Help yourself

Working with students who experience trauma can drain you. How to keep yourself from going under.

4 min read

Voice of the Educator

Help yourself


Students today need support in many realms. Of course, they must be helped academically, to ensure that their unique learning needs are met. Many also require social-emotional support, particularly when they are victims of trauma, such as violence, divorce, a move, or being bullied, which are increasingly common realities for so many of our children.

Without question, helping students cope with trauma can be difficult. Even if we are equipped to help, a lingering problem often remains.

A colleague of mine recently attended an educational conference. She met a teacher during a session about working with students who have experienced trauma. The teacher said that she knew how to help traumatized students but asked wonderingly, “How do I help me? You have to get into their lives in order to teach them. And their trauma is deep. It stays with you. So, here’s my question: After I go over the line to help them, who pulls me back?”

This is such a powerful question and one that so many teachers are asking.

It may be easier said than done, but teachers who want to successfully and sustainably support their students must be able to keep themselves strong and fresh. They need to understand that they won’t be able to help others if they don’t help themselves as well and maintain healthy boundaries.

We also need to recognize that we can’t do it alone. Sure, we may be well trained and feel equipped. But in most cases, traumatic situations are far too big and complex for a single person to handle alone.

Here are some things teachers can do to stay healthy, energized and properly supported so that they can be fully supportive of their students’ many needs.

  1. Develop a growth mindset. Our mindsets play a significant role in how situations affect us. If we view our roles more narrowly, as in instructional providers and facilitators, then we will feel drained when we extend beyond our comfort zones. Our fixed mentalities will convince us that we simply cannot go there. Teachers who embrace the “new normal” of teaching, however, will find ways to “grow” and start to view themselves as capable of properly dealing with it.
  2. Don’t take it personally. Kids who have experienced trauma aren’t trying to push your buttons. They are simply dealing with complicated situations and may not have the tools and maturity to do so in predictable and acceptable ways.
  3. Remind yourself of your impact, even when you can’t see it. I have been told countless times in subsequent years about the impact that I had on a student while they were in my class. I am sure that you have been told the same. We simply cannot know the impact of our work while we are performing it. As Henry Adams once said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”
  4. Disconnect. We all need personal time. As much as you want to help and be available, make sure to disconnect often so that that you can recharge and bring your best self to each situation.
  5. Health. If we are unhealthy, how can we hope to help others get heathier and whole? Proper nutrition and ample sleep are absolutely critical to ensure that we stay well and remain the influencers we need to be.
  6. Get support. Make full use of other professionals whose role is to support you and your students. Mental health professionals and administrators are there to help you do your very best and provide added support and resources for your students. Don’t feel the need to go it alone.

Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, (@impactfulcoach) ) is president of Impactful Coaching & Consulting. Check out his leadership book, “Becoming the New Boss.” Read his blog, and listen to his leadership podcast. Download his free new eBook, “An E.P.I.C. Solution to Understaffing.”


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