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(p. 59) Instructional Strategies for a Trauma-Informed Classroom 

(p. 59) Instructional Strategies for a Trauma-Informed Classroom
(p. 59) Instructional Strategies for a Trauma-Informed Classroom

Hannah M. Grossman

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date: 08 April 2020

Teachers have many roles in the classroom. One of those roles, as a part of children’s caregiving systems, is to support children who have experienced trauma. This chapter aims to help teachers and school-based professionals develop a shared understanding about trauma-informed classrooms and how to support them.

The chapter is structured as a problem-based learning case. It illustrates some of the complex issues involved in creating a trauma-informed classroom and provides rich topics for discussion about child trauma. The case is built around a fictitious teacher, Ms. Hall, who is trying to navigate the beginning of the school year and a potentially traumatic experience that has affected seventh-grade students in her fifth-period class. Each of the four sections provides a vignette about the situation, accompanied by three types of materials to enrich the learning process: conceptual explorations, personal practice, and group activities. For some sections, you will be asked to consider and include locally relevant resources as well. The section summary found after each vignette will outline requisite materials.

This case can be read through by an individual or used in groups. If working on your own, read through each section and think through some of the conceptual explorations and/or try one of the suggested personal practice options. To process the case as a group, select the materials you would like to use, invite a group to meet, and review the case. The whole case can be covered in one training or broken into shorter trainings to fit your schedule. Estimate that each section will take at least 20 minutes to cover, though the materials can expand to fit the training time available and to accommodate specific learning objectives. Use information from other chapters of this book to supplement group knowledge and strengthen trauma content knowledge, and then revisit some of these cases. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network website ( also provides well-suited supplementary materials created for teachers and relevant to this chapter.

(p. 60) Group Processing Suggestions

  • Select one or more people to guide the discussion process as facilitator(s). A case facilitator can summarize group discussions, determine when to transition subjects, and support general decision-making.

  • Select a scribe to record and organize people’s ideas during discussions. This makes combining perspectives more accurate and makes the information easier to access later.

  • If you have a large group of teachers, try to break them up into smaller groups to process the case material. You want everyone to have a chance to share their perspectives.

  • If time is limited, group members can individually read sections on their own time and then discuss when together as a group.

Conceptual Lenses

This case features the Simplified 12 Core Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families (Core Curriculum Interactive Learning Group, 2019) (Figure 4.1). These concepts constitute foundational aspects of child trauma and can be helpful conceptual lenses to organize and frame complex situations. As with any conceptual lenses, practice helps in their application. As you read through Ms. Hall’s case, think about how and where these 12 core concepts can provide new perspectives on the case.

Figure 4.1 Simplified 12 core concepts.

Figure 4.1 Simplified 12 core concepts.

Section 1: Introduction to Ms. Hall’s Class

It was 12:20 on Monday afternoon when Ms. Hall checked the clock in her seventh-grade science classroom. She had 10 more minutes before the bell would ring for fifth period. She groaned inwardly—she had five periods to teach, with a minimum of 33 students in each. She always felt rushed. The middle school where Ms. Hall taught was large, with over 1,200 students in grades 6–8. It seemed impossible to know everyone on campus. The school was located in an urban area, in an older part of town; serviced a number of local low-income housing projects; and was designated Title 1, with 92% of the student body eligible to receive either a free or a reduced-price lunch. About 20% of the school was designated as English-language learners, and its ethnic breakdown was 91% Latino, 5% Asian, 1.5% white, 1% black, and 1.5% other. Ms. Hall wished that she could speak Spanish more fluently. She had grown up in a more suburban area and had never really worried about language issues; everyone spoke English. While most of her students spoke English fluently, many of their parents did not. It made contacting them stressful, and she admitted to herself that sometimes she avoided calling homes because of the language barriers.

(p. 61) Ms. Hall’s fifth period was not an easy class. It was two thirds boys, mostly 12-year-olds, and they were rowdy after lunch. She looked at her seating chart and contemplated the class. The school year had started only a few weeks ago, and everyone was still getting to know each other. She had assigned seats at the beginning of the year and would be moving them again by the end of the week. There was so much to consider. She tried to spread English-language learners across groups so that they could have peer support in learning the science vocabulary. She had tried to put girls next to girls on the first seating chart because the new seventh graders still seemed to prefer like-gender collaborations at first. She would mix that up more later in the semester. Additionally, there were five students receiving special education services and/or had 504-related accommodations that needed to be considered. Ms. Hall kept them marked on her seating chart during the beginning of the year to make sure that she incorporated the accommodations identified in their plans (Figure 4.2). The accommodations varied among the students. For example, Karen was receiving special education services because she had learning (p. 62) differences supported by extra response time and help in pacing long-term tasks. In contrast, Geovanni had emotional disturbances, and his accommodations included permitting him to move around the room during class if he became dysregulated, cueing him about behavior, and paying attention to proximity and touch when interacting with him.

