What is a Trauma Focused School?

We understand that stress is sitting at an all-time high. Many of you have expressed that you are feeling fatigued and extra tired.  Not only are we as educators feeling the strain, but students who have experienced traumatic stress can be another level of challenge in a classroom.  Now more than ever, educators are in need of tools to help support their students.

We know that interventions like rewards and incentives don’t work very well with children and youth who have experienced trauma. It requires a different approach especially as the neurological and developmental systems of a youth have been delayed in some capacity.  Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Chuck Geddes, has found that when we utilize trauma focused interventions, we can provide the support, healing, and learning engagement that these children need.

Dr. Geddes has worked with kids that come from hard places for over 25 years and approximately 12 years ago, started specializing in complex trauma until he launched Complex Trauma Resources (CTR). To date, he and his team have worked with hundreds of kids and have seen even the most challenging children and youth across British Columbia respond in incredibly positive ways to their trauma-focused approaches.  Since then, his complex trauma work has made its way to other systems, including schools.

Dr. Geddes and his CTR team now offer an online course called “Trauma Focused Schools”. This gives educators the tools they need to support their most challenging students while creating a framework that enhances the learning of every student in their classroom.

School Psychologist, Angela Murphy, CTR’s Director of School Programs shares that the CTR model has been embraced into schools across the province and country. She says, “It is encouraging to see educators supporting students in their healing and growth: socially, emotionally, and academically.”  Since using CTR’s Trauma Focused Schools approach, she has seen life-changing outcomes for students from kindergarten all the way up to grade 12.2

Here’s what others are saying:

As an educator, one of the biggest challenges we face is students with intense behaviours. Educators feel at a loss with how to deal with these behaviours and it can be increasingly difficult not to take it personally. I have been personally able to watch two of my students build their self-esteem, develop a sense of safety, and therefore make huge strides in their educational journey  because of the CTR model. The shift is in understanding connection and neurological safety and when we can provide this, paradigm shifts happen in our classrooms.  Being a part of the CTR team allows this shift to happen. ~ Beth-Anne Principal

Since we started using the CTR model with my students, I’ve noticed such a positive change in behaviors in a relatively short period of time. What I love about this model the most is the ease of understanding what developmental areas are in need of support and interventions that actually work!  I no longer need the safety plan I had to utilize almost daily for one of my students!  ~ Jennifer, Special Education Teacher

A Trauma Focused school has educators who:

  • Know how to de-escalate a student in distress
  • Understand how complex trauma impacts the brain and body
  • Have developed strategies to support ALL students, especially students who have experienced complex trauma
  • Are able to focus and support the development needs of the child thus increasing their capacity for emotional regulation
  • Are able to create meaningful trauma informed Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) for students who often need help academically or are also working on social/emotional goals as living documents
  • Understand that it’s okay practice wellness and self-care so you can be your best version of you in your educational role
  • Be reminded of how important you are as an educator in helping to heal children and help them thrive

Understanding How Complex Trauma Impacts the Brain and Body

Dr.  Geddes says, “Complex trauma, or traumatic stress, can seriously interfere with the brain and nervous system development and does so in an amazingly broad way, impacting not just a child’s behaviour or thinking, but rather almost every developing system in their bodies and brains (see for example Anda et al., 2006; Kisiel et al., 2014; Perry, 2006; Perry, 2009).”

He goes on to state, “This paradigm changes the conversation.  No longer is it about establishing a diagnosis as if the diagnosis identifies something intrinsic and fixed about the child. Now my focus is on where development got stuck at a nervous system level and less on managing the behaviours we see on the outside. The conversation becomes one of ‘how do we, as caring adults, create the environment and nurturing experiences for this child’s brain to rewire and re-set?’” With the right support, a child experiencing trauma can develop tools… to help them heal and [to successfully learn].1

What can you do to help a traumatized child in an educational setting?

Here are a several brief tips from Trauma-Focused Schools Instructor Angela Murphy that will help a traumatized child in an educational setting:

  • Form a Care Team that includes parents or foster parents and other relevant staff members.
  • Participate in professional development courses about complex trauma.
  • Learn about the Stress Staircase and the CTR Therapeutic Bookends: Decreasing Stress and Building Attachment
  • Implement the PEACE-ful Schools strategies (P-redictability and Routine, E-motional Literacy, Attuned Relationship, C-alming Activities, E-mpowerment)3

Are you Interested in Learning More about Trauma-Focused Schools?

CTR offers an online course called Trauma-Focused Schools that gives educators the tools to support their most challenging students while creating a framework that enhances the learning of every student in their classroom.



1 https://www.complextrauma.ca/whats-all-the-fuss-about-complex-trauma/

2 https://complex-trauma.teachable.com/p/trauma-focused-schools

3 https://www.complextrauma.ca/understanding-trauma-classroom/

About the author

Nicole Fakaua

Nicole is a Registered Clinical Counsellor and a member of our CTR Clinical team. To learn more about her click here: https://www.complextrauma.ca/about/our-team/

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