Nurturing Minds: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Fostering Student-Educator Relationships

In the realm of education, the adage “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” holds a profound truth. As educators, our primary responsibility extends beyond the delivery of academic content; it encompasses the holistic well-being of our students. A trauma-informed approach recognizes the impact of adverse experiences on a student’s behavior and emphasizes the crucial role of positive relationships in fostering a conducive learning environment. With so many priorities fighting for our attention, it can feel overwhelming to “find the time” to foster a sense of belonging as a proactive approach to creating safe and supportive learning environments. Wondering where to start? Here a few ideas to try!

Cultivate a Safe and Inclusive Environment
Building a trauma-informed classroom starts with establishing an atmosphere where students feel safe and accepted. Recognize and validate diverse perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. Foster a sense of belonging by incorporating inclusive practices that celebrate individuality. A safe environment is the bedrock upon which trust and connection can flourish.

Quick strategies: teambuilding brain breaks like the name game, engaging in an interest inventory, and creating a shared classroom calendar of upcoming events that are important to your students, writing a co-created classroom charter everyone agrees to of how to treat others.

Practice Active Listening
Engaging in active listening is a powerful tool for understanding and connecting with your students. Take the time to truly hear their thoughts, concerns, and experiences. By demonstrating empathy and understanding, educators send a powerful message that students’ voices are valued. This validates their emotions and builds a foundation of trust.

Quick strategies: open ended journal prompts, inviting students to sign-up for lunch with their teacher, attend extra curricular activities your students are involved in, join a student(s) at their table for lunch, and leverage student conferencing as a chance to check in with how they are doing emotionally prior to talking about academics.

Be Consistent and Predictable
Consistency provides a sense of stability that is especially crucial for students who may have experienced trauma. Establish clear expectations, routines, and consequences. Predictability helps alleviate anxiety, allowing students to focus on learning rather than navigating uncertainty. Consistency fosters a sense of safety, which is paramount for building trusting relationships and promoting positive behavioral outcomes.

Quick strategies: implement proactive classroom circles or meetings regularly, utilize restorative circles in response to solving issues that arise, elicit student feedback when creating classroom norms together, establish classroom routines and rituals that you teach, model, practice and reinforce, and focus on what students are doing well before you have to correct what needs improvement.

Model Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Educators serve as role models for their students. Demonstrating healthy coping mechanisms for stress and adversity can positively influence students’ own strategies for managing challenges. Share your own experiences and coping mechanisms, creating an environment that encourages open dialogue about emotions and self-care. This vulnerable two-way communication helps establish trust and authentic connection between all involved.

Quick strategies: model your own body map, name when you are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed and demonstrate how taking a deep breath helps you, share personal experiences of age-appropriate trials and tribulations that helped you recognize your inner strength, and find moments of joy to share with your students to highlight positive emotions as well.

Collaborate with Support Systems
Building relationships extends beyond the classroom walls. Collaborate with parents, guardians, and other support systems in a student’s life. Share insights about a student’s strengths, challenges, and progress. This collaborative effort reinforces a unified front, ensuring that the student receives consistent support both at home and in the educational setting.

Quick strategies: positive outreach to family members via phone/email/text/note highlighting what their child did well with today, inviting families into the classroom to engage in learning alongside the class, ensure diversity in classroom celebrations that represent the cultures of your students, invite students to bring artifacts from home to display or present to the class, send pictures of their child excelling at something home, and provide regular newsletters to families informing them of important information regarding the classroom learning.

Prioritizing relationships with students as a proactive approach to foster characteristics of resilience and support positive behavior is not just an educational strategy; it is a commitment to the well-being of the next generation. By embracing trauma-informed practices, educators contribute to the creation of a nurturing environment where students feel valued, understood, and empowered to thrive academically and emotionally. In these connections lie the seeds of positive behavior and a brighter future for all.


Resilience I Spy

Finding the Circle of Courage in Action

Start the New Year with a focus on resilience by teaching your students about the Circle of Courage. Then, challenge them to eye-spy the resilience model’s components in action. 

Circle of Courage: A Model of Resilience

This resilience model is easy to teach students of all ages.

We all have four universal needs. When these needs are met, we feel our best. But we will not feel our best if even one of the four universal needs is unmet. When even one is missing, we might feel sad, frustrated, worried, or angry. Let me tell you about the four universal needs. 

The first one is Belonging – we feel good when we feel like we belong. This can be at school with friends or at home with our families. We feel connected to other people when we feel a sense of belonging. 

The next universal need is Mastery. We feel good when we can accomplish and are good at something – this can be like solving a math problem, learning a new skill while playing a sport, or drawing a picture that makes us proud. 

Independence is the third universal need. This need is met when we control our emotions and behavior. This doesn’t mean we don’t get upset – it just means if we get upset, we know what to do to help ourselves feel better, so we don’t lose our temper or misbehave. 

The last universal need is generosity. We get this need met when we feel helpful and valuable to others. 

To review, we all need to feel like we belong or are connected to others, are good at something, can stay in control of our emotions and behavior even when we are upset, and feel like we are valuable to other people.

Offer your students an I Spy Challenge

As a fun way to start the new year, I am challenging you to a game of eye-spy. In this game, I want you to try to notice your classmates and me when we are getting any one or more of our universal needs met or helping another person obtain one of their needs.  

Whenever you notice the Circle of Courage in action, you can raise your hand and say, “Eye-Spy”. Then, you can tell us what you saw. For example, when a classmate greets another student when they enter the room by saying, hello, they are making that person feel like they belong. If a student helps another student learn how to solve a tricky math problem, they demonstrate mastery. When a student asks for a break instead of yelling or getting angry, they are showing us independence. And, lastly, if I ask a student to bring something down to the office for me, they are being generous. 

