Trauma-Informed Teaching for Intermediate Schools

By Christyana Bolls, Gracie Klatt, Sophie Kim

“The American Psychological Association defines trauma simply as ‘an emotional response to a terrible event,’ such as a car accident” (Gunn, 2018). Trauma isn’t a one-time reaction to a traumatic event. It continues to affect every aspect of people’s lives including their school life. Students dealing with trauma tend to have behavioral issues and perform poorly in school. Initiating dialogue about trauma-informed pedagogy and creating a learning environment where students’ well-being is prioritized will help students perform better academically and improve their emotional state.


What is Trauma?

“Trauma or traumatic events are those in which an individual experiences, witnesses, or is confronted with actual or threatened death or serious injury, or threatened physical integrity of self or others” (McInerney & McKlindon 2014). Students who’ve had these experiences are impacted through their behavior and learning in school. Trauma comes in many forms including and not limited to physical, psychological, sexual abuse; violence against one’s mother; or living with household members who are mentally ill, suicidal, substance abusers, or were incarcerated (McInerney & McKlindon 2014). Traumatic events can be experiences that a whole community witnesses such as a shooting or natural disaster.  It is crucial for school staff to recognize and support students dealing with trauma rather than assuming certain students are just “bad kids”. 

Who is Affected by Trauma?

Anyone, regardless of race, social status and background are affected by trauma. “Research suggests that between half and two-thirds of all school-aged children experience trauma” (McInerney & McKlindon 2014). However, according to McInerney and McKlindon, children and adolescents in urban environments experience higher rates of exposure to violence. Students who have experienced trauma can affect the classroom environment, their classmates and the teacher. “Any educator who works directly with traumatized children and adolescents is vulnerable to the effects of trauma — referred to as compassionate fatigue or secondary traumatic stress” (Child Trauma Toolkit, 2019). Teachers should remember to attend to self-care especially if they are helping students cope with trauma. 

What Signs Should Teachers Look for in Students Affected by Trauma and What Can be Done to Help them?


Information From “Raising Our Children to be Resilient” By: Linda Goldman


How Does Trauma Affect Students?

Students can be affected by many different types of traumas. Most students are affected by “life traumas such as bullying and victimization, divorce and separation, foster care and abandonment, violence and abuse, and gender issues and sexuality” (Goldman 12). These traumas can affect any student, which is why identifying the signs is important in order to give students the help they need. “Children usually respond to a traumatic event with common identifying factors such as reexperiencing the event through play reenactment, nightmares, recurring waking memories, and disturbing thoughts and feelings” (Goldman 15). These signs can not always be seen in the classroom, but if these signs are suspected a conversation with the student could clarify what’s going on. If students are experiencing trauma creating a fear box could be helpful. It is similar to a safe box but instead of filling it with things that make the student feel safe and happy, you fill it with what is causing the student fear. It can help by displacing the fear in helping the child to remove the fear from themselves and contain it in a place where it can not escape like a box. Be mindful of the signs they may seem small at first but they can grow into bigger problems later. A copy of the chart above can be kept in the classroom at the teacher’s desk for reference. 

Techniques and Tips for Teachers

Here are some techniques and tips that can be used in the classroom as resources to help students. The images of the calm corner can be used to create a calm down corner. This would be a space where kids can go and use coping skills to calm down when they are feeling angry, sad, or confused. It would have a table, chair, and toolbox. The toolbox would contain the items they can use to cope. This would be a resource that would help kids to work out their feelings without always needing a person to help them. The other image is just a list of coping skills from A-Z. These images can be posted in your classroom for students to use as a visual when they need them. Teachers can also create a safe learning environment where they initiate dialogue with students on a personal level by, asking about their day and if they have any concerns they would like to talk about. Another tip for the classroom is being aware and sensitive to the fact that not all students share the same lifestyle. Being aware can help shape lesson plans to be more inclusive of the different experiences that your students have. 

Here is a list of guides that you can read for more techniques and tips on helping kids deal with trauma.

  • “Raising our Children to be Resilient” By: Linda Goldman

 This resource is a book that describes trauma and ways to help kids cope through trauma and traumatic experiences. 

  • “Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators” By: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

This resource is a guide of tips and tricks for helping kids of a variety of ages to cope with the trauma they are dealing with.

  • Unlocking the Door to Learning: Trauma-Informed Classrooms & Transformational Schools By: Maura McInerney and Amy McKindon

This resource breaks down what trauma is, explains who experiences trauma using statistics, and provides evidence-supported and evidence-based approaches to address trauma. 

