Many students today have experienced waves of trauma—from the pandemic, opioid crisis, racial injustice, poverty, inequality, violence, and more. Many, if not all, students and families are affected, and schools play a central role in providing critical supports. Trauma-sensitive practices are part of the continuum of social-emotional learning (SEL) practices—and a trauma-sensitive school provides an educational environment in which all aspects of the environment are grounded in an understanding of trauma and its impact on students and their learning. Trauma-sensitive practices take intentional steps to promote resilience for all, which might include a shared understanding of trauma among staff, ensuring safety and healthy relationships, efforts to shift mindsets, a focusing on wellbeing, and cultural responsiveness.1
In this blog post, we explain how two triangle frameworks inform trauma-sensitive practices across students' educational experiences. We then share how educators, in partnership with REL Appalachia, are embedding social-emotional learning and trauma-sensitive practices in their work and provide resources for those interested in learning more. And it all begins with triangles.
Source: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, by S. Mcleod, 2023, SimplyPsychology
In teacher preparation programs, educators typically learn about two frameworks, both represented by a layered triangle: Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Bloom's taxonomy.
Maslow's triangle illustrates the theory that human needs are hierarchical. People must fulfill basic needs like food, shelter, and health before they can move up the layers toward self-actualization. In terms of school experiences, Maslow's hierarchy suggests that in order to learn and grow to their fullest potential, students should be free from worry about more basic, underlying needs. These include stable housing, nutritious meals, good sleep habits, a sense of safety in the classroom, having friends, and experiencing positive feeling about themselves.
Source: Bloom's Taxonomy, by Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University, 2016
Bloom's taxonomy particularizes increasingly complex levels of learning and thinking. These range from the simple "remember" and "understand" levels at the base of the pyramid to the more sophisticated levels of "evaluate" and create," as students move toward the top. The goal of educators is to lead students from memorizing information to deeper understanding so they can apply their learning to solve problems, articulate persuasive arguments, create new knowledge and more, in school and beyond.
When we consider these two triangles together, here is the takeaway: Before students can learn, their basic needs must first be met, they must feel safe. In essence, you have to Maslow before you can Bloom.
REL Appalachia and our partners look for opportunities to interweave trauma-sensitive practices into our work with students of ALL ages – from preK through college. We hope these examples help spark ideas and encourage you to consider your local challenges through the lens of the lessons of the triangles. By implementing trauma-sensitive practices universally for all students, educators can help students feel safe and connected (Maslow) so they can maximize the potential of every learner and facilitate higher-level thinking (Bloom).
If you'd like to learn more about trauma-sensitive practices, consider the following free, evidence-based resources below, and subscribe to REL Appalachia's newsletter to be notified about new resources.
1 REL Southeast. (July 2021). Integrating trauma sensitive approaches and social and emotional learning. [Video]. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/rel/Products/Region/southeast/Resource/80116
2 Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405–432.
3 Minahan, J. (2019). Trauma-informed teaching strategies. Educational Leadership, 77(2), 30–35.