Trauma is one of the latest fads in the education world, which means that everyone is throwing an opinion into the bowl and weighing in on what it is, what it isn't and what we should be doing about it. As a teacher, it must make your head spin a little bit to hear about another thing that you need to grasp in order to competently and confidently do your job. On another note, it's phenomenal and likely reassuring for you to see that students needs are being seen and met in new ways. Trauma has always been there, but the ability to understand and support both the student experiencing it and you, the teacher, supporting the student has not.
It's good to have some perspective of all of this: it can be powerful to get new information and support on this very major aspect of your work, however it is important to pull your head out of the expert's opinions from time to time and see the reality of what is going on right in front of you. Don't ever underestimate your own ability to observe, assess and draw some conclusions.
One of my favorite things that I have learned over the years is that I can be my own greatest student and teacher, but this is largely going to be affected by two things: my frame of reference and my ability to observe objectively. This is a combination of understanding what is simply possible, but then opening up your mind to see what is happening right in front of you. It is balancing the importance of knowledge (what you read, what you are told by experts) with experience (what is clearly happening).
Frame of reference is kinda like the ground rules of what simply is and is not possible. Just about anything is possible... within the realm of reality, thus it is imperative to know what the realm of possibility it. Having foundations for what is possible can create safe borders, which may extend or inhibit your perspective. I find that a lot of people think within a more limited realm than what actually exists, but a good frame of reference also protects you from making some bogus assumptions.
When it comes to Trauma, some good points of reference are to understand the general science behind what trauma is, what it is not and the affect that can take place. Some hard line definitions are a good place to start...
Traumais anything that is distressing to the person experiencing it. It can be a one-time experience or it cane be long term. Vague.
Stressis the response of the body to a demand for change. Again, vague.
Traumatic Stressis the response the body has to a change that is distressing. But what is distressing? No one can know this beyond the beholder of the experience.
Finally, post traumatic stress (PTS) is what happens when traumatic stress does not get integrated into our personal experience. AKA we compartmentalize a traumatic event in a way that prevents us from processing it.
These are some seriously important references to understand when working in a trauma-sensitive environment, because as specific as this is, most of these definitions are quite vague. The thing is, traumatic stress is less an event and more an impact. What is distressing to one may not be distressing to another. Everyone who experiences trauma will experience the stress of processing the trauma, but whether or not this becomes unprocessed, post traumatic stress is not to be assumed. Just because someone experiences trauma, doesn't mean that they get PTS. Also, the treatment process for someone suffering from PTS is going to be totally different than the treatment process for someone suffering from traumatic stress. There are many "rules" of what to do and not to do when working with someone experiencing traumatic or post traumatic stress, BUT you cannot pin these labels on people just from reading about them and their experience, you have to observe. It's more important to pay attention than it is to check boxes, so that you don't run the risk of treating someone for the wrong thing. If you treat someone with traumatic stress as if it is unintegrated, post traumatic you can easily stick them with an identity that they not only don't need, but will pull them down. Likewise, if you underestimate or miss someone's PTS then you may fail to meet the person where they are and potentially re-traumatize them.
This brings me back to the second aspect of being your own greatest teacher: the ability to observe what's ACTUALLY going on, beyond what the books say, in an objective manner. It is unbelievably helpful to get the foundational understandings of trauma and working in trauma-sensitive environments, but then you need to take the knowledge back to the classroom and pay attention!This, more than the treatment of the sufferer, can be the greatest opportunity for Mindfulness to have a positive impact. Mindfulness supports people in being present with and nonjudgmental of the moment. Nonjudgmental means that you see and experience everything at face value, without putting labels on it. If it's good, it's good, it's it miserable, it's miserable, without trying to gussy anything up. Mindfulness also supports being fully focused on whatever it is that you choose to be fully focused on. Thus, the more mindful you become, the more you can see the child for exactly who they are- you don't see their story, you see them and what they are exhibiting and experiencing right now. This will make you that much more effective in helping them, which I know is the whole reason why you've read up to this point. I can't stress this enough: being able to see the child objectively is going to make you less likely to throw a label on them and their experience. For example, if you lost a parent as a child, and one of your students lost a parent, it can be all too easy for you to project your experience of trauma on to their experience of trauma, making it better or worse than what it actually is. Another example, if a female student is experiencing ongoing trauma related to her image and sexuality, but you are a middle-aged man, you may not pick up on it just because it's beyond the range of what you perceive to be traumatic. As a teacher, your own personal mindfulness practice is going to have a major impact on how you are able to pick up on and support your student's trauma because it is going to make you more present with and objective of them and their experience.
So while you continue to expand your awareness of what trauma is, remember to keep this awareness open in a dual capacity of both knowledge and experience. If you're brave enough, start with yourself and your own experiences with trauma. Consider how you outwardly exhibited your trauma (your behavior and attitudes), how people responded, how you felt about their response (or lack of), how YOU responded (action or lack of action), what triggered you, how long you processed the trauma for before it became integrated (if it became integrated). The more completely and honestly you are able to see yourself (regardless of how you wish you could see yourself), the more completely and honestly you will be able to help those magnificent little beings (and little jerks alike) in your classroom.
Are you a teacher or support staff in school? Are you interested in trauma, your own trauma or the trauma of your students? Want to know what you can do to help yourself AND more effectively help your students? Shoot me an email, I'd love to support you in going deeper.
Chelsea M Latham
When I was a kid my mom would occasionally refer to me as a Reverend, because I had the need to speak so passionately about just about everything. Little did she know that some day I would build a business upon sharing the wisdom that I am so passionate about. So here you go, here are some bits and bobs of thoughts strung together for your enjoyment.