Key concepts of trauma-informed teaching and learning

Sadly, trauma is more common among children than we think, and it has been proven that it impacts their achievement at school. This is true across geographies, and it does not discriminate based on socioeconomic standing. In fact, an estimated 1 out of 2 children globally (2-17 years old) suffers some form of violence each year.1

The consequences of trauma include psychological disorders, poor academic performance, drug abuse, incarceration, and shorter life expectancy. As a result, for many children, schools become their safe place as the trust and opinions of their educators and peers matter to them.

This is why it is helpful for educators to know about Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and their impact on students’ brain development. These include incarceration, violence, experience with homelessness, food insufficiency, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, alcohol and drug addiction. Based on the amount of ACEs a person has experienced we can come up with an ACE score, which can be very useful as it correlates with alcoholism, drug addiction, and self harm, among other risky behaviors. Of the students who have an ACE score of 0, 3% will have a behavior disorder or learning disabilities. In contrast, of the students with an ACE score of 4 or higher, 51% will have a behavior disorder or learning disabilities. In the United States, for example, 61% of adults indicated that they had experienced at least one type of ACE, which have been linked to health conditions such as heart disease and depression as well as a high economic cost to families, communities and society2.

In response to these troubling statistics, trauma-sensitive or trauma-informed education has emerged as a need for educators who are often in the front lines of teaching children who are survivors of trauma. The first thing educators should do is be as compassionate as possible, while at the same time helping the student to be self-compassionate. Too often, kids under overwhelming stressors, will think there’s something wrong with them, where it really is just the situation. We can’t necessarily fix that for them, but we can help them feel more compassionate for themselves.

The 2017 Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative report, Safe and Supportive Schools Commission: Principles of Effective Practice for Integrating Student Supports, identifies eight basic principles of trauma-sensitive education:

  1. Addressing the whole school
  2. Addressing the whole child
  3. Change Mindsets Across School and Families of Trauma Survivor Children
  4. Maintain Confidentiality at All Times
  5. Foster Collaboration by Integrating Comprehensive Services as Needed
  6. Partner With Community-Based Providers to Support Coordination of Services
  7. Provide equitable access to services
  8. Foster Partnering with Families


  1. World Health Organization. (n.d.) Violence against children.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Preventing adverse childhood experiences. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention.
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