So often teachers fail to prioritize self-care because of the plethora of items overflowing their plates every day. Teachers who are often underfunded and overworked are too busy trying to keep afloat than to set boundaries to help preserve their own health. However, taking the time to do so is not only important on the most basic levels, but it is also beneficial for our students, especially when taking trauma-informed teaching into consideration.
The irony is that we usually are not taking care of ourselves because we are putting our students first. However, if we are taking care of ourselves, we can take care of those students even better.
It is no secret that many of the children we teach have been affected by trauma in some form or another. So often we internalize their struggles as we try to help them navigate this world through the lenses that they are living through. It is important that we make sure that our mental health and stability is as strong as it can be when acting as trauma-informed educators.
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What is Trauma-Informed Teaching?
To put it simply, trauma-informed teaching is an approach to teaching that acknowledges the effects of trauma on students’ lives. Intent on creating safe, nonjudgmental learning environments for children affected by past traumas, it provides students with the ability to feel seen and validated so they can more deeply engage with the classroom curriculum.
It is important to understand the debilitating effects of trauma and how it can impact learning. According to the National Center for PTSD, “PTSD develops after a terrifying event – either experiencing it or witnessing it. Most people have reactions immediately following the event, but some do not develop symptoms until months later.” Due to this delayed response to trauma, there are many children who seem to be acting out when in fact they are suffering from unseen wounds.
Creating a supportive, trauma-informed classroom is easier said than done, but it simply comes down to being mindful of the experience that your students are having and how you can support them. Your school may have guidance on how to do this or a little research on your end can help you determine the best routes to take for the students in your classroom.
But what about you? How do you handle your own mental health as someone actively participating in trauma-informed teaching? As someone who is allowing your classroom to be a safe space for these students, it is important to take care of your own self-care needs as well.
Self-Care as a Teacher
Though it may seem difficult to prioritize your own needs as a teacher, it is important that teachers do not neglect their own self-care. If you are too busy taking care of other people’s children, who will take care of yours? The sad truth is that there seems to always be a surplus of teachers who are burnt out or who have given up on their own personal lives to focus on the classroom.
Of course, this happens for a multitude of reasons and there is no one answer to solving this issue of teachers not having teachers. However, it is important that educators ensure they are putting themselves first in some regard so they can continue to be active in trauma-informed teaching and help students as best as possible.
In addition to the trauma effects of PTSD, there are also a few less discussed mental health disorders that can plague teachers. In fact, according to USA Today, “teachers suffer from depression at a rate three times higher than America as a whole.” This is not surprising considering the many burdens that they have on their plate even before going into the classroom every day.
It is crucial to take care of yourself so that you can be healthy and provide a safe learning environment for your students. If not, there is a chance that the trauma effects can compound and become dangerous in their own right.
With all of this being said, it may seem impossible to take on any additional burdens. However, there are so many ways that you can take better care of yourself and improve your quality of life as an educator.
To help with this process, we have put together a list of some strategies for how you can support trauma-informed teaching while also caring for yourself.
Trauma-informed teaching strategies
Besides all the other aspects of teacher burnout that every educator is susceptible to, teachers who are educating students who have been impacted by a traumatic experience are also at risk for falling victim to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is often found in teachers, social workers, and those who work in the health care profession. Compassion fatigue is defined as, “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another” according to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
The symptoms of compassion fatigue in trauma-informed teaching are often one in the same other symptoms of the person who is experiencing trauma. There is often an extremely high chance of denial also being part of the equation, especially when it comes to teachers. So many see it as a sign of weakness and have the misconception that it means that we cannot do our job properly. The ironic part of this is that denying compassion fatigue makes it so we cannot do our job properly, as opposed to dealing with the issues at hand in a swift and compassionate manner.
You are at risk for burnout and compassion fatigue if you find yourself putting everyone else’s needs before your own while navigating trauma-informed teaching. You simply run out of energy each day and are convinced that there is not enough time to do everything that you are tasked with.
The worst part is that many times you know that self-care needs to be a priority, but you just don’t know how to do that with the laundry list of tasks that you need to complete every single day. And there is a lot of merit to this. It seems that each year that passes teachers are expected to do more with less and the number of children coming into our classroom who have experienced trauma, have learning disabilities, or just seem to be failed by the system seems to be ever-increasing.
We are constantly told that we need to do everything possible to help our students with their problems through trauma-informed teaching, and this is very true, but if we are not taking care of ourselves who are dealing with the same issues in a secondary sense, and sometimes even a primary sense, then we are not going to be efficient and helping them the way that they need the most in terms of trauma-informed teaching.
Somewhere along the line, the standard became that you are considered a good teacher if you put your student’s needs above your own. As I have mentioned here at Student-Centered World time and time again, you simply cannot pour from an empty cup. Working for someone else 24/7 and not taking care of yourself is going to backfire.
Look at the teachers around you. While everybody has their own styles and ways of working, you can probably think of at least one teacher off the top of your head that seems like they have it all together.
While everybody has bad days, this teacher is usually positive, organized, and generally the person you want to be when you grow up. This does not mean that they are a better teacher than you; it simply means that they have a system that works, and that system probably does include some type of self-care for themselves, especially in the era of trauma-informed teaching.
Trauma-informed teaching self-care
It is all about having good habits and focusing on what you do have control over and working on the things that will make a difference overall. Have you ever heard the saying if you want something bad enough, you will find a way and if not, you will find an excuse? That comes to mind in this very scenario.
Keeping it together as a teacher is all about forming habits. If you find that you are burning out, then you are probably making bad habits a priority without even realizing it. This isn’t a dig at you, it’s just something to think about. Trauma-informed teaching shouldn’t cost you your mental health.
The first thing you need to do in trying to figure this out is getting into the right frame of mind to be able to move forward with positive changes. Check out this Facebook Live that I held in our mastermind Facebook group about three things that teachers can do to help organize their thoughts and get into the proper frame of mind to move forward.
These activities do not take long to do but they make a world of a difference. Taking care of yourself is not selfish; it means that you are making sure that you can, in fact, give everything that you have to your students. They will benefit more when you are relaxed, happy, and energetic as opposed to exhausted, frustrated, and downtrodden.
You need to take time for yourself, whether that is taking a quick walk on your lunch break or immersing yourself in a hobby once a week. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself if you want to be able to take care of others.
The key to this is you need to do it on a regular basis. You cannot take time for yourself once every couple of months for a few hours and expect it to be enough. You need to schedule time on a regular basis to take care of yourself. This is a choice and you need to make sure you are making the correct one for your own mental health.
In determining what you would like to do with this time, you need to find something that you would like to do long term. This will turn it into a habit and make it something that you look forward to when you know the time is coming to complete it. You should also pick something that is meaningful to you and will have a positive effect on your life somehow. Even if it is as simple as reading a chapter of a book a few nights a week or taking a go-at-your-own-pace course on the internet. Find something that will fill you with joy and run with it.
Being a trauma-informed educator is so important. Often, we are the glue that holds our students together when they do not know where else to turn. We cannot be everything that we want to be for them if we do not put ourselves first. You would put your own oxygen mask on before you helped someone else on an airplane, right? You need to ensure that you’re doing this in your everyday life as well.
Trauma-Informed Teaching and the 4 Keys
While it can be burdensome to think about how to adapt your lessons to trauma-informed teaching, it doesn’t have to be. It just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.
If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.