Figure 4.2 Ms. Hall’s classroom chart.

Figure 4.2 Ms. Hall’s classroom chart.

Ms. Hall sometimes had difficulty meeting students’ accommodations due to the fact that many kids acted out in different ways. Edgar, for instance, had no 504 accommodation plan or individualized education program (IEP), though he was constantly distracted, needed to hear instructions twice, and regularly stared out the window. When he was listening, he often distracted the rest of the class by playing the clown. He and Geovanni had skipped a couple of classes last week. She had called their parents about the absences. Geovanni kept missing class, but her call had stopped Edgar’s absences abruptly. All Ms. Hall had had to do was mention to Edgar’s mother that he had missed class twice. His mother said she would speak to his father about it. Since then, Edgar had been in class, on time, every day. He still didn’t pay attention, but he was there. Now, Ms. Hall thought to herself, if she could only fix Roberto’s and Carlos’s tardies.

Five minutes into fifth period, Ms. Hall had completed taking attendance and recording warm-up points. She asked students to volunteer to share their entries with the class. She wanted to get everyone contributing, so she gave participation points and made sure to keep track of who had shared before. First, Marcy shared her warm-up response. She spoke of the local area and described the opossums and crows she saw by her apartment. Next, Thomas talked about the ecology in Guadalajara, where he lived until he was 7. He spoke about the (p. 63) mountains and the climate. He proudly described an armadillo, an animal few others had seen.

After their warm-up, the students were given their project assignments. In pairs, they were tasked to make pamphlets about different ecosystems. Ms. Hall passed out a written explanation of the project and had them partner with the person sitting next to them. Textbooks and other written resources were available in the book room. Students could research from those or could use the laptops from the class cart. Ms. Hall worked at integrating technology into her teaching process. She kept a list of websites where good information could be retrieved, and the school had good Web traffic controls to regulate students’ access to outside materials.

As the students worked, Ms. Hall circulated through the room, answering questions and refocusing off-task students. The rest of the period went by quickly, with students talking and researching for the project.

Section 1 Activity


  • Case Section 1: Introduction to Ms. Hall’s class

  • The Simplified 12 Core Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families

  • Ms. Hall’s seating chart for fifth period

Section Learning Objective

  • Section 1 focuses on describing the learning context. It describes the school community and the classroom context, to ground learners’ understanding of traumatic experiences within the worlds in which they occur.

Related Core Concepts

  • Core Concept 2: Trauma occurs within a broad setting that includes children’s personal characteristics, their past histories, and their current situations.

  • Core Concept 8: Trauma and the hardships that follow can both strongly influence and disrupt children’s development.

  • Core Concept 10: Culture can powerfully influence how children experience and react to traumatic experiences.

Conceptual Explorations

  • Compare and contrast your school to Ms. Hall’s school. Identify ways in which you think contextual factors might shape your school culture.

  • Identify and analyze Ms. Hall’s classroom design and management techniques. What aspects do you think are good practice? What aspects do you find not as strong?

(p. 64)

Personal Practice

  • Review the accommodations and interventions required among students with 504 accommodation plans or IEPs, as well as those with language-learning needs. Examine how your class design better enables you to support these students.

Group Activities

  • After reading the first section of this case, look at Ms. Hall’s seating chart. Review the 12 core concepts. Identify and explain hypotheses you have about her students from combining these data sources.

  • Look up some of the demographic information about your student body. This could include socioeconomic status measures and ethnicity breakdowns or alternatively, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has a range of metrics by state, county, and city in their Kids Count Data Center ( Try to identify ways that this demographic information shapes your school’s culture.

