Laura Sokal and Jennifer Katz
Inclusive classrooms provide new opportunities for group membership and creation of effective learning environments. In order to facilitate the success of inclusion as an approach and philosophy, it is important that all class members as well as their teachers develop the skills to understand one another, and to communicate and work together effectively. Social emotional learning (SEL) is aimed at developing these skills and is generally defined to involve processes by which individuals learn to understand and moderate their own feelings, understand the feelings of others, communicate, resolve conflicts effectively, respect others, and develop healthy relationships. These skills are important to both children with disabilities and to those without, in terms of overall social development, perceptions of belonging, and promotion of overall mental wellness, as well as mitigation of the development of mental illness. Research suggests that SEL programming has the potential to effectively enhance children’s academic, social, and relational outcomes. Moreover, teachers who teach SEL in their classrooms have also demonstrated positive outcomes. Despite these encouraging findings, implementation of SEL has been hampered by some limitations, including the lack of a consistent definition—a limitation that in turn affects research findings; lack of teacher education in SEL, which erodes confidence in the fidelity of implementation; and concerns that current SEL programs are not sensitive to cultural differences in communities. Together, the strengths and limitations of SEL illuminate several policy implications regarding the most advantageous ways for SEL to contribute to the success of inclusion in classrooms and schools.
Carmel Hobbs, Dane Paulsen, and Jeff Thomas
Complex trauma experienced in childhood has detrimental impacts on the brain, learning and socio-moral development, the effects of which can last long into adulthood. A growing body of research emphasizes how all school teachers, regardless of the educational context, should expect to have students in their classroom who are affected by complex trauma. Teachers therefore require an understanding of how trauma affects their students, and a skillset that allows them to support and respond effectively to these students. However, multiple studies have found that teachers feel that they have not received sufficient training, and subsequently feel inadequately equipped to meet the needs of trauma-affected students in their classrooms. Although many Initial Teacher Education programs incorporate some curriculum on child maltreatment, this is typically focused on identifying and reporting child abuse, as opposed to how sustained and severe maltreatment can lead to complex trauma, which affects learning, and social development in students. Increasing understanding of how trauma affects the brain, and the implications this has for young people in school has continued to grow since the 1990s. This has contributed to a growing trend of multidisciplinary teams combining education and wellbeing models in schools to cater to the most vulnerable students in their respective communities.
Students who have experienced trauma may appear to be deliberately misbehaving in the classroom, disengaged or disinterested in learning, and can struggle to develop skills that strengthen positive relationships with school staff and other students. Unsurprisingly, exposure to trauma impacts a young person’s academic performance, attendance, and likelihood of completion. It is clear that schools are important settings where the effects of trauma have a substantial impact on the lives of students, particularly when the effects of trauma are misunderstood. Nevertheless, schools have the potential to be one of the most powerful places for buffering the negative impacts of complex childhood trauma through their capacity to provide opportunities for all students to experience positive, trusting relationships, be cared for, and experience predictability, consistency and safety.
A trauma-informed approach in school settings involves understanding how trauma affects students and provides a framework for responding to students rather than blaming them for their behavior. Trauma-informed practice is not an intervention, and it does not have an end point. It is a process, and a holistic way of working that involves understanding and attending to the specific needs of individuals with trauma-affected childhoods. Central to all trauma-informed approaches is the importance of strong, trusting, consistent and predictable relationships between an adult and a trauma-affected child. It is within this space that opportunities to repair dysregulated stress responses, and disruptive attachment styles can take place.