How to Teach from a Trauma-informed Mindset

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Trauma is a physiological and psychological response to any threatening or deeply upsetting situation. These situations vary—the death of a loved one, child abuse or neglect, financial uncertainty, ongoing discrimination or bullying, a car wreck, being witness to community violence—there is no shortage of stressors.

In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, close to 63 percent of adults said their life has been forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 167,000 children have lost a parent or caregiver to the coronavirus.

One thing is certain, most have experienced some form of trauma at some point in time.

What is trauma-informed teaching?

Being trauma-informed means that one has a level of understanding about trauma and its impacts on an individual’s brain, body, emotions, and behavior. Trauma-informed teaching means viewing and embracing the individual as a whole child and not quickly judging the child or teen’s behavior in the classroom. It’s a commitment to learning and recognizing that the undesirable behaviors are attempts to soothe emotional dysregulation, which a trauma-impacted individual often does unconsciously.

The trauma-informed mindset shifts the question from “What is wrong with this child?” to “What has happened to this child?”

Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute’s Trauma-informed Teaching session recognizes and approaches teaching K-12 students who have experienced trauma.

“When you teach from a trauma-informed lens, you approach differently. You don’t assume,” said Caree Heidenreich, Lead Training Specialist at ASU Prep Digital. “Think of carrying an invisible heavy backpack on your back—all the time. When a student comes into your classroom, they don’t just shut off life.”

This professional development session is free for Arizona teachers and explores the impact of different types of traumas: acute, chronic, complex, and the correlation of trauma and its effect on body and behavior. Subject matter also includes the link between social-emotional learning (SEL) and trauma-informed teaching.

With an emphasis on finding the “why” behind behavior, the training provides relationship-building tools to help break down barriers and perceptions.

Heidenreich said, “We may not know that a student’s parent passed away last year. Yes, we’re here to teach, but we need to take a step back and ask ‘I’ve noticed things seem a little different lately. How can I help you? What do you need?’ Everyone has been through hard times and secondhand trauma is also a struggle right now. People need to know that you care about them.”

A strong focus during this training is placed on being kind to yourself and to engage in self-care practices, for failure to prioritize your well-being can lead to burnout or secondary traumatic stress. While providing a safe and caring environment which supports students and allows them to gain social skills and develop healthy resilience is the goal, educators are reminded that it is not their job to do the work of professional therapists.

During this collaborative learning session, educators will learn ways they can make their classroom a healing place and will have an opportunity to share best practices for creating trauma-informed classrooms.

If you’re interested in bringing ASU Prep Trauma-informed Teaching Training to your school or district, please visit