A Day-in-the-Life of a Trauma-Informed School

When my colleagues and I started talking about how to incorporate trauma-informed practices into our classrooms, we searched for other programs to visit and observe. It became apparent very quickly that, although many schools offered some trauma-informed strategies, few had fully implemented the practices. Our building, as well as our district, has spent the last three years giving our staff professional development and implementing trauma-informed practices in all settings of our school day. The school that I teach at recently became the first school in the United States to be accredited as a Trauma-Informed School by Starr Commonwealth. I want to give you a day-in-the-life look of a trauma-informed school and classroom. Even though you may not physically be in our classrooms, I hope that this walk through gives you an idea of our day and some ideas to integrate into your own school.

Our school days begins with an individual greeting for each student, whether a high-five, a handshake, a hug, or verbal welcome to the day. We know that trauma does not always mean a one time event and that some students experience long term trauma due to poverty or other day to day situations. By greeting our students, we want to remind them that we are happy to see them and we offer a safe space for learning. All of our students receive a free breakfast and many teachers use this time to do a check-in with students who may be struggling or look like they need some additional time for connection.

Let’s take a look around the classroom. Each classroom has a “calm down” space or “quiet corner”. This space looks different in each classroom and varies along grade levels as well. In our kindergarten classrooms, you may see a small tent with a carpet inside and a box of calm down items. An upper elementary classroom may have a beanbag and some netting overhead along with a box of calm down tools. Students utilize these areas as needed throughout the school day. The calm down kits contain visual reminder cards of calm down strategies, fidgets, sand timers, thinking putty, and squeeze balls. Many classrooms also have alternative seating such as standing desks, collaborative groupings, stools, etc. Some things you won’t see in our classrooms are color charts or time out areas; we have found those procedures do not align with our trauma-informed training and often alienate students.

As the day goes on, curriculum instruction is intermingled with social emotional learning. Time is spent building relationships with both peers and adults. Each classroom begins the school year with at least one restorative circle a day. Restorative circles build community in the classroom, allow for the work of restorative practice to happen, and continue to happen regularly throughout the school year. Some of the circles are community building and some of the circles are problem solving or solution seeking. These circles build resiliency skills in our students and we have seen the same verbiage in the circle overflow into less structured settings such as lunch and recess.

Throughout the day, some of our students may visit the sensory room, designed with the help of our district occupational therapist. We also have brain gym activities in the hallway for a quick brain break and return to class for those who need that type of sensory input. In the classroom, brain breaks are done frequently to give the students an opportunity to get up and move and refocus on the academic portion of the day.

All of our students receive lunch and each grade level spends recess together. We have partnered with Playworks to help teach our students how to play and to incorporate problem-solving strategies during play and in other settings. Some of our older students are peer mentors for our younger students and can be seen proudly leading a game on the playground.

As the day winds down, teachers say goodbye to their students in a way very similar to their morning greeting. Teachers may also do a second restorative circle if they feel it would benefit the class as the school day ends. Students can also be found doing a checkout with their teacher to touch base about their day and discuss goals for the next day of learning.

We’ve learned that trauma-informed practices aren’t just something you do but, instead, a mindset shift of the way we interact with our students. Students come to us with a story and a history that may have included trauma. We have found trauma-informed strategies are effective and have changed the culture of our school. Thank you for visiting today, I hope you are able to take away an idea to use in your own school.

By Amy Brown

About Starr Commonwealth

Starr Commonwealth is dedicated to the mission to lead with courage to create positive experiences so that all children, families, and communities flourish. We specialize in residential, community-based, educational, and professional training programs that build on the strengths of children, adults, and families in communities around the world. To schedule a training or consultation, please contact info@starr.org or call 800-837-5591.