This is a resource that kids can look at to use coping skills that may help them.


These images are a resource to hang in a corner (space) for kids to calm down with.


Legislation Regarding Trauma

“Ohio currently has a bill pending that: requires local boards of education to adopt curriculum for in-service training in social-emotional development and trauma-informed care, requires school personnel to complete that training, and requires local boards of education to approve a tiered support program focused on fostering positive school climate, which can include increased trauma-informed care, supplemental mental health, and social-emotional development resources,” (Posamentier, 2018). The Ohio Department of Education does have information on how to become a trauma-informed school or school district, but does not currently have any policies regarding the topic. The research regarding trauma-informed pedagogy and trauma-informed schools implies that school boards in the United States are progressing towards becoming institutions that prioritize mental health and the well-being of students in order for them to reach their potential academically. At the federal level, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act was just recently passed by Congress and signed by President Trump. This bill gives $50 million to support state education agencies and school districts to increase evidence-based trauma support services and mental health care.

What are Ohio Schools Doing About Trauma?

The Ohio Department of Education website currently is a resource on how schools and districts can become trauma-informed. The website informs Ohio educators that trauma-informed approaches strengthen staff and student connections, promote parent and community partnerships and improve school climate.

A trauma-informed approach:

  • Uses a holistic lens to explore all domains that impact a student’s growth, development and learning;
  • Prioritizes relationships and focuses on building connections between students and school;
  • Promotes physical, social/emotional and academic safety for students and staff;
  • Proactively addresses trauma by teaching students self-regulation techniques.

The Ohio Department of Education website, then follows what a trauma-informed approach is with steps districts and schools can take to become trauma-informed:

  • Establish administrative and staff buy-in for creating a trauma-informed environment;
  • Develop or identify an existing team to plan and coach trauma-informed approaches;
  • Build partnerships with community agencies for training, consultation, resources and services (hospitals, mental and behavioral health agencies, health department, job and family services, law enforcement);
  • Provide ongoing training and professional development on the following topics:
    • Chronic stress and trauma;
    • Instructional techniques for teaching traumatized students;
    • Nurturing relationships with students and creating safe and respectful environments;
    • De-escalation techniques;
    • Restorative practices;
    • Cultural competency.
  • Review policies and procedures to ensure they reflect an understanding of trauma, remove barriers and prevent re-traumatization (e.g., discipline and restraint and seclusion);
  • Establish a continuum of academic and non-academic supports and interventions, ranging from the promotion of skills to prevention and intervention;
  • Embed social and emotional skill-building in learning activities.

There are schools in urban, suburban, and rural parts of Ohio that are working towards becoming trauma-informed schools. Each school is making improvements to their websites to give students access to resources that will provide them with support in all aspects, but trauma in particular.

  • Greenbriar Middle School is set in a suburban part of Ohio in Parma, Ohio. On the school’s website, there is a tab specifically labeled “For Students.” Under this tab, are plenty of resources for the students. These resources include the guidance department, report bullying, safety hotline, and a few others.
  • Phoenix Community Learning Center is located in an urban part of Ohio in Cincinnati, Ohio. On the school’s website, there is a tab labeled “Pupil Services.” Under this tab, there are resources including special education, tutoring, wellness policy, and a couple more.
  • Pike-Delta-York Middle school is set in a more rural part of Ohio in Delta, Ohio. On this website, click on the tab labeled “Student Services.” This tab brings viewers to a page with information on their intervention assistance team, school psychologist, occupational therapy, the McKinney-Vento Homeless Act, and a few others.
  • One resource is an article from the Dayton Daily News. The article gives a look into what local schools around the Dayton area are doing to help with the trauma that students are coming to school with. A project survey was done in a few districts to find out how each district is addressing mental health. What the director of one district said was that it is their philosophy that they must meet the needs of the whole child since it all impacts their ability to learn in some manner.


  • Complex trauma – “Describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure” (Trauma Types, 2018). 
  • Childhood trauma – “Generally refers to the traumatic experiences that occur to children aged 0-6” (Trauma Types, 2018). 
  • Trauma-informed pedagogy – “Refers to the acknowledgement of the role trauma has played in the lives of both students and teachers when creating curriculum. By understanding the experiences of the students, teachers create a learning environment based on those experiences and prioritizing the students’ well-being” (What is Trauma-Informed , 2019). 
  • Trauma-informed school – “Refers to the adults in the school community who are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress” (What is a Trauma-Informed, 2019). 


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Figure 2f from: Irimia R, Gottschling M (2016) Taxonomic revision of Rochefortia Sw. 

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