For the past several years, we have been discovering the importance of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). The result has been recognizing how many of our students have experienced trauma in their lives and how this affects their behavior and learning. Now we’re in the middle of a pandemic and nine weeks into distance learning, we are all suffering from trauma to one degree or another, our most vulnerable students are even more so. How we respond to this trauma in our students will go a long way in helping them – and our programs – thrive in the months ahead.

In a post for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD.org), Jason A. Haap discusses The Private Logic Behind a Trauma-Informed Mindset. Haap writes about the way those with trauma interpret the world around them. When a student, particularly oe affected by trauma, believes s/he is unworthy, they translate even an innocuous comment as proof you see them that way. Their response can then seem out of proportion and unrelated to what was going on.

Whether or not we realize it, our mindset and beliefs interpret situations and then we act on the assumption that we are correct. As with many aspects of equity, diversity, and inclusion, we can be very wrong.  Our language to describe what happened and our ability to see it is affected by our own private logic.  Do we recognize the response as a reflection of the student’s needs or do we attribute it to something done purposefully to get our attention? By considering the possibility of it being a need, we can attempt to address it in a way that might defuse the situation.

As Haap says, “We never can know what’s going on in someone’s mind.” However, we can work at altering how we perceive students’ behavior in a more positive, understanding way. If you adjust your mindset about the cause of the behavior, you will reduce the number of confrontations you have with those dealing with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE).

With distance learning, you may not be experiencing the sometimes violent student reactions that occur in person, which may seem to make things easier.  However, at the same time you need to be more mindful of the possibility that the home environment, often a major cause of the students’ trauma, is increasing their stress. Hopefully, you can draw on the guidance counselor or the school’s psychologist for additional help when needed.

A big take-away from the Haap article is that “behavior is communication.”  What is the student saying? What needs are not being met?  If you can identify that, you can give a constructive response and you are also less likely to act from faulty assumptions.

Even recognizing this, there is another challenge.  We, too, are under stress.  There is trauma happening in our lives. How are you handling your needs? What would those close to you think you are communicating by your behavior? Are you aware when they’re responding based on incorrect assumptions?

It may seem unfair that we have to worry about how others are perceiving us while also trying to be aware of their needs and challenges, but if you’re feeling as though you’re not being heard or understood (a daily issue for your ACE students), then take the time to be as clear as you can. If you need help with something, an hour of uninterrupted quiet, someone else to make dinner – ask. If you’ve never made a request like this before because you’ve been able to balance your life, then not only is it important to be clear, but to also give yourself the compassion you’d show your struggling students or family members.  You are navigating a new mindset professionally and personally, and that will be an adjustment for everyone. The more you can “reframe your attitude,” as Haap says, the more successful you will be.

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