Section 2: Outside of the Classroom

Cynthia, Alex, and Karina, now seventh graders, were best friends. They had been friends ever since third grade, when Alex’s family moved to the area. Their apartments were all in the same large, low-income housing complex a mile from the middle school. Alex (more formally, Alexandra) was a few months younger than the other two, and they treated her like their little sister. She played the part, too. She wore neat, tailored clothing, had her hair in tight braids, and spoke with a laughing accent from her childhood in Oaxaca. Her parents were strict. They kept her busy caring for her younger brothers and never allowed her to miss Sunday morning church. Alex was the voice of reason for the group of friends.

Karina was Alex’s opposite. She lived with her dad, older brother, and sister. Her mom had passed away from cancer when she was 9. Alex and Cynthia had been there for Karina during her mom’s illness, and she had a fierce loyalty to them for their support. Karina was the wild and spontaneous one in the group and always had ideas for adventures. It was her idea to take the bus to the fashion district to look at sunglasses the past summer, and she instigated live chat sessions between the group and Alex’s cousins in Mexico. She was outrageous, sarcastic, and the best soccer player on the girls’ team.

Cynthia provided the balance between the other girls. She wasn’t athletic and adventurous like Karina, nor was she a straight-A student like Alex. Her friends considered her boy crazy because they were a constant focus of her conversations. She was also a kind friend who was always willing to listen and provide advice. She put up with Alex making gagging sounds whenever she talked about a guy and had caffeine for Karina before school to counteract her insomnia. Cynthia had a no-nonsense approach that she said came from growing up the only girl in a pack of cousins. Both of Cynthia’s parents worked (p. 65) two jobs, and her aunt watched Cynthia and her younger brothers in the evenings. Cynthia’s cousin, Jorge, was the same age as she was and was also in fifth period Science. Cynthia and Jorge didn’t spend much time together at school, though they were still very close. Sometimes their families joked that they were more like brother and sister than cousins because they had spent so much of their childhood together.

One Saturday night, the girls made plans to spend the night at Karina’s place. Karina’s dad had just begun dating a woman, and he was out for the night. Karina’s older brother was gone, and her little sister was spending the night at a friend’s house. No one would know that the girls weren’t at the apartment all evening.

Alex, Cynthia, and Karina met at Karina’s place and then walked to Geovanni’s apartment to hang out there. Cynthia had met Geovanni in Ms. Hall’s class, and they had been “dating” for the last few weeks. This was the first time they were hanging out outside of school, however. Geovanni’s best friend, Edgar, was there, too. He spent most of his free time at Geovanni’s house, and there was always a place at the table for him. Geovanni’s dad was at work that evening, and his mom was out of town visiting her sister; but his older brother, Arturo, was there. Arturo was a junior in high school, and the girls thought he was very cool.

Arturo supplied some beer, and the group spent the evening drinking, hanging out, and playing video games. The girls got tipsy and silly. None of them had much experience drinking alcohol. The guys were an amused audience, turning the girls’ normal teasing and bantering into hours of entertainment. As the evening progressed, things became more intimate. When Alex teased Cynthia (yet again) about her dating, Cynthia kissed Geovanni. Later, the evening transitioned into Karina and Arturo flirting on the couch while Cynthia and Geovanni made out on the other side of the room. Alex curled up half-asleep, like a kitten, in a chair, listening to the sounds of Edgar playing video games. Twenty minutes later, Alex had already drifted to sleep when Arturo led a giggling Karina out of the living room toward his bedroom.

The rest of the night was a blur. The girls ended up pretty drunk, but Alex got them to Karina’s place sometime in the middle of the night. Karina got sick, and Alex was up most of the night making sure Karina was safe. Alex had no idea just how sick was “too sick,” however, and spent hours worried about whether she should call for help. By dawn, Alex was sure that Karina would be safe but was exhausted as she headed off to church. Cynthia woke up, made breakfast, and helped clean the vomit from the bathroom floor before heading home to do her own chores. That’s what friends do for one another.

The following Monday morning, Cynthia’s cousin Jorge was changing for physical education when he overheard Edgar bragging. Edgar told his friend that he used a video game system to make recordings of some girls over the weekend. Jorge knew Edgar was best friends with Geovanni and that Cynthia had hung out with Geovanni on Saturday and figured out that Edgar was talking about her and her friends. Jorge found Cynthia during break and told her what he had heard. Cynthia was livid. She confronted Geovanni as soon as she saw him at lunch. It (p. 66) became a huge fight, but Geovanni treated it all as a joke. He said that the videos existed and offered to show them to her, though he never did. Cynthia flipped out and pushed Geovanni. Right then, a lunch monitor blew a whistle, and Cynthia got taken to the dean.

