A few tips to help schools become ACE-aware, Attachment-aware and trauma-informed


We have outlined a few overall approaches a school can adopt to become more ACE-aware, Attachment-aware and trauma-informed

Often the damage incurred as a result of ACEs and childhood trauma is complex and spans over a long period of time, therefore the ‘repair’ of this damage does not consist of a quick-fix,  you cannot adopt a one size fits all ‘package’ and being trauma-informed is a mindset with which educators should approach all children where we attempt to fix our broken systems rather than fixing our children.  The impact of the trauma often depends on the severity and timing of the trauma and the impact can cause a cascade of impaired functioning both socially, emotionally and cognitively.  Approaching education with an understanding of the physiological, social, emotional and academic impacts of trauma is driving change in our systems.  We need to remember that becoming trauma-informed is a journey and not a destination and being trauma-informed in our daily practices is truly a process of learning and adjustment.

Some key areas to consider are:

  • Developing positive relationships - where you normalise a child's disrupted body and brain stress response systems and develop self regulation.
  • Competencies where you give the child opportunities to improve competencies such as self concept where they haven't had the necessary environment to acquire these skills.
  • Self regulation/co-regulation where different approaches to behavioural management (not just reacting to the behaviour) help traumatised children to learn to regulate their emotions and behaviour.  You need to keep calm to help calm a pupil down who is experiencing frustration, fear or anger, using strategies that consider the student's emotions and need for space while calming down their systems, their emotions need validating and getting to the root of what is causing the emotion.  It's not about excusing poor choices but it means ensuring they are in a state where they understand and accept any consequences which is necessary if they are to learn from the experience.
  • Difference between pupil consequences for inappropriate behaviour and punishments.  Consequences are designed to teach but punishments chastise.  It is important to set clear boundaries and expectations for our pupils, when students do not meet these expectations or disregard boundaries we need to teach them the expectations through consistent consequences.

Here are some overall whole school approaches that can have a significant impact:

    • Continuously maintain an awareness of the impact of ACEs, toxic stress and trauma.
    • Adopt a whole school policy and practice that are consistently implemented along side ongoing whole school training, support, strategies and resources - Senior leaders need to truly understand what they are dealing with and proactively take steps to address it.
    • Maintain a safe, predictable, calm environment that prioritises relationships and consistency, so pupils feel valued, supported, connected and ready to learn e.g. Demonstrating unconditional positive regard to all pupils (and school staff) at all times. Punitive behaviour policies do not work for children that have had difficult childhoods as they can fuel feelings of deep-rooted anxiety and shame but restorative practices do improve the relationship between people and communities.
    • Remember that behaviour is a symptom of the problem, not the problem. Be curious about behaviour – ask “what happened to you?” rather than “what is wrong with you?” Do not take things personally – it is not about you.
    • Teach pupils to self-regulate and calm their stress response system and eliminate stress triggers from the environment – loud voices, abrupt sounds, etc.  Providing a variety of practical subjects such as music, art, drama, dance, sport and technology.  These subjects offer children experiencing adversity therapeutic qualities that help children regulate, allow them to feel a sense of success, let them express themselves and their creativity, and help to repair some of the damage done to the brain through early adversity.
    • Support the pupils’ care-givers and connect with the whole family – it improves the pupils’ outcomes.
    • Ideally these children need permanent, knowledgeable professionals who understand what has happened to them and will be there consistently and compassionately, no matter what these children throw at them.

For more information about Trauma Informed Practices click here to read this article about Trauma Informed Practices in Plymouth.