Understanding trauma is key to student-centered education

Posted on 04 February 2016 by Caitlin Burman

Many brightly coloured pencils on a white surface.

As teachers we know that every student is unique, that students learn in different ways, and that as teachers we can teach in different ways.

Historically, education has focused on teacher-centered approaches, where students put all of their focus on the teacher, and the teacher talks while the students listen. Contemporary practice encourages teachers to move away from this approach and toward one where the student is the focus. When a classroom is student-centered, students and instructors can share the focus and interact equally.

This student-centered approach also provides the opportunity for the student’s education to become trauma-informed, which is of particular importance to MacKillop as we have adopted the trauma-informed Sanctuary Model as our organisation’s model of care.   

There are five characteristics of trauma-informed education:

  • It encourages students to collaborate with their teachers, community members and between themselves.
  • Students have some control of their own learning and the processes behind it.
  • It includes explicit teaching of skills.
  • It encourages reflection and self-assessment for students and teachers.
  • It is engaging and allows students the opportunity to get into the ‘nitty-gritty’ of learning.

Trauma-informed education requires students to explore and build their own knowledge and to be more than passive recipients of information learning via rote. It encourages students to explore and then construct their own meaning in a variety of contexts.

Fully embracing trauma-informed education may require changes to teaching and teacher/school preconceptions and perceptions. In creating a student-centered approach to teaching and learning; assessment, reporting and curriculum design will also need adjustment.

At MacKillop Education Services Geelong, where we work with young people who are disengaged or at risk of disengaging from mainstream education, we strive at all times to be trauma-informed. Through constructivist approaches to teaching, learning and curriculum development, we place our students at the centre of each and every lesson and learning opportunity.

In 2016, our primary school program revolves around inquiry units. Students work in an environment where they are free to ask questions, learn concepts and explore possible solutions within a real world, open ended, project based context.

Students will be immersed in ethnomathematics, where they study the relationship between their own culture, and other’s cultures, and mathematics. Students will also take part in hands on learning experiences and, through emotional support, they will be encouraged to form respectful relationships and develop their social skills and capabilities.

Through this innovative, trauma-informed, student-centered approach the students and teachers at MacKillop Education Services Geelong can look forward to an exciting and inspiring learning journey in 2016!

Find out more about MacKillop Education Services' innovative education programs.