Ask students to give you more examples. You can add the examples to a whiteboard, so they are easy for students to reference. Then, start the challenge. You might want to have one or two students keep track of how many universal needs in action are spotted by using a tally for each.  You can play along too. Set a goal for the class for a total number of universal needs spotted during the day. Reinforce the importance of all students getting their universal needs met to feel their best. When all students are aware of others and strive to help meet their needs, the overall classroom culture and climate will improve. 

Dysregulation and Behavior: The Roots of Teacher Burnout

In the demanding world of education, teacher burnout has become a critical issue, often rooted in the complex interplay of dysregulation and challenging student behavior. By understanding the underlying factors of these challenges, we aim to offer insights and strategies to support educators in navigating daily life in their classrooms, ultimately fostering a more sustainable and fulfilling teaching environment.

Teacher Burnout Epidemic

More than 70% of educators in a national survey report that students are misbehaving more now than ever. The most common unwanted student behaviors they observe in their classrooms include emotional and behavioral outbursts, constant fidgeting, nonstop chatter, inattention, getting out of seats to leave the classroom and defiance. The National Center for Education Statistics cites worsening student behavior as a reason for teacher burnout. More than four in 10 K-12 school professionals in the U.S. (44%) say they “always” or “very often” feel stressed at work, outpacing all other industries nationally making educators among the most burned-out groups in the U.S. workforce. 

Student Mental Health Crisis

Managing a classroom of students has always been a challenge but over the past few years, this job has become increasingly more difficult. The number of youths experiencing mental health symptoms and reactions such as anxiety, depression, attention problems and behavior dysregulation has increased. Mental health disorders since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic have continued to rise among children as well as adults.  Stressful and traumatic experiences related to the pandemic along with constant exposure to racial tension and political conflict have remained constant. Child maltreatment, domestic violence, and the overuse of substances such as alcohol and drugs have also increased. In 2021 a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health was declared by the American Academy of Pediatrics. This declaration comes with reports of a severe shortage in the number of mental health practitioners available to meet the demand.

Emotional Dysregulation in Kids: The driver of misbehavior

Often, what is observed as defiance, deliberate or intentional misbehavior may not be what it appears. It is a student’s best attempt to regulate their nervous systems. When students experience a significant amount of stress over a prolonged period, their bodies become dysregulated, thus over-active nervous systems. At times the need for movement can appear disrespectful and not aligned with classroom norms and rules. A dysregulated body cannot sit still as it demands a discharge of energy and activation from the stress overload. A dysregulated body, in survival mode, will do everything it can to regain balance even if that involves a fight or flight response.

  • An overwhelmed student can seem inattentive but really be worried about what happened at home the night before.  
  • An angry student appears to start unnecessary conflict with a teacher or another student however, they couldn’t control their body’s response to a threatening look or tone of voice. 
  • A student elopes from the classroom – they seem not to care but really it is their way of avoiding what they perceive as intimidating and scary.  
  • A student refuses to complete an assignment then you learn they were afraid of looking dumb in front of their classmates.  

How to Heal a Dysregulated Nervous System to Return to Learning

When educators view unwanted behaviors through a lens of being trauma-informed they can see that the real problem is rooted in a student who is dysregulated rather than a student who is “bad” and needs punishment. Dysregulated students need to feel safe by experiencing a sense of connection with a caring adult who is curious about what they need most. Reframing behaviors from what is observed to what the behavior is communicating can make all the difference. Behavior can be a clue to help understand unmet needs such as dysregulation – difficulty with emotional and or behavioral control. Giving up a need to know exactly what to do when unable to control classroom behavior and shifting to a mindset of curiosity can help.

Starr’s Trauma-Informed, Resilience-Focused Behavior Support Plan will help you become curious about the function of the behavior you observe, assess potential unmet needs for students and develop a support plan to help meet their needs. 


American Academy of Pediatrics (2021). A declaration from the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Children’s Hospital Association: Retrieved November 10, 2023, from

Marken, S. & Agrawal, S. (2023). K-12 workers have highest burnout rate in the U.S. Gallup Poll Education. Retrieved November 10, 2023, from

National Center for Education Statistics. (2023). Teachers’ Reports of Disruptive Student Behaviors and Staff Rule Enforcement. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved [date], from

How to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School | Foster Connections

Foster Connections

Students who feel connected to their school are also more likely to have better academic achievement, better school attendance, and stay in school longer.

How can you connect to your students?

One of the best ways to connect with your students is having classroom meetings. These meetings not only allows you to connect with students, but also allows the students to connect with each other and build community within the classroom.
How can you implement a classroom meeting?
Step 1: Form a shape (circle, square). Teacher and students discuss, decide, and practice:

  • Floor or chairs
  • Where, how do you get there?
  • Who do you sit by?
  • What does it look like?
  • What does it sound like?
Step 2: Introduce a talking piece. This talking piece helps regulate communication between students. Whoever has this piece is allowed to talk. Talking pieces may be a toy, a stick, a stone, or another small object.

Step 3: Practice using various topics to create proactive classroom meetings:

  • Get to Know You and Greetings
  • Who Am I
  • Compliments and Appreciations
Below is a video of education professionals like yourself explaining the topics they talk about at their classroom meetings:

10 Steps Book Cover

For more implementation on how to foster connections in the classroom, check out Starr’s 
10 Steps to Create a Trauma-Informed Resilient School!