With all of the events that have unfolded in the past few years, it’s easy to imagine adversity lurking behind every corner like a bad penny that just keeps showing up. And if you’ve read my last post, you know that my family and I have certainly had a generous helping of adverse experiences within the past six months.

With the loss of our cherished home and all the trials that came after, I became very aware of one thing: when I’m going through a traumatic experience, it makes every other aspect of my life ten times harder to deal with.

Then I thought about my students over the years—the ones who would act out, shut down, or just plain not show up. And I wondered just how many of those kids were going through a hell that I could only imagine.

As educators, an integral part of our job is to be aware of what students bring with them into our classroom. And with close to 40% of young people saying they’ve experienced a traumatic or adverse childhood experience (ACE), we must explore how we can best help them cope with tragic and traumatic life experiences.

How Educators Can Support Students With Adverse Experiences

1) Create a Classroom Environment Where Students Feel Safe
According to Dr. Caelyn Soma of Starr Commonwealth, “Kids who have experienced trauma have difficulty learning unless they feel safe and supported.” With that in mind, try to think of ways you can create a space where young people can feel comfortable and safe. This could be something as simple as using lamps instead of fluorescent lighting, hanging inexpensive curtains over the windows, or investing in some flexible seating options.

2) Check in With Your Students Regularly
Getting to know your students is essential for both engaging with and supporting them in the classroom and beyond. Make an effort to learn your students’ names and gather whatever background information they feel comfortable sharing.

I’ve given Google Form surveys at the beginning of the school year or semester before, and many students have opened up to me about adversity they were facing at that time or in the past. You can also check in with informal writing exercises at the end of class. I also find my KNOW THYSELF activity a great way to get to know your students.

3) Provide Accommodations for Students with Trauma
You don’t necessarily have to know every child or young adult’s background with trauma and adversity to be able to offer accommodations. My suggestion would be to have an honest talk with your students at the beginning of your time with them and let them know what options they have if they’re struggling.

4) Know Your Resources
Lastly, I want to emphasize this important point — as an educator, you’re not expected to have firsthand knowledge of how to best help students who are struggling with adverse experiences and trauma.

So, I strongly suggest having a list of resources on hand to refer students to if they open up to you about something they’re going through. Teachers are often the first people that students turn to, but we’re definitely not meant to shoulder the burden alone.

There are many ways you can create a culture of support for students where they can feel secure and comfortable, and I hope these suggestions have been helpful. I’ll be continuing to explore these ideas further in future posts.


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