Date of Award

Winter 3-9-2020

Degree Type


Degree Name

Executive Ed.D. in Education Leadership Management and Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Daniel Gutmore, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Michael Kuchar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Julie Riess, Ph.D.


trauma-informed, elementary, trauma, case study, qualitative


The purpose of this study is to gain insight into the lived experiences and perceptions of elementary school teachers as they seek to bring trauma-informed classroom practices to their students. Around the world, there has been an increase in the need for trauma-informed classroom practices based on the lives and struggles of those who are walking through our public school doors. Teachers implementing trauma-informed classroom strategies do so to attempt to create environments for students to share their life experiences while simultaneously teaching them coping strategies for a better future. Educators and students become part of an environment in which care, support and community-building are prioritized over academic achievement. In trauma-informed classrooms, we commonly see teachers who have taken extensive time to get to know the lived experiences of the students they teach, paying close attention to their actions and the environment they have created, watching the impact that it has on each individual child. Such an environment creates a sense of belonging and prioritizes social and emotional learning.

Teachers have used trauma-informed classroom practices in their classrooms to address the adverse childhood experiences that students entering school have faced. As the movement spreads, more school leaders are bringing trauma-informed practices outside of the classroom to develop school-wide trauma-informed environments (Kostanski & Hassed, 2008). According to Broderick, “the prevalence of childhood affective disorders (approximately 20%) may contribute to deteriorating class climates and increasing teacher stress” (Broderick & Metz, 2009). In both educational psychology and neuroscience, there is a demand for those who work with children to evaluate the systems that exist to meet the social and emotional challenges that children face. Trauma-informed classroom practices help students learn to cope with the difficulties that exist in their lives and, as a result, engage in more positive productive experiences within the school setting.

Traumatic experiences alter the brain and impact children in multiple ways beyond a lack of academic success. Students can struggle socially and can possess behavioral needs that schools are unable to address. As a result of anxiety and stress, many students exhibit behavioral issues perpetuated by anger or depression (Howard, 2014). Howard writes that “When you adopt a trauma-informed perspective you approach that student’s behavior with openness and curiosity because the ultimate aim of most school-based trauma-informed instruction programs is to increase awareness of the influence of trauma on students’ thoughts, emotions and behaviors and, by implementing key techniques and strategies, enhance the likelihood of treating trauma in the classroom” (Shapiro, 2009).

Many factors impact student success, including violence, domestic abuse and poverty. Nearly half of children in the United States, or almost 35 million, have experienced “at least one or more types of serious childhood trauma,” according to a survey by the National Survey of Children’s Health (National Survey of Children’s Health, 2018). Because teachers are the adults who see students for the longest periods of time throughout the day, they play a critical role in recognizing the symptoms of trauma and treating it at the classroom level.