Creating Better Learning Environments for Students with Trauma

ISTE Coaching Standard 4.5b reads: “Build the capacity of educators, leaders, and instructional teams to put the ISTE Standards into practice by facilitating active learning and providing meaningful feedback”. Using the AI Tool, Scite, I posed the following idea, “how does ISTE Coaching Standard 4.5b apply to students affected by trauma”? Scite identified several articles focused on the importance of supporting educators in understanding and addressing the diverse learning and emotional needs of all students. As I focus on trauma-informed teaching, I want to be able to highlight the impact of trauma on students’ learning and behavior. So I posed the following question in relation to ISTE Coaching Standard 4.5b: How can educators better create inclusive and supportive learning environments that prioritize student emotional safety and well-being?

To begin answering this question, I found a 1998 article written for the National Library of Medicine, titled, Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Though dated, this article highlights research spanning the last 26 years, and notes that “trauma can negatively affect student learning at school by decreasing students’ ability to pay attention, to regulate emotion and behavior, or to develop positive relationships with adults and peers”. The research within this article goes on to note that “many students who have experienced trauma view the world as a perilous place and are prone to fear. In any given circumstance, that fear, whether based on real or imagined danger, can trigger their central nervous system, prompting fight, flight, or freeze survival responses”. Such responses can be experienced in the classroom in the following ways:

Examples of students’ fight, flight, or freeze behavior in the classroom
FIGHT Responses          
yelling or screaming, cursing, arguing, threatening, destroying property, hurting others             
physically, angry outbursts, irritability, difficulty staying calm, reactive emotionally, aggression FLIGHT Responses          
running away, refusing to participate, covering face with hat/hoodie, hiding behind furniture      or under tables
FREEZE Responses          
withdrawing, daydreaming, restricted movement, apathy, difficulty focusing, memory          
problems, prone to self-injury or repetitive behaviors, sleepiness

So what can educators do to support students with trauma? Using the AI Tool, Scite, I found a 2012 article written for the American Academy of Pediatrics that notes “research consistently shows that the most important intervention for children affected by trauma is a safe, caring, and consistent adult who can buffer their experience of stress and communicate messages of empathy and optimism to support healing and resilience”. This is in direct alignment with the prevention education curriculum that is a focus of my study – Childhelp Speak Up Be Safe – where the first “rule” is to find a safe adult. This article goes on to note that teachers help students to feel safe by creating consistent schedules and predictable classroom routines, minimizing the number of transitions throughout the day, and, whenever possible, telling students in advance about any upcoming changes in their schedule”. Another way that teachers can better create supportive and inclusive learning environments for these children is by staying aware of these fight, flight, or freeze behaviors, working to reduce any triggering experiences in the classroom, and staying informed about school referral procedures and resources available to their students.

Scite further helped me identify a 2016 research article titled, Trauma-Informed Flexible Learning: Classrooms That Strengthen Regulatory Abilities. Written for the International Journal of Child, Youth & Family Studies, this study explores a trauma-informed positive education (TIPE) approach with flexible learning teachers as they incorporate trauma-informed principles into their daily teaching practice. This study highlights the idea that trauma-informed teaching approaches have particular relevance for flexible learning settings and can help meet the complex needs of students who have experienced violence, abuse, or neglect. This paper proposes that “redressing a trauma-affected student’s regulatory abilities should be the first aim of creating a developmentally informed TIPE pedagogy”. Within this paper, are 4 subthemes that directly apply to my question for ISTE Coaching Standard 4.5b. They are rhythm; self-regulation; mindfulness; and de-escalation. These subthemes identify considerations for educators to increase regulatory abilities in students as they strive toward successful learning outcomes in an inclusive and supportive environment.

So how can technology play a role in helping educators become aware of these fight, flight, or freeze behaviors – communicate proactively with students with ACEs – and account for elements of self-regulation, mindfulness, and de-escalation? A 2020 blog article, titled, How We Created A Bitmoji Classroom, speaks to the value a Bitmoji classroom can be for students with trauma. This article notes that technology can be supportive and constructive for these students because “students can access it any time and they can click around to various spaces to see what we’re working on, our calendar, and any learning resources”. This article goes on to note the value of integrating Google Slides or Microsoft PPT as additional values for these students because they allow the classroom to live in a presentation that the students can control minimizing triggers, and allowing these students the ability to self-regulate.

Another tool is FlipGrid which allows teachers to reinforce the idea of positive relationship building over content. With FlipGrid, students can take the time they need to record themselves, share that exclusively with their teacher, and receive direct feedback from their teacher, allowing trust and safety to be built in the teacher-student relationship. For collaboration with other students, and building healthy peer relationships – Padlet is a tool that can help students with ACEs develop these relationships within a classroom, safely. Padlet is a platform that allows students to “create walls” where they can post their work, and allows teachers to control what gets posted, and allows students’ posts to be presented anonymously. Positive feedback from peers and teachers can be uplifting for students with trauma, and the ability of teachers to control what is being posted and seen allows for the safety and security within the classroom to be achieved.


Brunzell, T., Stokes, H., & Waters, L. (2016). Trauma-Informed Flexible Learning: Classrooms That Strengthen Regulatory Abilities. International Journal of Child, Youth and Family Studies7(2), 218-239.

Felitti, V., Anda, R., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D., Spitz, A., Edwards, V., Koss, M., & Marks, J. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES). American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245-258.

Momentous Institute. How We Created A Bitmoji Classroom. Weblink: How We Created A Bitmoji Classroom | Momentous Institute

Shonkoff, J. P., & Garner, A. S. (2012). The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics, 129(1), e232–e246

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