“Studies suggest that over 70 per cent of Canadians have been exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, and that nearly 1 out of 10 Canadians may develop PTSD at some point in their lives”

To be trauma-informed is to understand the ways in which violence, victimization and other traumatic experiences may have impacted the lives of the individuals we work with. To be Trauma informed in Saskatchewan means to understand that 95% of Indigenous peoples live with the effects of trauma.

Trauma in children is far more common than most people understand and causes physical reactions that can be overwhelming and difficult to explain, especially for a child.  This often results in the child operating in survival mode and isolating themselves from others in an attempt to protect themselves.  Even long after the traumatic situation has passed, a child’s brain and body can still be responding as if under threat.  This is part of the reason that children and young people exposed to trauma and stress can have difficulty learning.

While it may be impossible to know which of your students may be dealing with trauma, it is possible to create a Trauma informed approach that makes your space a safe space.  Several resources are available for moving to a Trauma Informed Practice and these are some common threads:

1. Recognition: Understand and acknowledge that trauma effects learning and that those effects can in some cases be mitigated. Create a space that honours safety, respect and acceptance above all else.

2. Avoid Re-traumatization: Be gentle and non-confrontational when working with students and allow students to care for themselves when possible. Collaborate as often as possible and build a relationship that has learning at its center.

3. Educational Goals matter: do not lower expectations, but set small intermediate goals that can show success.

4. Maximize choices and control: choice and control are often the things that trauma removes, so providing them can build confidence and empower students.

5. Strive to be culturally competent and to understand people in the context of their life experiences and cultural background.  If possible create spaces for students to celebrate their cultures as part of their learning journey and find ways to use your environment to reflect the importance of Indigenous cultures.

Self-Care is of utmost importance in our work.  Being exposed to the traumatic experiences of others can sometimes evoke feelings of distress or concern.  Be sure to monitor your own emotional reactions to stress and classroom events.  But more importantly, develop a standard practice of self-care and a circle of supportive colleagues.  You matter.

Sources and Further Reading

Aboriginal Peoples and Historic Trauma: The processes of intergenerational transmission, William Aguiar and Regine Halseth

Childhood violence and the Whac-A-Mole effect

Making Space For Learning: Trauma Informed Practice in Schools

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Aboriginal People in Canada: Review of Risk Fators, the Current State of Knowledge and Directions for Further Research, Sherry Ballamy and Cindy Hardy

Trauma Informed Schools Report