Trauma-Informed Teaching & Healing-Centered Practices

Learn more about trauma, how to recognize it in the classroom, and how to incorporate Trauma-Informed, Healing-Centered teaching techniques into your work.

Trauma-Informed Teaching & Healing-Centered Practices
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Trauma-Informed Teaching & Healing-Centered Practices


Up to two-thirds of children in the U.S. have experienced at least one traumatic childhood event.


There is no one way to recognize signs of trauma, but common reactions you may see in students are Fight, Flight, and Freeze.


Incorporating social and emotional literacy (SEL) into your curriculum can help validate the emotions of students experiencing trauma and help students recognize and react to a wide variety of emotions.


To avoid creating or upholding traumatizing systems, it is important to also engage in self reflection around your own positions of power, privilege, values, history, beliefs, and experiences of trauma. Explore more in GIVE Resource: Creating Stigma-Free Classrooms.

Type of ReactionBehaviors Exhibited
FIGHT Crying, tantrums, kicking, throwing, irritability, disruptions, hands in fists, flexed or tight jaw, glaring, yelling, nausea or burning stomach
FLIGHT Restlessness, fidgeting, isolating themselves from peers, clinging to adults or caregivers, avoiding activities, leaving the classroom, eyes darting around the room
FREEZE Lack of eye contact, lack of response, refusal to speak, holding breath, putting head down, one-word answers

The way people respond to trauma is not a choice—it is connected to brain development and psychology. These responses can sometimes be perceived by educators as misbehavior or disrespect. However, it’s important to recognize these behaviors as responses to trauma and stress and try not to make assumptions or take them personally.

Acknowledge Student Emotions

  • If a student is having a strong emotional reaction or behaving in an unexpected way, ask them how they are feeling and acknowledge that their emotions are valid by saying “I see you are feeling ________. I am sorry you are feeling that way.”
  • Ask the student what you can do to help.
    • You may want to give them choices such as taking a break, doing a specific role in a task, taking deep breaths, or mindfully moving to another part of the room. These choices should not feel forced or punitive.
  • Incorporate emotional literacy into your arts curriculum.
    • Have students show and name different emotions using gestures or facial expressions.
    • Create artistic work based on feelings or emotions students have experienced.
    • Include a way to share “how are you feeling?” in your warm up or daily routine.
  • Do not yell or react with anger. Challenge yourself to lower your voice, stay calm, and take deep breaths.

  • Incorporate emotional literacy into your arts curriculum.
    • Have students show and name different emotions using gestures or facial expressions.
    • Create artistic work based on feelings or emotions students have experienced.
    • Include a way to share “how are you feeling?” in your warm up or daily routine.

Be authentic and transparent with your students

  • If you are having a bad day or you had a stressful subway ride, let the students know (appropriately).
    • Students experiencing trauma can often assume that any negative or stressful energy is directed at them.
    • It’s also beneficial for students to see you as a model for healthy ways to cope with stress.
  • Find ways to share your artistry, interests, likes, and dislikes with your students. Sharing your authentic self leads to authentic relationship building and trust.
  • Avoid having a separate “teaching persona” when you enter a classroom.
    • Don’t adjust your natural speaking voice to be a lower or higher register in the classroom or talk down to students.
    • Don’t try to be overly sweet, cool, or tough in the classroom if that’s not your natural way of interacting.
    • Don’t use slang or pop culture references that are inauthentic to how you talk to family or friends.

  • Let students know how you are doing, where you are working from, how you are making space in your home for class, include your pet, or family members, or let students know they might hear background noise. (Lots of the things they are dealing with you are too!)
  • Share your Artistry: Especially if you’re teaching remotely, consider sharing your own art and artistry by linking to your website/blog/daily Instagram post, etc. Remember to only share content appropriate for your students and their grade level.

Incorporate Moments of Mindfulness, Movement and Breath

  • Focus on Breath: When we are stressed or anxious, we often take shallow breaths into our chests. By breathing deeply into your belly, you can use your breath to calm both your body and mind. ​
  • Multi-Sensory:  Sense of touch, sound, smell, or sight experiences can help students focus and relax. These could be real or imaginary sensory experiences. ​
  • Involve Movement: Humans are born to move—incorporating movement can help students be more present and focused. Sometimes we can express things physically that we don’t yet have words for.
  • Learn more about mindfulness in this GIVE resource: Using Mindfulness to Support Classroom Management

Students—and their Caregivers—may be overwhelmed or stressed out by remote learning, so it’s important to take some time to incorporate moments of breath and mindfulness as part of your remote lesson.

Consider starting each class with movement/stretching & mental health check-ins or rituals.

Example Check-ins:

  • Using your thumbs show me how you’re feeling today. “Thumbs up, down, middle, 2 thumbs-up, etc.”
  • Use a poll to check in with the students.
  • Have students type in the chat—words, emojis, colors to describe how they’re feeling.
  • Have students share a sound and movement that expresses how they’re feeling.
  • Create moments for students and caregivers to experience mindfulness together. You can create guided mindfulness meditations that both parent and child can listen to live or pre-recorded.

Healing-Centered Practices:

To learn more on Healing-Centered work, check out this resource, which is a beautifully written piece on shifting our perspective from Trauma-Informed to Healing-Centered Teaching: “The Future of Healing: Shifting From Trauma-Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement.”

External Resources