Trauma-Informed Interventions: The Role of Educators

Looking back to our time as students, what is it that stands about educators who made an impact on us? More often than not, these teachers value relationships with their students. Student-teacher relationships develop during our formative years as children and teens, and or student-faculty relationships develop as we hone in on our interests and gain long-term mentorship in higher education.

What are the benefits of building better student relationships? Outcomes include a stronger sense of security and support for students, which in turn contributes to school climate and nurtures academic and social outcomes. By building better student relationships, all educators can make a significant impact.

Mental Health Among Youth and Young Adults

Given the state of mental health among youth, it is especially vital that today’s teachers, faculty, and staff develop skills to nurture these trusting connections with students.

Mental health issues often manifest at a young age. Twenty percent of youth ages 13-18 are living with a mental health condition, half of lifetime cases of mental illness start by age 14, and 75% begin by age 24. For young adults in college, recent data show that 61% of college students have felt overwhelming anxiety in the past 12 months, and 40% have felt so depressed that it was difficult to function. And finally, suicide rates in the U.S. are rising. The proportion of young people treated for suicidal ideation in U.S. hospitals more than doubled between 2008 and 2015.

The present reality is that not enough young people have the treatment they need for mental illness, with an average of 8 to 10 years between the onset of symptoms and mental health intervention. With educators present during these developmental years, they can play a role in shrinking this treatment gap and guiding students to the right support.

Barriers to Building Better Student Relationships

As mental health needs among youth are increasing, mental health training for school staff and university personnel is insufficient. Most educators are not trained in how to communicate with a student experiencing psychological distress effectively. And in a survey of 292 elementary school teachers, 78% agreed or strongly agreed that a lack of adequate training was a barrier to supporting student mental health needs.

Teachers and faculty have many demands placed upon them, including competing professional development and institutional responsibilities that occupy their time outside the classroom.

Trauma-Informed Practices for Building Relationships

A training solution for teachers and faculty to address mental health with students should be convenient and effective. One solution for driving conversations between educators and students is with virtual humans. A virtual human is an animated, computer-generated character embedded with emotions, memory, and personality that talks, gestures, and reacts like a real person.

One of the most effective ways to practice a conversation is through role-playing. In a traditional workshop environment, role-playing can often be an uncomfortable and inauthentic experience that does not involve a member of the target audience (in this case, students). Virtual humans, on the other hand, allow for standardized conversations with virtual students in which the learner assumes the role of an educator.

For K-12 teachers and higher education faculty and staff, interacting as a virtual human allows for practice in having a conversation with students. This helps to normalize the experience, and research shows this increases preparedness, confidence, and likelihood to have a conversation about mental health with a student in real life.

Keepings the Needs of Educators In Mind

Given the time constraints for professional development for educators, access to adequate training is especially important. Training with virtual humans is available online, a convenient option as opposed to planning, making time for, and funding an in-person workshop. Roleplaying with virtual humans usually takes less than an hour.

The high fidelity of the learning experience with virtual humans creates an interactive learning experience with realistic scenarios, a high level of engagement, and feedback from a virtual coach. These advantages contribute to better learning outcomes and high satisfaction for educators. In the long-term, better learning outcomes cycle back into building better student relationships and improving school climate and campus climate.

Now that you’ve completed the simulation, can you recall a situation where you used the skills learned in the simulation? 

“Yes, I was able to respond in a positive way when approached by a student about how psychological stress was affecting his schoolwork. I felt more confident in knowing what to say and not to say as a result of the training.”

-Higher education Kognito user

If you’re interested in learning more about Kognito’s training simulations with virtual humans, see our offerings in K-12 and higher education.

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