The program works with schools to train teachers about the effects of trauma on the brain and behavior of children. Trainers ask teachers to examine their own triggers and reactions to students, equipping them to disprove beliefs children have about safety and the trustworthiness of adults. They brainstorm strategies for particular students and support teachers as they try to implement them. They help teachers working with high-needs students practice self-care and voice their own frustration and anger about the situation.
Teachers across the country face similar issues when trying to teach students who have experienced extreme trauma or even the day-to-day stress of poverty. When a student becomes too much for a teacher to handle, it’s common practice to send that child out of the classroom to a wellness center or to the principal’s office. And once those patterns start forming, the student is much more likely to fall behind in academics, to be diagnosed with learning disabilities or emotional disorders, and down the line, to end up in prison. Schools are trying many things to disrupt that cycle, including training teachers in trauma-informed practices.
“These trainings bring you back to what’s happening; it helps you understand the psychological background of what the students are going through and what we can do in the classroom,” Parameswaran said. She says it’s easy to become negative about a student and his prospects when confronted with the same challenging behavior day after day. The Unconditional Education coach has helped Parameswaran to frame feedback positively, to work on building relationships with difficult students outside of academics, and generally to serve as a reminder that a student’s trauma isn’t his fault. She’s found specific strategies, like goal setting with a “check-in check-out” system, has helped many of her students.
Learning about how trauma works and how a teacher’s interactions with a student can reinforce his or her view of the world, has helped Parameswaran to focus on what she can control — her own reactions. She’s more aware of her own triggers and why student behavior worsens when she reacts the way they expect.