A Guide for Educators: 6 Ways To Help Your In-School Team Deal With Trauma

The pandemic. Racial injustice. Mass shootings. The recent tragedies are a grim reminder of how much “trauma load” our kids—and the people who support them—experience. There are a lot of incredibly important resources for how to talk to kids about these events, but it’s equally important to support the mental health professionals and educators in our schools. 

After the most recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, the Daybreak team made time and space to connect with our clinicians—the people who are on the front lines working with kids everyday. As they provide unwavering support for their clients, we know that they need support, too. Based on our clinical experience, here are 6 ways that school district leaders can help their teams cope with trauma:

1. Make time and space for processing

It is important for your team to have a space to share their reactions and feelings following significant trauma. Giving and receiving support from others helps with the healing process. Set aside time for small groups to meet and create a safe, relaxing space for them to talk with fidgets or other tactile items that will help with emotion regulation. Here are some questions you can use as prompts for the conversation. 

  • What thoughts/feelings feel most present for you in the wake of what happened?
  • Would you like to talk with others, or would you prefer to process this on your own?
  • What questions do you have about how we create safety on campus?
  • What are you doing to take care of yourself during this time?
  • What can we support you with?

If your district has adopted Restorative Practices you can leverage “Circle Norms” to help create these spaces.

2. Encourage limited exposure

When possible, it’s important to limit exposure to traumatic events. Although we are often drawn to turn to various media outlets to gather information, when we repeatedly watch coverage on the event, we are re-exposing ourselves to the trauma. Encourage your team to set boundaries around how much information they are capable of taking in. Let them know that it is okay not to talk about it with everyone they come in contact with. Give them permission to say, “Yes, this was a very tragic event but I’d prefer not to talk about it at this time for my own mental health.”

3. Show you care

Sometimes small acts of kindness to show you care can go a long way. Write your team members handwritten notes about how much you appreciate them and the work they do. We’ve even seen leaders write notes to the families of their employees telling them how much they are appreciated and everything they do for students and the school community. To the right is an example of some notecards we created at Daybreak to share the love with school counselors, students, and colleagues. (reach out if you'd like some!)

4. Go outside

Spending time outside away from screens and ongoing media coverage is refreshing. Fresh air and sunshine are natural ways to boost your mood. Suggest to your team that they find a colleague to join them for lunch or a walk outside. Provide walking routes around your school. Set up a “step” challenge to build camaraderie, boost morale, and increase outdoor time.

5. Listen to your body

We all react to trauma differently, and your body tells you what it needs. If you are feeling restless, exercising or physical activities can help. If you notice your body is feeling tense, gentle stretching can help to loosen your muscles. Create a calendar where members of your team could lead yoga, meditation, or even a field day for adults! There are so many talented people in your schools that could provide different types of support while building community.

6. Get Vocal

Mass trauma often leaves us feeling helpless and hopeless. Once your team has had the time and space to process and grieve, it's important to help them find ways to get involved in making the changes they want to see. This can come in the form of policy education, reaching out to local representatives, or participating in community events. Surrounding ourselves with like-minded people can help to restore our hope and can be both comforting and motivating.

Downloadable Content

The State of Youth Mental Health & Our Schools

How schools are responding to the rising demand for student mental health services.