Many of you reading this right now are teachers so I want you to picture something you’re very familiar with – a Venn diagram. Imagine each circle containing the challenges of a child who has experienced some sort of trauma. It might be homelessness, poverty, caregiver addiction or mental illness, neglect, physical or emotional abuse. Some of the circles overlap because several students share many of the same challenges. Now picture all the circles overlapping a little bit in the middle. What do all these children have in common? Chaos and uncertainty.
Scary and unfortunate? For sure. But does knowing this help us make decisions that can turn school into a safe place for our students? For sure.
Unexpected events occur daily in these children’s homes. Evictions, mood swings and food shortages are the norm. How can we help them feel a little bit safer and more relaxed for the eight hours a day they’re in school? By providing routine, consistency and predictability. The more we keep our schedules the same, our emotions in check and surprises to a minimum, the safer our students will feel.
Believe it or not, this includes fun events too. A two hour Halloween party may be fun for a typical student but cause a lot of stress for a child whose life is filled with unpredictability. The energy in the room and change in schedule create even more chaos in an already uncertain life.
Have you noticed that early release days contain more behavior issues than a regular day that is two hours longer? Getting out of school early seems like a good thing but these students are craving structure and consistency and the change in schedule can be upsetting.
Let’s not forget about surprises. Little things, like warning these students in advance of fire drills, will help ease the anxiety they carry with them most of their days.
Is this an easy task? Heck no! There are days when I fail miserably. Meetings, emergencies and boredom with a routine keep me from being as consistent as I’d like to be. But I know that if I wasn’t aware of the importance of routine for these kiddos, I’d provide even less of it. Keeping this need for structure in the back of my mind offers a little extra peace to my students who I know need it the most.