Supporting Your School Community: Culturally Responsive Trauma-Informed Teaching

Only when we take the time to learn about the socioeconomic and historical backgrounds of our students and leverage their cultural strengths and knowledge, will our schools become spaces for healing from trauma.

– Helen Thomas

Where Trauma-Informed Practices Meet Culturally Responsive Teaching

As with trauma-informed practices, culturally responsive practices are often mentioned but rarely understood within school communities.

As a starting point for making trauma-informed practices more culturally responsive, educators must critically reflect on the mindsets and assumptions they carry with them.

Consider the Sociopolitical and Historical Contexts of Your School Community

Historical trauma considers sources of trauma that often go unaddressed in trauma-informed conversations by bringing attention to the ways collective and massive traumatic events can impact multiple generations of individuals. . . Discussions of trauma in schools . . . are almost always limited to interpersonal instances of harm—often abuse, neglect or violence in the home. Rarely, though, do we consider collective or ongoing events, such as colonization or structural racism.

When we assume the source of students’ trauma is individual or familial in nature, we run the risk of implying that students, their families and communities are damaged. Frequently, it’s something larger.

Prioritize a Strengths-Based Approach

“This place might be the only time they get positive attention” or “For those kids, you are the only caring adult in their lives.” I hear statements like this tossed around often in the schools I support. This type of mindset positions students and their families in a deficit light. Too often, educators adopt a paternalistic view when they assume trauma-affected students have no strategies or safe relationships to help deal with their high levels of stress. In reality, students, families, and their communities have always had culturally specific strategies for sustaining their wellbeing, but historical injustices, such as the boarding school policy, have kept those strategies out of schools.

Instead . . . shift to a strengths-based approach, which values the rich knowledge and experiences students bring into the classroom, instead of viewing it as the source of their trauma. When applied to trauma-informed practices, this can look like honoring students and families’ cultural and community-specific strategies for coping and maintaining well-being.

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