Trauma Sensitive Schools Strategies

  • Create a Sense of Safety

    • Provide a safe environment: a predictable structure with consistent routines 
    • Provide space - do not touch students even when trying to calm them down without their permission.
    • Create clear expectations during unstructured times (e.g., passing periods, lunch)
    • Provide transition opportunities (i.e. 5 minutes to read a book, a warm up question)
    • Provide clear pathways to emotional support for students who elect to utilize it
    • Give space and the opportunity to move out of the moment or space
    • Provide opportunities for students to be successful 
    • Celebrate even the smallest successes

    Provide a Sense of Control

    • Give students choices and not ultimatums 
    • Engage them in a semi-private conversation, instead of in front of classmates
    • Limit the number of adults involved; too many educators participating can cause confusion or mixed messages.
    • Provide adequate personal space; if the student tells you to back off, give them more space.
    • Do not block escape routes; when individuals are agitated, they are more likely to experience a fight-or-flight response.
    • Keep verbal interactions calm and use simple, direct language.

    Foster Connections and Relationships

    • Create opportunities to develop meaningful relationships between peers, including through classroom group work activities or encouraging club/sport participation
    • If a student is struggling, empathize with their situation.
    • Allow a student to share their experiences on their own timeline
    • Offer support (academic or emotional)
    • If a student needs to be removed from a situation, don’t isolate them. Make sure an adult is always nearby to provide support for when the student is ready to talk or if they need help to regulate themselves.
    • Every student has a sense of belonging.
    • Build trusting relationships - adult/child and child/child
    • Teach and practice social and emotional regulation skills
    • Teach acceptance of those different from self
    • Mindfulness strategies to support self-regulation
    • Problem solving through self-talk, replacement behaviors and other strategies

The Five Principles of Trauma-Informed Care

Infographic of the five principles of Trauma-Informed care
  • Chart by the Institute on Trauma and Trauma-Informed Care (2015)

From the Teachers:

  • "I think from what I have seen at Phoenix, being a trauma-informed school has been a transformative experience for staff and students. The students know they are in a safe place where they can have a bad day and not be punished or ridiculed. Students know they can ask for what they need (whether that is verbally using their words and asking for space, a walk, or a break, or acting out and calling for attention) and not be penalized for having needs. For staff, it is transformative because it takes away the pressure of taking things personally. By this I mean, when schools operate with a trauma-informed approach, the staff are released from taking student behaviors personally or seeing certain behaviors as an attack on their lesson or classroom, and rather, are encouraged to address the needs of the students that aren't being met."

    Hannah Humphrey,  English Teacher

    Phoenix Academy High School


    "The trauma informed schooling at Phoenix High allows teachers and staff to create space for the whole child who comes to us. When we establish a deeper relationship than just academics or just behavior issues, students respond to that trust and often blossom in amazing ways. It’s remarkable to take part in it."

    John Elderkin, English/History Teacher

    Phoenix Academy High School