When the dean, Mr. Alvarez, asked why she had pushed Geovanni, Cynthia didn’t respond. She didn’t want to get in trouble for drinking and had no idea what could be on those videos. Alex wasn’t even at school that day. Cynthia couldn’t imagine how Alex’s strict parents would react to a video with Alex on it. Cynthia tried to remember what might have been recorded. She was embarrassed and ashamed. Instead of responding to Mr. Alvarez’s questions, she ignored him. She drew on her notebook while she tried to figure out what to say to Karina. Mr. Alvarez kept her for fifth period and then sent her to sixth period for art class. He made a joke about how she was already drawing as she left the room. The bell for sixth period rang as she slid into her seat next to Karina. While they practiced their shading, Cynthia told Karina what she knew. Karina went quiet and wouldn’t make eye contact with Cynthia.

Section 2 Activity


  • Case Section 2: Outside the Classroom

  • The Simplified 12 Core Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families

Section Learning Objectives

  • This section focuses on a potentially traumatic event that happened outside of class but which nevertheless influences the classroom. It also provides cultural and family information to contextualize the traumatic experience.

Related Core Concepts

  • Core Concept 6: Traumatic experiences affect the child, the child’s family, other child caregivers, and how they relate to one another.

  • Core Concept 7: A child’s individual, family, and community strengths can protect against the harmful impacts of trauma and loss.

  • Core Concept 10: Culture can powerfully influence how children experience and react to traumatic experiences.

Conceptual Explorations

  • How might the described family dynamics have influenced the situation that occured?

  • What are some supportive factors in Cynthia’s, Alex’s, and Karina’s worlds that might help the girls in dealing with the current situation?

(p. 67)

Personal Practice

  • Choose a character from the scenario and try to identify life factors that might positively or negatively influence how that character acts and responds to the situation.

Group Activities

  • Create a diagram that includes family dynamics, friendships, and relationships that have been described in this case section. Examining these sociocultural factors, consider how they interact to further influence the situation.

  • Reading a case section allows for an omniscient perspective. Using this perspective, come up with a list of recommendations for the girls to better handle the situation. Next, identify the socioemotional skills needed to carry out your recommendations.

Section 3: Karina Talks to Ms. Hall

Karina thought about what had happened with Arturo and what might have been filmed. She had let him kiss her on Saturday night, she remembered that. She didn’t remember much else. Her stomach soured as she recalled the feeling of Arturo’s hand beneath her shirt. She imagined what her dad would think if he saw the video. She knew that he would be extremely disappointed in her. Her dad had tried so hard to take care of Karina and her siblings since their mom’s cancer. Karina’s mind quickly switched to imagining what her mom would think of her if she were still alive. By the end of the class period, Karina was very anxious.

Karina’s older brother had been in Ms. Hall’s class 2 years before. He had told Karina stories about how Ms. Hall had helped when his friend was being bullied in her class. He trusted Ms. Hall a lot, and Karina didn’t know who else to trust. She did know that she couldn’t return to class with Geovanni and Edgar there. Though Cynthia told her to chill out and promised to find a way to fix it, Karina was an anxious mess. After school, she went to Ms. Hall’s room to talk.

Ms. Hall was in the front of the room preparing for the next day when Karina came in. Karina had obviously been crying and barely hiccupped out that she wanted to talk. Ms. Hall told her that she was always open to listening but that Karina should be aware that she was a mandated reporter and would need to contact the county if she suspected abuse or neglect. Karina hesitated, and Ms. Hall said that she could recommend a counselor instead. Karina shook her head no, saying that she still wanted to talk with Ms. Hall.

In a shaking voice, Karina told Ms. Hall that she had been hanging out over the weekend with some friends from fifth period and that she believed that Edgar had recorded her making out with somebody there. Now she and her friends were scared and didn’t know what to do. She didn’t mention names other than Edgar’s and tried to reveal as few details as possible while still sharing her fears. (p. 68) The reporting comment had scared Karina; she hadn’t told Alex or Cynthia she was going to talk to Ms. Hall, and she didn’t think that they would be happy with her.

