Creating a Trauma Sensitive Classroom

By Diane Wolk-Rogers, Educator, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

It’s been almost five months since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I’ve marched in Washington with my students, done appearances on television and radio to spread the message of sensible gun reform, and have even done a TED talk to describe how my students continue to inspire me to action. Despite all of these activities, I continue to have moments of grief and disbelief that when I arrive back to school in August there will continue to be a new normal.

Because reactions to trauma are so different from one person to another, I realize that I need develop a better understanding and awareness of traumatic stress and create a trauma sensitized learning environment in my classroom. Research clearly proves that trauma changes how our brains function and now some of my students will have problems with thinking clearly, memory, and behavior.

I teach Advanced Placement World History which is a very demanding course and the majority of students placed in my class will have been 9th graders, many who were in the freshmen building at the time of the shooting. I’m not a trained therapist yet my students will be in session with me during 90 minute blocks. Therefore, in an attempt to acquire the tools I need to teach 10,000 years of history and prepare my students to successfully pass the AP College Board exam I am going to spend eight days this summer training with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.

Through the workshop, I will learn evidence based mind-body techniques that will relieve stress, heal trauma, and enhance health and well-being. I hope to be able to integrate these tools of stress reduction and resiliency into the current College Board AP World curriculum. Throughout the year, I will blog about my experiences and share my successes with the educational community in hopes that we can all share ways in which we can support our students’ emotion well-being while still guiding our students to acquire the subject matter we teach.

Diane Wolk-Rogers began teaching because she was passionate about supporting too-often neglected young people facing challenges and vulnerabilities. Early in her career, she received awards for her work providing special education support to students with learning and emotional disabilities. In 2001 she joined the faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where she teaches AP World History. In 2006, Wolk-Rogers became engaged in LGBTQAI activism, and she now serves as the faculty advisor for MSD’s Gay/Straight Alliance. She recently gained national attention for speaking publicly in support of the #neveragain movement led by her students at MSD after the shooting that occurred there on February 14, 2018. Their activism inspires her to fight for a safe learning environment for all.

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