Trauma occurs when one’s active response to threat does not work. In simple terms – the most traumatic situation is one where all of our choice is taken from us and we cannot escape.
Sadly, teachers and administrators with positive intentions regularly create these types of situations in schools when they remove student choice. While a small choice around academics or a ‘minor’ discipline proceeding may not seem like a big deal to us as adults, it is important to remember that trauma is subjective and relative and can result from real or perceived threats. We can imagine, for instance, how failing an assignment or being forced into a punitive consequence without having a chance to make reparations could feel ‘life or death’ to a student with trauma.
Being mindful of student choice is a critical best practice for trauma-informed teaching. Whenever possible, provide students with choice and ‘a way out.’ This will create a safer classroom environment and minimize explosive outbursts from students who have experienced trauma.