Trauma-sensitive practices and equity-centered work are partners in the drive towards making a high quality, challenging, and well-supported educational experience a right for every student. The emerging field of epigenetics provides evidence that experience alters gene activation and that the altered genetic expression can be inherited.
Epigenetics and an increased understanding of the multi-layered trauma experienced by society’s marginalized populations intertwines Culturally Responsive Teaching and Social Justice and Equity approaches with trauma-sensitive education. Restorative Justice, which focuses consequences on repairing harm caused to self, relationships, and the community, is remarkably effective when working with students from all backgrounds, especially those with insecure attachment and traumatic experiences. Combining all of these practices, which require similar skills and abilities from educators, has the potential to halt the school to prison pipeline.
Theories of the relational nature of developmental psychology and how students learn are now supported by neurobiological studies. Systems theories and theories of resilience are repeatedly validated and have implications for educational frameworks.
Systems theories assert that a child’s neurobiological development depends on their interactions with their environment. As seen in the infograph, there are many layers of environments that interact with each other as they affect a child’s development. Schools, classrooms, and educators are an important layer in a student’s development.
Resilience research consistently finds that one of the most significant protective factors for children and adolescents is at least one positive, caring relationship with an adult. The impact of increased positive interactions and connections on brain development and functioning, in addition to the ability to adapt to a larger world is extremely significant.
Somatic symptoms are the result of storing toxic stress and trauma in the body. Students and educators may experience these physical symptoms. Living and working in environments with continual exposure to trauma and ongoing toxic stress adversely affects the body’s health, as the mind and body are a unified whole, rather than separate entities.
Educators must elevate their awareness of their social emotional abilities and develop them to meet the needs of today’s students. Infusing teacher preparation programs with efficient, effective methods for developing these competencies is pivotal to teacher success. Developing these abilities empowers educators because the process raises their awareness and understanding and leads to more effective approaches to relationship building, ergo, teaching.