for me (and my students) I found my renewed love of teaching in the most unlikely place...

One morning, my new principal walked into my classroom and said, "Ok, I want to go to the Beyond Consequences- Trauma Informed Schools Conference, will you go with me? Oh and by the way it's in 2 weeks."

I thought, "This CRAZY lady, Beyond Consequences??? What is that? No Consequences? We need more consequences, not less!"

But I didn't say any of that, instead I said, "Yeah, let's do it!" Still thinking, "This is ridiculous, and I'm only going so I can tell you what a bad idea this is." In fact, I went around and told everyone about this terrible conference I was going to, and not to worry, because I will not let our new principal run wild with her touchy-feely, hippie idea of discipline!

However, after hearing the first keynote speaker I had to admit I was intrigued. After the first day of breakout sessions, I was mesmerized. Trauma Informed Teaching was the piece of the puzzle I was always missing. That tool I never even knew existed was now in my toolbox!

Now, I don't really like the term "Trauma Informed." It sounds so devastating, so permanent, so insurmountable. The truth is, some kiddos with difficult behaviors do have severe trauma, and some don't... but what I soon realized is it doesn't really matter, all of my students benefitted from more positivity! So, I felt like we needed a different term, like Positively Teaching! :)

So what the heck does it mean to teach positively (A.K.A. Trauma Informed Teaching), and how did it reinvigorate my love of teaching? Click each number to find out more.

1. Student needs must be met prior to learning taking place:

It means we have to recognize that not all students come to school ready to learn, and if we really want to teach them, we have to make sure their basic needs are being met first. In my first decade (or two-where does the time go!?) of teaching, I really believed that teaching the curriculum was my one and only job. Now I realize that teaching curriculum cannot take place if my students are hungry, fearful, feel unloved, and/or disrespected. If I truly want my students to learn, teaching curriculum is no longer my one and only job.

Heather T. Forbes said it best in her article, "Why we need Trauma-Informed Schools." Here, she presents a pyramid (based on Maslow's "hierarchy of needs") to showcase student needs which must be met prior to learning taking place.

2. Focus on the Behavior Not the Individual:

Students whose needs are not being met are termed "dysregulated." Defining students as "regulated" vs. "dysregulated" rather than "good" vs. "bad" helped me to focus on the reason behind the behavior rather than the behavior itself.

If you imagine a dysregulated student being like an abused animal it is easy to be patient and kind. You would never yell at or punish an abused animal. You would feed them, try to gain their trust, and let them know you love them - long before you tried to teach them anything. Imagine the impact this could have on your classroom, it's truly an amazing transformation.

3. Their behavior is not a reflection of me:

Dysregulated students can be very hurtful. When you realize that students come to school with loads of negative baggage, you can stop taking their behavior personally.


They are reacting from a place of fear and their negative outburst is a result of this fear, not a reflection of you. This has been the most difficult, and the most freeing lesson for me to learn. Imagine your most difficult student. Now imagine what their morning is like at home... it probably isn't a pretty picture. Did that student wake up alone, or repeatedly scolded, or told they are stupid, lazy, and unwanted? The fact is we don't know! Just remember fear is driving the negative behavior, and you are the most convenient person to take it out on. Luckily, we are a tough bunch, and we can take it!

4. I am not their parent:

I don't have to be responsible for teaching them every lesson, and I don't have to be responsible for punishing them. I just get to be understanding and patient and let them know someone cares. I get to be like grandma, enjoy them for who they are and send them home :) You will be amazed at how great you feel when you stop arguing with students, stop threatening, and stop the negativity. The fact is, research is showing that punishment doesn't deter poor behavior anyway. So what are we accomplishing?

5. Have high expectations and build positive relationships:

So if I don't punish students, how do I keep my class from total chaos?! You have high expectations and you build positive relationships with students so they WANT to live up to those expectations. It works, I promise! Students with behavior issues don't need to be punished and they certainly don't need stickers. They need your attention, love, and support. You give them that and they will flourish!

#backtoschool #TraumaInformed #teacherburnout

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