Ms. Hall listened and tried to keep her face from showing how horrified she was. The whole situation overwhelmed her. She was a science teacher, not a counselor. Karina’s story sounded like something she might need to report. She didn’t even remember all the details of reporting. More personally, Karina’s story made her throat tight and her stomach ache. She hated the powerless feeling that hearing Karina brought up. It made her remember the date in college who didn’t hear her “no” and had taken her frozen unresponsiveness as consent. She hadn’t thought of that night in years, but hearing Karina’s story brought it rushing back. Lost in her thoughts, Ms. Hall distractedly said she would have to report the video to the local authorities. Karina burst out sobbing. She begged Ms. Hall not to report it and then ran from the room. Ms. Hall wished that she had handled the situation better.

Ms. Hall dug out the mandated reporter paperwork from the school, wishing that she had received more training on the subject. She found the necessary form online, filled out what she knew, and made the call. The call was quick, though they asked for much more information than Ms. Hall had. She called Child Protective Services, and they directed her to law enforcement. They thanked her and said she would hear back from them within 60 days. She noticed the online training for mandated reporting on her state website and promised herself she would take it when she had the time. She stopped at the office on her way home to talk to her administrator about the situation and to discuss whether they legally needed to inform the parents.

That Monday night was harder than usual for Ms. Hall. She usually limited herself to two glasses of wine on a weeknight, though she allowed herself a third glass that night. She walked across her one-room apartment and returned to the stacks of papers on her couch. She sighed and picked up her pen. She continued work on her grading with the TV on in the background.

Section 3 Activity


  • Case Section 3: Karina talks to Ms. Hall

  • The Simplified 12 Core Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families

  • Mandated reporter paperwork for your school

Section Learning Objectives

  • This section is about what to do when a student discloses information. It also includes secondary traumatic stress information and discussion points on traumatic grief.

(p. 69)

Related Core Concepts

  • Core Concept 5: Children with trauma histories are often distracted by concerns about danger, being protected, and safety.

  • Core Concept 9: Children’s developing brains influence how they react to, and are affected by, traumatic experiences.

  • Core Concept 12: Working with children exposed to trauma can cause distress in adult caregivers that makes it more difficult for them to provide good care.

Conceptual Explorations

  • Reading and thinking about traumatic events can be its own form of trauma reminder. Take a second to feel your reactions to this section.

  • In what ways did Ms. Hall handle this well, and in what ways could she have improved?

  • Ms. Hall chose to report this case. Do you think that what happened at Geovanni’s apartment is something that Ms. Hall is mandated to report? Why or why not? (Mandated reporter requirements may vary from state to state. Details about individual state laws can be found by visiting the Child Welfare Information Gateway []. Some reports go to Child Protective Services, and others may need to go directly to law enforcement.)

  • Looking at the Core Concepts related to this section, how do these influence your interpretation of the case so far?

Personal Practice

  • Practice a mandated reporter disclosure statement to a student who seems distressed and wants to speak with you in private.

  • Try to identify your own trauma reminders, and consider how they influence your work in school.

Group Activities

  • Come up with a list of alternative coping strategies for Ms. Hall.

  • Without sharing identifying information, have teachers share stories of when students disclosed mandated reporting information and how they handled the situation.

  • In what ways does your school support teacher wellness? What might help you feel more supported?

Section 4: Ms. Hall Meets with Ms. Silva

Before school the next morning, Ms. Hall went to talk to the school counselor, Ms. Silva. She didn’t know how to handle this situation and wanted some guidance. Ms. Silva greeted Ms. Hall and invited her to sit on the couch in her office. Ms. (p. 70) Silva was new to the school, and this was the first time they had spoken. Ms. Hall summarized the little that Karina had told her. She said that Karina and a group of students from fifth period had been hanging out over the weekend and that something had happened of a sexual nature, though she had no real details. Making it even more complicated, another student in the class, Edgar, might have made video recordings of some of the evening. As Ms. Hall spoke, her voice changed from an even rhythm to a frenzied rush as her mind spun through the details again.

Ms. Silva put her hand on Ms. Hall’s arm and offered tissues from a box on the table. Before she addressed the video situation, Ms. Silva took a moment to have Ms. Hall notice how she was feeling. Then Ms. Silva outlined some techniques that Ms. Hall could use to calm herself down when she was anxious. Ms. Silva introduced Ms. Hall to the concept of secondary traumatic stress that comes with doing work that helps other people. Ms. Hall reflected on her coping strategy from the night before and recognized that she might need some better strategies in the future. Ms. Hall decided to take a secondary traumatic stress (STS) assessment when she got home. Only after Ms. Hall had practiced some deep breathing did they transition to discussing the fifth-period problem again.

