Psychologist – “This tells me that there’s a lot of brains in here right now that are wired for survival, and just might be a little on edge.” That was the sentiment expressed by Biology teacher, Erik Gordon, when responding to the information that in his class more than 13 students indicated that they have experienced significant trauma in their past.

The concepts of trauma-informed or trauma-sensitive approaches or practice seem to be popping up everywhere in the education system. Our ability to support students who have experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) also is finding its way into many staff room conversations. So what exactly does it mean to be trauma-informed or trauma sensitive? Well, a quick Google search will bring up a number of articles, programs, and ideas around how schools can begin to work with students who have been traumatized. Some of these programs can be quite expensive, but behind any commercialized answer resides two key concepts that are at the heart of being a trauma-informed educator:

  • Understanding that trauma impacts a child’s developing brain and can cause structural changes, which can impact a child’s behaviour, memory and learning.
  • Belief that positive educator-student relationships, where the child feels safe, valued, and cared for can begin to tip a child’s resiliency scale towards the positive, even though it might be stacked with negative weight.

This shift in thinking can sometimes be difficult because sometimes ‘the kids who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving of ways.’ When Erik Gordon learned about the impact that ACEs had on a child’s brain architecture, he began to work with them differently. He started to try to find more ways to connect with them, such as jamming together over lunch hour. He also began to see their behaviour as something that they may not have full control over. In fact, at Erik’s school, all of the teachers learned about the impact of trauma on the brain. They started to have regular meetings where they would discuss what was going on for their students and identify strategies to have more positive and meaningful interactions with them. As a result, suspension rates went down and achievement went up. Erik’s school’s story has been captured in a film called ‘Paper Tigers’ that Rocky View Schools Learning Support has purchased a license for.

Interested in watching Paper Tigers? Register an account using your rockyview.ab.ca email at https://rvsls.tugg.com/ and watch the documentary in its entirety. Perhaps you could hold a screening at your school and have an open dialogue about the film and its connections to your school.

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