As part of our whole-child focus on social-emotional learning, Morgan Park Academy faculty devoted most of our Oct. 7 professional development day to a workshop about working with students who have experienced trauma.

In addition to the Responsive Classroom framework and mindfulness exercises that we use, we were glad to welcome a pair of local therapists to help us ensure that teachers have tools and strategies to best serve the students.

One striking statistic we learned from Bonn Wade, LCSW, and Jamin Wright, MS.Ed., LCPC, is that one out of every four school-age children has experienced a traumatic event that can affect their learning and/or behavior.

Many people, when they hear the word trauma, tend to think of abuse, violence, or losing a loved one, but a traumatic experience can surface in a variety of ways. Teachers may not even be aware of the child’s trauma because it isn’t immediately apparent.

For instance, a student may have a fear of failure, so getting a poor grade on a test can intensify this fear and cause the student to become triggered by that event. The way a teacher responds to this situation can be crucial to the well-being of the child. The students want to know that they are safe and can trust the teacher.

The workshop instructors offered tips for creating a safe environment, such as providing structure, predictability, and quiet spaces for students to go if they are feeling overwhelmed. Use of sensory objects, like play dough, and playing soothing music were other ideas to maintain a calm classroom.

They also provided interventions if a student does become triggered. Breathing exercises, speaking low and slow, and using a compassionate tone of voice can help de-escalate a situation. All students can benefit from these techniques, not just those who have experienced trauma.

Working with children all day can also take an emotional toll on teachers, so the instructors shared ways that teachers can practice self-care to prevent vicarious trauma, encouraging us to maintain a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle and hobbies outside of school and pursue meditation and calming techniques. During the school day, if a teacher becomes overwhelmed, asking another colleague to cover for a few minutes can be helpful for the teacher to regain composure.

Overall, the workshop was informative and made us aware of how prevalent trauma is in our children and schools today. It provided faculty with insight about what trauma is, its effects, and tools for preventing and dealing with the triggers.

If you have questions about how MPA faculty work with students who have experienced trauma, please don’t hesitate to contact me, your principal, or our school counselor, Ms. Stec.

By Jennifer Schmidt

Mrs. Schmidt is our Director of Curriculum and Instruction.