How to navigate trauma within your classroom

The 2016 national study of child maltreatment in South Africa shows that over 40% of young people have experienced some form of trauma, and that’s only what has been recorded. Knowing that a child has experienced trauma can make us, as teachers and/or parents, feel helpless. But there is a lot that you can do to help.   

Lisa Godwin shares her personal experience with childhood trauma, and how the teachers and adults around her helped her find her voice. 

Godwin explains that to gain the trust of a student, you might have to start by being honest about your own experiences. It’s easier to be transparent with someone who has first been honest about their challenges. 

How can you practically reassure a student that they can be vulnerable?

In most cases, a child who has faced trauma of some kind will not naturally feel that they can share what they are going through. Here are some measures you can take that will slowly start to earn the trust of a learner.

Do activities 

Consider activities you can do with your students that might encourage them to talk about their personal life. For example, Godwin asks her class to do a “box biography” where they write and use pictures to share what is important to them. She then makes sure to actively listen when they are presenting – noting their facial expressions, what they say, and what they don’t say. 

Show interest

Sometimes a child just wants to know that someone is there. Showing up to sports games or dance performances will show your learner that you are interested in more than just their academic achievements. This is a great way to build a foundation for a relationship

Engage in intentional conversation 

Godwin shared that one of the most effective ways of earning a student’s trust is simply to be present and to listen. Often a child who is dealing with trauma just wants to be heard by someone. Make yourself available to be that ‘someone’. This can mean joining a student during lunch break, or even just asking them how their morning has been when they come into your class.  

Children who are dealing with trauma can often come across as moody, disengaged, or unmanageable. Instead of avoiding that student, consider asking yourself why they might be behaving that way. 

We could have the chance to help suffering learners find their voice. Asking a child to step out of their comfort zone and speak out might mean you have to step out of yours first. 

In order to find your way out of the darkness, you have to find the light. Seek opportunities to be that light.”  – Lisa Godwin.

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