One of the best things that we can do to help students that have experienced trauma is to maintain a positive learning environment. Students need to feel safe, welcomed, and a have sense of belonging. They also need the adults to be equipped with not only knowledge of trauma, but a toolkit of proactive strategies to keep students in a mindset where they can learn and flourish.
One tool that teachers can use to keep the environment positive is almost always saying ‘yes.’ This seems counterintuitive, even crazy, and you might be thinking that students need boundaries. Hearing the word ‘no’ can trigger negative emotions and a negative mindset, however, when I say that we should almost always say ‘yes,’ there is a catch! Here are some examples:
*Student asks to go to the bathroom at a bad time to leave the room.
Student: May I go to the bathroom?
Teacher: Yes, in five minutes when I am done giving directions.
In the scenario above, by saying yes instead of no, I kept the situation positive and relieved some anxiety or discomfort because the student knows when they will be able to leave.
*Student asks to work in partners on their self-reflection sheet.
Student: Can we do this in partners?
Teacher: Yes, you can work in partners tomorrow during our stations tomorrow, but I need you to do this task individually for today.
In the scenario above, by saying yes instead of no, I kept the situation positive and gave the student that craves collaboration time something to look forward to instead of shutting them down.
*Student hasn’t touched their assignment. You approach the student and ask if they need help.
Student: Can I color?
Teacher: Yes, as soon as you are done with your work.
In the scenario above, by saying yes instead of no, I kept the situation positive and helped keep the student on task. They know that if they do their work, they will get what they want.
Connie Hamilton (@conniehamilton), author of Hacking Questions, believes that the 'Yes' strategy can even work with colleagues to keep the environment positive and productive, but to not let yourself get taken advantage of. She lists a few examples below:
*It's the beginning of the school year and a newer staff member to your school comes in your door, looking a little overwhelmed.
Colleague: Can you share your parent letter with me?
You: Yes, If you will edit it for me. I think the grammar needs a little work. Also, please send me an email reminder about it. I should be able to get to it in the next 2-3 days.
In the scenario above, you kept the situation positive, came off as helpful, yet also let your colleague know that you expect them to contribute as well.
*A colleague sees you in the morning, right before the bell, looking a little frustrated about something.
Colleague: Will you talk to ____ about ____?
You: Yes, I'll have time third hour on Wednesday. Is that soon enough or do you need to find someone who can get to it today? I can also do it sooner if you cover my class for me for a little while.
In the scenario above, you kept the situation positive, but let your colleague know that your time is valuable and that you they can either replace the time that you are missing, or wait until it is more convenient for you.
Try this simple strategy of saying ‘yes’ to help foster a positive and trauma-sensitive learning environment and please let us know how it went! For more strategies and resources on how to create lasting change in your school and/or classroom, please check out our international bestseller, HACKING SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy & Responsibility Using Restorative Justice.