What is trauma-informed teaching?

By Trynia Kaufman, MS

At a glance

  • Trauma-informed teaching considers how trauma impacts learning and behavior. 

  • Trauma can slow down or completely stop our ability to learn. 

  • Kids experiencing trauma are more likely to fall behind in class or get in trouble for behavior issues. 

Imagine you’re being chased by a tiger. Your heart races as you feel a surge of adrenaline preparing your body to fight, flight, or freeze. Now imagine that right after escaping the tiger, you have to learn how to multiply fractions. You would likely find this task near impossible, even if you usually find math easy.

Trauma-informed teaching starts with an understanding of how trauma can impact learning and behavior. With this approach, educators think about what student behavior may be telling them. And they reflect on their teaching practices to find ways to better support students who may be experiencing trauma. 

Trauma can slow down or completely stop our ability to learn. When our bodies sense a threat, energy rushes toward brain regions specialized in averting danger. This is essential for keeping us alive. But it also means that energy shifts away from the brain regions that help us learn.

When students are experiencing trauma, they might be more distracted or take longer to complete tasks. They may be more irritable or jumpy. And they’re more likely to fall behind in class or get in trouble for behavior issues. 

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    About the author

    About the author

    Trynia Kaufman, MS is the senior manager of editorial research at Understood. She is a former educator and presents nationwide at education conferences.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Jerome Schultz, PhD is a clinical neuropsychologist and lecturer in the Harvard Medical School Department of Child Psychiatry.