Positive Experience is the Medicine Students Need

A computer screen shows a second-grade teacher leading a lesson for her remote learning students.
Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

By Dr. Will Henson

Trauma-informed practices are becoming the new norm. One of the key parts of this whole movement is that educators have stopped focusing on just the student, and started changing the practice to also focus on adults. We have realized the importance of prioritizing safety, establishing predictability and building relationships. It’s amazing how it can impact our students when we focus on the things we as educators can control.

How does all this help, and ultimately, change the kids we work with? I’ve talked in the past about how interventions that target only our thinking brain – the prefrontal cortex – are not enough. Interventions like talking through problems, being taught skills, or being given incentives are only part of the change equation. 

The other part, and I think the most important part, is the experience that a child has. The supportive feeling of interacting with a caring adult creates repetitive positive experiences that can actually heal the traumatized brain.  And the best part is: you don’t have to be a trained clinician to show empathy and compassion.  Everyone has that capability.

Educators are under an extreme amount of pressure right now. And it might be tempting to feel like nothing you do is actually helping your students. But even small moments of connection during a Zoom call, a helpful email exchange, or encouraging feedback on an assignment are all tiny ways to create those positive experiences that can make all the difference to students. Don’t give up, educators! You are still making a difference even if it doesn’t feel that way.

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