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Trauma-Informed Classrooms: Choices

One thing that is common among many traumatic events is a complete lack of choices. When a person feels like they do not have a choice or control, it can be triggering and cause the negative emotions that the person ties to the original trauma. While you can do a lot relationally with how you interact with your students, you can also set up your physical space with choices in mind. As you think about choices in your classroom, here are a couple of options you may want to consider.

First of all, when setting up a seating chart, ask your students if they have any special preferences, these preferences are less about who they want to sit with and more about where they want to sit. For instance, some students feel a lot safer if they are closer to a door, some students feel safer if they are sitting in the back of the room because they have their eyes on everyone. There is often the stereotype that those who gravitate towards the back are the troublemakers, but in reality, they are likely sitting there in an attempt to feel a sense of safety. I would recommend thinking twice before punishing a student by forcing them to sit in the front of the room, as that lack of safety might backfire.

Additionally, thinking through the type of seats available can be really helpful for your students. Providing an array of options (rocking chairs, standing desks, seats with bouncy bands, desk cycles, etc.) provide different types of physical outlets for students that can be calming and help them focus. If you choose to consider flexible seating options, please recognize that many students will want to try them at first, but quickly you will see that the students who benefit from them will keep wanting them as an option, while other students will lose interest.

Lastly, you want to consider what other choices a child might be able to make for themselves over the course of the day. How easy is if for them to choose to get water or use the restroom? Can they get up to grab their favorite fidget or other regulatory tool? Is there a space in the room that they can go when they are feeling frustrated and need a brief break? The more choices they have to access tools that keep them calm, the more likely they will be able to handle the high loads of stress that naturally comes along with being in a school

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