Part 2: Why Do We Need Trauma-Sensitive Schools?

Providing trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive learning environments helps all students to feel calm, safe and connected to a caring and inclusive school community enabling them to learn and thrive.

Since the release of the seminal Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study in the late 1990’s, a growing body of research shows that more children than we ever could have imagined experience traumatic events. While we will never know all the children who have been affected by traumatic events, we have come to understand that it is likely the majority of students in every school. Students cannot learn effectively if they do not feel calm, safe and connected to a caring and inclusive school community. Exposure to trauma, including racism, bullying, physical violence, food insecurity, homelessness, and other types of distress, can cause a trauma response that can negatively impact learning, behavior, relationships and school success. There is an urgent need for schools to create environments where every student feels calm, safe and a sense of belonging.

Read these blog posts to learn more about why we need trauma-sensitive schools:

Why a trauma-sensitive school?

Teacher with children in classroom studying


The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study demonstrates that nearly every school has students who have been exposed to overwhelming experiences, such as witnessing violence at home, being direct targets of abuse, homelessness or having a parent with substance abuse or mental health issues. Read more…

Not Belonging Hurts

Everyone knows what it feels like not to belong, not to be welcome. Sometimes we feel rejected, left out, or hurt by lost friendships and partner relations. Now scientific literature corroborates that social rejection affects the brain in similar ways that physical pain does. Read more…

Students Speak: Why We Need Safe and Supportive Schools

Student Voices – Their Perspectives on How Schools Are and Should Be

Students share their perspectives on the importance of positive relationships with adults at school, and on why creating a safe and supportive school is critical in helping them reach their potential. Read more…

Why trauma-sensitive schools are needed now more than ever:

Trauma-Sensitive Remote Learning: Keeping Connections Strong

Trauma-Sensitive Remote Learning - Keeping Connections Strong

Students, families, and educators alike are facing stressful challenges resulting from sudden school closures and abrupt shifts to remote learning. Recently TLPI convened a group of trauma-sensitive school leaders to listen to the many ways in which they are using the trauma lens to buffer the traumatic effects of these challenges and guide their work in these difficult times. Read more…

Trauma-Sensitive School Reopening

Friends with backpacks going to school

For many students, families, and educators this year has been characterized by persistent feelings of being overwhelmed. These are expected reactions given this extraordinary set of circumstances we have all experienced. In recent meetings with high school students, many report feeling fatigued, disconnected, unmotivated and misunderstood, attributing these struggles to long hours on the computer screen and often a lack of meaningful connections to peers, adults and to structure. Read more…

To see a school in action and to learn more about "Why" we need trauma-sensitive schools, see the videos below:

Play Video - Why we need trauma sensitive schools

There are a growing number of schools throughout Massachusetts and the United States engaged in the work of creating trauma-sensitive schools. This video features one such school, the Baker School in Brockton, MA.
Watch the video.

Michael Gregory, a Managing Attorney on the staff of the Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative and Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, shares the five core ideas of Helping Traumatized Children Learn Volumes One and Two. Watch the video.

To see Joe Ristuccia's presentation on prevalence and impacts of trauma, please watch the four training videos below:

Studies now show that nearly every school has children who have been exposed to overwhelming experiences, such as witnessing violence between their caretakers, being the direct targets of abuse, and other kinds of adversity. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study found higher levels of traumatic experiences in the general population than previously imagined. Among the approximately 17,000 adults surveyed, just over 50% reported having experienced at least one form of childhood adversity.
Watch the video.

Recent neurobiological, epigenetics, and psychological studies have shown that traumatic experiences in childhood can diminish concentration, memory, and the organizational and language abilities children need to succeed in school. For some children, this can lead to problems with academic performance, inappropriate behavior in the classroom, and difficulty forming relationships.
Watch Impacts Part 1

VIDEOS: The Impact of Trauma on Learning Part 2 and Part 3

For many children who have experienced traumatic events, the school setting can feel like a battleground in which their assumptions of the world as a dangerous place sabotage their ability to remain calm and regulate their behavior in the classroom. Unfortunately, many of these children develop behavioral coping mechanisms in an effort to feel safe and in control, yet these behaviors can frustrate educators and evoke exasperated reprisals, reactions that both strengthen the child’s expectations of confrontation and danger and reinforce a negative self-image.
Watch Impacts Part 2

Children’s struggles with traumatic stress and their insecure relationships with adults outside of school can adversely affect their relationships with school personnel and with peers. Preoccupied with their physical and psychological safety, children who have experienced traumatic events may be distrustful of adults and/or fellow students and unsure of the security of the school setting in general.
Watch Impacts Part 3

Take a deeper dive:

Read the research on TLPI’s Demonstration Schools Project:

Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative (TLPI): Trauma-Sensitive Schools Descriptive Study (AIR)

This study describes how five demonstration schools in Massachusetts implemented the Inquiry Based Process (IBP) to create trauma-sensitive, safe and supportive learning environments. Read the report.

Evaluation: Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative’s (TLPI) Inquiry-Based Process: Year Three

An Evaluation of the Trauma and Learning Policy Intitiative's (TLPI) Inquiry-Based Process: Year Three

By Boston University, Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. Study shows transformational benefits of a trauma-sensitive school culture.
Read the report.

A Safe Haven article

To see how a trauma-sensitve school can be the hub of a vibrant communitiy please see this article published in Principal Magazine:

A trauma-sensitive school can be the hub of a vibrant, supportive community


Read the article.