Reflections on Building Trauma Sensitive and Supportive Classrooms

Saturday, March 23, 2019

On the evening of March 7, 2019 a group of dedicated education professionals – teachers, consultants, administrators, and educational assistants – came together to learn about best practices in refugee and newcomer education from Dr. Jan Stewart. Her presentation, titled “Addressing the Needs of Refugee Students: Building Trauma Sensitive Schools and Supportive Classrooms,” was based on her extensive research and scholarship in trauma and refugee and newcomer education both in Canada and abroad.

Throughout the evening, Dr. Stewart reminded us that everyone in the room has a story. There were a number of opportunities for self-reflection on our own personal and professional experiences relating to trauma. Refugees’ own words were used to illustrate their experiences, and the images and information included in the presentation were a poignant underscoring of the fact that the traumatic events we see reported on the news are not just something happening far away that is easily dismissed; these events are real and so have a real and lasting impact on the children and adults who experience these events first hand. We were also reminded that it is not only students who come to us as refugees who may have faced trauma, and to be aware of the experiences of all of the people in the classroom.

After the overview of childhood trauma and the mental health crises that emerge from being exposed to trauma, and to help us to navigate through these complexities, the audience learned to be able to recognize signs of trauma in our students and learned some methods of intentionally creating an environment for these learners where they may feel secure. Teachers in particular were able to walk away from the presentation with resources and some strategies for creating a supportive learning environment and teaching other students about trauma and resiliency.

One of Dr. Stewart’s many strengths is her way of discussing some chidren very difficult realities in a sensitive but matter-of-fact way. Though there were a number of times throughout the presentation when the subject matter was incredibly heart heavy, she gave educators hope with the idea that trauma does not need to be an endpoint; resiliency can be fostered given the right supports and environmental conditions.

Ultimately, Dr. Stewart challenged us as educators to acknowledge the responsibility of our roles within the education system to be intentional about meeting the learning and mental health needs of students who have faced trauma.

About the Author

Jen Donachuk is a program/school support teacher in the Winnipeg School Division as well as a member of the Manitoba ASCD Professional Learning Committee.

Posted by Meghan Burns at 7:18 AM

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