Estimated Time to Complete: 2 hours

Part of our responsibilities as educators and leaders is to provide a safe learning environment that encourages all learners to grow and achieve. This module focuses on deliberate ways that districts, through their leadership structures (DLTS, BLTs and TBTs) can alter educational practices to accommodate the prevalence of trauma seen today. Trauma informed education is an opportunity for the district as a whole to treat children and adolescents with compassion and care.

This module aligns with Ohio’s Leadership Framework in the following areas:

  • Area 1 Data and The Decision-Making Process
  • Area 2 Focused Goal Setting Process
  • Area 3 Instruction and Learning Process
  • Area 4 Community Engagement Process
  • Area 5 Resource Management Process
  • Area 6 Board Development and Governance Process

Module Content

You can download a document that includes all content from the module, with the exception of videos. This resource can support your learning while completing the module or be saved for future reference.

Additional Documents

Article Summary: Thomas, Crosby and Vanderhaar (2019)

History of Trauma-informed Care and Education

History of Trauma-informed Care and Education

Discussion Questions

  1. Did trauma-informed approaches interest you before encountering this module? Do they interest you now? Why or why not?

  2. The concept of the "whole child" emerged early in the 20th century as one of the outlooks of progressive education. The concept is now officially embedded in Ohio's Strategic Plan for Education. What do the public documents for your school and district say about "the whole child"? Where is the effort doing good? Where is it falling short?

  3. Is there anything happening in your district, school, or classroom related to trust, security, stability, compassion, or punishment that particularly concerns you? Why?

  4. Although everyone endures traumatic experiences, some children and adolescents experience more than the usual dosage of trauma. Are they punished for it in your school and district? Why, why not, and in what ways?

  5. What are some specific ways to design academic instruction that reflects a trauma-informed outlook?


Introductory Activities

  1. One School's Message of Compassion

    According to this module, compassion is at the center of trauma-informed education. How difficult is it to show compassion? View one Ohio example

    This principal at Western Primary School in Latham, OH, models compassion in her own message to the community and district on the school’s website. That’s not so difficult.


    1. What words and phrases in this message serve as "non-negotiables" (fundamental values) for the educators and staff at Western Primary?

    2. What two attitudes do you see as most important to supporting an atmosphere of inclusion and high academic expectations for each student?

    3. Reflect on your responses or discuss them if you are working in a group.


    Draft a message of compassion that might sit on your school's or district's webpage.

  2. The Evidence Basis of Trauma-informed Practice

    Question for this activity: Is trauma-informed education an evidence-based practice? The OIP requires that educators use evidence-based practices. (Hint: the answer isn’t simple.)


    1. Take a couple of minutes to read the one-page summary of the research article by Thomas and colleagues (2019). The article is in the reference list and the summary appears in the Document tab in this module.

    2. Reach a conclusion. Justify it in 50 words or less. This will take rather longer than it takes to read the abstract and discussion sections.

    3. If working in a group, discuss your reactions and justifications.

    4. Then read the "brief debriefing" that follows (but not before finishing steps 1-3!).

    Brief Debriefing

    Typical practice recognizes four tiers of evidence. See the OLAC module on Using Data Wisely for a quick review. Randomized controlled trials are considered strongest evidence. The strongest challenge for trauma-informed practice in schools, though, as Thomas and colleagues (2019) suggest is how it is conceptualized. This module has a conceptualization and it’s easily stated: helping schools become more compassionate and helping pedagogy become deeper. A trauma-informed outlook in education isn't a specific practice, however, and especially not one for traumatized children alone.

  3. Unpacking a Proposed Trauma-informed Practice Gone Viral

    The following activity takes a widely publicized “empathy-building” activity and examines ways in which it was effective, ways in which it was ineffective, and ways in which it was potentially damaging to students.


    1. Review the article about the “Emotional Baggage” back-to-school group activity

      View the story, along with a link to the Facebook post the teacher shared publicly that details its steps.

    2. The activity seems really good and the teacher is clearly very caring and concerned. And the activity seems to work, and that’s fine. But try to be objective and reflect about the pros and cons of the activity.

    3. Individually or in your team, list the “pros” and the “cons” of this activity.

      • A pro might, for instance, be: "shows students that we all have baggage and we can 'leave it at the door.'"

      • What are some other pros; and what can you see as cons?

    4. Then reflect on the items on your list (if working alone) or discuss them (if working in a team).

    5. Conclude this activity by considering another teacher’s reconsideration of the praise she at first had for the activity.


    The teacher featured for the "Emotional Baggage" activity on national television created her activity in good faith. Part of that good faith was her own good intentions. And the other part was good faith to her students. And that's where her momentary celebrity undid her good faith, in both ways. The celebrity itself compromised her good intentions, on the one hand, and on the other it violated students' confidentiality. The activity might have been described without disclosing students' stories, but that would have diminished "the story" for television's purposes.

Advanced Activities

  1. Choosing a Schoolwide Trauma-informed Strategy

    Briefing for this Activity

    This activity is a serious undertaking for a BLT rather than a mere exercise. Engaging the activity requires BLT time and resources and may tax its capacity. If the activity makes sense (e.g., based on completion of the module) but there are capacity issues, seek technical assistance from the district or (with district consent) from elsewhere.


    Districts that decide (through discussion in leadership teams) to adopt a trauma-informed outlook...

    • establish a district-wide view, which helps leadership teams coordinate efforts and communication across the system.

    • specify a limited set of priorities for improving student outcomes tied to district goals.

    • adopt a set of attitudes and practices crucial for all stakeholders in the school.


    1. Use the BLT for this activity. It will require portions of at least several meetings.

    2. Identify a schoolwide condition that could be addressed through the development of a strategy for adults and students. This is best done with data gathered for the purpose.

    3. Using the data, discuss these questions:

      1. How long has the condition been evident?

      2. Whom does it affect, and how (e.g., students, caregivers, teachers of all kinds, staff of all kinds, and leaders)?

    4. Define the problem in 200 words or less. Assign a subgroup to this task in consideration of the viewpoints in the previous discussion.

    5. What outcome would you like to see schoolwide? This is a discussion for the whole BLT.

      1. For adults?

      2. For students?

      3. In one year?

      4. In five years?

    6. What is the simplest strategy (or practice) that could address your school’s need? A BLT subgroup should prepare options, perhaps proposing as many as six.

      1. Research in-depth three or four of the six strategies

      2. Discuss and choose no more than two at a BLT meeting

      3. Share those two strategies with all TBTs and see which one each would choose.

    7. Choose one based upon input from the TBTs.

    8. Plan the implementation. Consult the Foundational Concept on Implementation Science.

You can earn credit and contact hours for modules, webinars, and podcasts completed on the OLAC site.

For more information, visit the Credit Corner. If you’re seeking credit for the Gifted Education Professional Development Course or the Culturally Responsive Practices Program courses, you can find that information on the course overview pages.