Ms. Silva asked Ms. Hall what support would help in this particular situation. Ms. Hall said that she wanted guidance on what to do. She knew there were other kids involved, not just Karina and Edgar, though she didn’t know who and she didn’t know how to identify whether there was a problem—or, if there was, how to deal with it. She also wasn’t sure if this even fell in the school’s “jurisdiction” as it happened over the weekend. Ms. Silva suggested that they start with what they did know. Ms. Hall and Ms. Silva got out Karina’s and Edgar’s files to better understand the situation. Karina’s file included her grades but not much else. She hadn’t gotten into much trouble or been an outstanding student. Edgar’s file was much larger. He had multiple disciplinary notes, including referrals for fighting and suspensions for disobedience. His most recent suspension was from Mr. Allen, his history teacher. That suspension had been the week before.

Ms. Hall didn’t particularly like Mr. Allen and was annoyed that they often taught the same students. At professional development meetings, he made disparaging jokes about the students and talked about his upcoming retirement. Last spring, during peer-observation week, she watched his students spend all period filling out worksheets. There was no conversation or perspective-sharing. Ms. Hall considered Mr. Allen lazy. After her conversation with Ms. Silva, Ms. Hall wondered if Mr. Allen’s resentful statements and lack of patience were signs of compassion fatigue. She didn’t think that he would be open to the information about self-care that she had just received.

In the suspension form, Mr. Allen had reported that the incident had occurred in his class while he was dealing with an administrative issue on his computer. He wrote that he became aware that students were misbehaving when he heard obscenities shouted from the closet in the back of the room. Someone had locked Edgar in it. When Mr. Allen unlocked the closet, Edgar was screaming and swearing loudly. Mr. Allen didn’t think Edgar’s behavior was appropriate and tried to reprimand him, but Edgar shoved his way past Mr. Allen. This led to Mr. Allen (p. 71) suspending him. After reading the suspension form, Ms. Silva had questioned whether Edgar may have a possible history of trauma. She asked if Ms. Hall had any knowledge related to that possibility.

Ms. Hall mentioned calling Edgar’s home and how frantic he had been to avoid the interaction. She had been uncomfortable with how quickly the call had influenced his behavior. Ms. Silva gave Ms. Hall a guide to identify signs of trauma in students of different ages. Reading through the list was very enlightening for Ms. Hall. She mentioned some of his class behaviors that were also signs of possible trauma exposure. It made Ms. Hall reconsider all her students. She thought of Paola missing class to take care of siblings and wondered about neglect. She wondered about Juan’s withdrawn quietness. He was always in class and did the warm-ups but would never make eye contact or volunteer to speak. Yesterday, Alphonso had had a very difficult time getting Juan to focus on their ecology project. After reading through the form, she recognized that many of Edgar’s classroom behaviors were associated with complex trauma. She shared this realization with Ms. Silva.

Ms. Silva gave Ms. Hall an outline of the school’s guidelines for dealing with issues like this and contact information for the important parties. They discussed the different resources available and how the system was created to support students with differing needs. Then Ms. Silva suggested that Ms. Hall send Edgar to her to talk things out before determining what disciplinary actions would be appropriate to address the video issue. Ms. Silva also suggested that she meet with Karina as well. Ms. Hall was happy for the support. She didn’t have the tools to handle such complex issues.

Next, Ms. Hall asked what to do about fifth period. Together they decided to transfer Edgar from fifth period into third period. Then Ms. Hall asked for general suggestions on how to get her students to work better together. Ms. Silva gave her worksheets about social-emotional learning and creating a trauma-informed classroom culture. Ms. Hall found both worksheets very helpful. The worksheet on social-emotional learning gave Ms. Hall language to discuss how her moods shaped classroom interactions. It explained those days when everything went wrong. It was almost as if a bad mood were contagious. Ms. Hall had another realization when discussing impulse control. She hadn’t considered how self-control was a skill. She suddenly realized that at times people might be incapable of controlling their reactions. She questioned the times she had assumed that a child was just being defiant. What if they couldn’t stop themselves, rather than simply deciding they wouldn’t? She reflected on the situation that she read about between Mr. Allen and Edgar. Ms. Hall knew that she would react badly to being locked in a closet, and she wondered how regulated Mr. Allen had been in the interaction with Edgar.

