ACEs in the classroom

Patty McLain
What are Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs & why is it important for classroom teachers to understand them?

An Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE is basically what it sounds like - something that causes adversity for a child aged 0-17.  The list of common ACEs includes experiences like physical and emotional abuse, living with someone who suffers from a mental illness, or having a caregiver who is in jail or who struggles with substance abuse. 
The effects of ACEs in the classroom vary as much as the circumstances that lead to the adversity in the first place, but there are a few key things that teachers can take into consideration as they design their classroom and experience with an understanding that some of their students may be in a survival mode that makes learning difficult.  

It is important for teachers to know that ACEs are incredibly common and they lead to a heightened stress response which provides a variety of barriers to learning.  A student stuck in a fight or flight response can appear clingy or avoidant, they could have physical symptoms like a stomach ache, and/or they can become withdrawn or aggressive.  I know that I just described a broad spectrum of seemingly unrelated behaviors, but it is important for educators to know that trauma responses can look different based on the experience and the individual.

Since many students will have at least one adverse experience and most will not be apparent to the classroom teacher, ACE-aware, trauma-sensitive classrooms benefit all students.   

Some best practices for supporting students who are impacted by adverse experiences include,
  1. Provide lots of structure and consistency to make things as predictable as possible 
  2. Have clear expectations, agreements and consequences
  4. Opportunities for activities that can regulate the stress response.mindfulness, physical activity, music, and play.

You can learn more about trauma-informed teaching in the Seltrove Well-being teacher workshops.

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