Trauma-Sensitive Schools and Social and Emotional Learning: An Integration

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Children and teacher in garden

Safe, equitable, and engaging learning environments can prevent and mitigate the effects of trauma and help students build skills that foster resilience en route to lifelong thriving. Thriving is affected by people individually and collectively experiencing well-being, grounding, and agency.  Now more than ever, we see a need to acknowledge, address, and mitigate the disparate effects of trauma and avoid replicating inequitable structures across school communities.

Adopting a whole-child approach requires an integrated understanding of child development, the potential effects of adversity and trauma, and related practices to support social, emotional, and academic success for all students.

When used together, schoolwide social and emotional learning (SEL) and Trauma Sensitive Schools (TSS) support a holistic approach to meeting student needs, particularly when focused on enhancing individual skill-building and environmental conditions that support student well-being and advance educational equity.

This brief examines how TSS and SEL can be integrated and expanded to create safe, supportive, and culturally responsive schools that prevent school-related trauma and foster thriving, robust equity, and transformative learning with an enhanced equity lens.

The six key strategies outlined in this brief help to define, integrate, and expand TSS and SEL with equity efforts to advance a transformative approach that cannot be achieved by either alone. For successful integration of TSS and SEL, we suggest focusing on a shared understanding and vision and readiness, shifting adult mindsets, planning for joint implementation and evaluation, supporting adult SEL, and an enhanced equity lens. To operationalize thriving and robust equity, we must address identity and agency, both of which are critical to healing and transformation.