The materials about trauma-informed classrooms made Ms. Hall realize that she was doing all right with her students, even if this situation was overwhelming. Ms. Hall smiled to herself about the many aspects of her room that already supported a trauma-safe classroom, including Karina feeling safe enough to disclose what had happened. She thought of the collaboratively identified class rules. She knew her project-based classroom provided students with meaningful interactions. Ms. (p. 72) Hall also identified areas in which she could improve: She didn’t often model her decision-making, and she didn’t know much about a growth-oriented approach. She decided to practice these skills over the next few weeks and seek out professional development on these topics.

Overall, the meeting with Ms. Silva was incredibly helpful for Ms. Hall. The knowledge and materials Ms. Silva shared made Ms. Hall feel more prepared for the situation and supported in her work. Ms. Hall returned to her room after the meeting, ready to plan a better classroom community for fifth period.

Section 4 Activity


  • Case Section 4: Ms. Hall meets with Ms. Silva

  • The Simplified 12 Core Concepts for Understanding Traumatic Stress Responses in Children and Families

  • Figure 4.3 on social-emotional learning in the classroom

  • Figure 4.4 on building a classroom community to support trauma-informed teaching

  • Informational sheets on the referral programs associated with your school

  • Ms. Hall’s seating chart for fifth period

Figure 4.3 Social-emotional learning and the classroom.

Figure 4.3 Social-emotional learning and the classroom.

Figure 4.4 Building a classroom community to support trauma-informed teaching.

Figure 4.4 Building a classroom community to support trauma-informed teaching.

(p. 73) Section Learning Objectives

  • This section is about gaining foundational knowledge in social-emotional learning, creating a trauma-informed classroom culture, and learning the specific trauma protocols used at your school.

Related Core Concepts

  • Core Concept 3: Traumatic events often lead to other life hardships, life changes, and upsetting reminders that can cause distress.

  • Core Concept 5: Children with trauma histories are often distracted by concerns about danger, being protected, and safety.

  • Core Concept 7: A child’s individual, family, and community strengths can protect against the harmful impacts of trauma and loss.

  • Core Concept 12: Working with children exposed to trauma can cause distress in adult caregivers that makes it more difficult for them to provide good care.

Conceptual Explorations

  • How would your school’s disciplinary system have you deal with this situation?

  • Which social-emotional learning categories (based on Figure 4.1) did Mr. Allen provide a negative example of, and in what ways were his actions detrimental?

  • In what ways does your school support you in building a trauma-informed classroom community?

  • (p. 74) If you were going to lead a conversation with period 5 to address some of the trust and safety issues within the class, what aspects would you consider important to address?

  • What factors do we hypothesize might be important for Ms. Hall to consider when creating her new seating chart?

Optional Personal Practice

  • Read through other chapters of this book and practice applying the 12 core concepts as lenses for your interpretation of how traumatic exposure might affect the classroom.

  • Examine your classroom rules to see in what ways they are trauma-informed. Refine them with the knowledge you learned in this training.

  • Looking through the information about social-emotional learning, come up with a list of ways that you could allow students to practice in these categories while learning your subject matter at the same time.

  • Take a personal STS assessment such as the Secondary Traumatic Stress Scale or Professional Quality of Life (ProQOL). These are easily available online and can help you better understand your own STS. Also, see Chapter 17 for more on STS.

  • Rearrange your seating chart to build the dynamics you would like to see in your classroom

  • Think back to a time when a student had an impulse-control issue with you. How did you react? If you could go back in time, how would you change your reaction?

Optional Group Activities

  • If you were going to lead a conversation with period 5 to address some of the trust and safety issues within the class, what aspects would you consider important to address?

  • Create a list of ways your school supports a trauma-informed school culture and a list of areas where creating a trauma-informed practice seems more difficult due to school policy.

  • Design a conversation plan for fifth period to help address the classroom culture issues and increase students’ feelings of safety and belonging in class.


This chapter has benefited from feedback from schoolteachers and mental health professionals. This work would not have been possible without their support.


Core Curriculum Interactive Learning Group. (2019). The simplified 12 core concepts for understanding traumatic stress responses in children and families. Los Angeles, CA, and Durham, NC: UCLA–Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.Find this resource: