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States Adopt Trauma-Informed Teacher Training, Few Consider Secondary Traumatic Stress


Alexandria, VA—As the most trusted adults for students outside the family, teachers can make a big difference in helping students through personal crises or hardships. Yet teachers who have witnessed students undergoing traumatic stress are themselves at greater risk for secondary traumatic stress (STS). In a new analysis, NASBE’s Celina Pierrottet draws on her own experience as a teacher, along with state examples, to highlight ways states can embed trauma-informed practices in mandated teacher training and ensure that schools reduce the risks to teachers from STS.

Occurring when an individual is affected by the first-hand traumatic experiences of another, the symptoms of STS are like those of posttraumatic stress disorder. “As a middle school teacher, I counted strong relationships with my students as key to building a safe and supportive learning environment,” writes Pierrottet. Students trusted Pierrottet to the extent that they were able to relate experiences of homelessness, abuse, and suicidal ideation. “My teacher preparation coursework didn’t prepare me for the secondary traumatic stress that followed,” she writes.

According to NASBE’s State Policy on School Health Database, 16 states required that teachers get professional development on trauma as of 2019. Nuances in these policies have implications for how teachers receive preservice and on-the-job training.

  • Trauma-informed training is often embedded in classroom management coursework, as in Washington, Oklahoma, and Utah. In Virginia, teacher candidates must receive training on how trauma affects students and how to identify it.
  • The Iowa state board requires districts to provide annual training on identifying adverse childhood experiences and “strategies to mitigate toxic stress.” Similarly, West Virginia requires trauma training every two years.
  • Few states require training on recognizing the signs of trauma in students and the impact of secondary trauma on school employees, along with resources to address it. Pennsylvania, Washington, and Illinois have such policies.

States are also using federal relief funds to encourage districts and schools to provide professional development and self-care resources. For example, Illinois and South Carolina are collaborating with local healthcare providers and community-based groups to provide workshops and other trainings on trauma-informed practice and self-care.

State leaders should work to ensure that policies balance teachers’ time in training with time for self-care, Pierrottet writes. Attending to staff wellness ultimately benefits students. “A systemwide approach to creating supportive learning environments includes reducing work-related stressors, increasing understanding of STS, and improving staff capacity to understand symptoms and seek help,” she writes.

Read and share Building Trauma-Informed School Systems.

NASBE serves as the only membership organization for state boards of education. A nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, NASBE elevates state board members’ voices in national and state policymaking, facilitates the exchange of informed ideas, and supports members in advancing equity and excellence in public education for students of all races, genders, and circumstances. Learn more at www.nasbe.org.

This publication is supported by cooperative agreement CDC-RFA-PS18-1807, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The contents of this publication are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views or endorsement of the CDC or the Department of Health and Human Services.

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