Trauma-Informed Practices: Trauma Training for Schools from Kognito

What Does Trauma-Informed Mean?

Over two-thirds of young people in the U.S. have reported at least one traumatic event by age 16. Signs of traumatic stress affect behaviors at home and in the classroom, with many effects that last into adulthood. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can include sudden loss of a loved one, serious accidents or illness, community violence, abuse or neglect, and natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey.

Based on these statistics, every classroom has students who have undergone trauma. Despite this prevalence, however, a recent survey conducted by Child Trends found that educators and policymakers believe that schools are struggling to address student trauma.

One state legislator noted, for instance, that teachers rarely receive coursework in trauma-informed instruction. A state board of education member shared that it would make “a huge difference” if teachers were provided with training on how to “just interact” with students who have experienced trauma.

A takeaway from the report was that many said that school staff and teachers need more training, both in-service and pre-service, to better understand the impact of trauma on students and to help implement trauma-informed strategies and policies.

In our recent webinar, we were joined by 250 superintendents, school principals, mental health professionals, prevention specialists, and other educators. Our poll found that most participants (48%) were “just getting started” with being trauma-informed. Another 19% had not started, 26% described themselves as in the middle, and only 8% said they were far along. No schools or districts reported being “all the way there.” Along with a growing movement for transformation towards healthier schools and social-emotional learning, more schools are looking to become trauma-informed to better support students.

The Story

What happens after a devastating hurricane, where every young person in a metropolitan area is dealing with distress stemming from safety fears, damage, displacement, or the loss of a loved one? This was the situation that Houston faced after Hurricane Harvey. In response to the devastation from the hurricane, UNICEF USA and Mental Health America (MHA) of Greater Houston came together with us at Kognito to respond to the trauma that the community was facing.

We began creating a new simulation, developing content based on real-world examples and consulting trauma experts. A special thanks to Dr. Marleen Wong of the University of Southern California’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, Dr. Julie Kaplow of the Trauma and Grief Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, and Fritz Affolter of UNICEF, along with Janet Pozmantier, Director of the MHA of Greater Houston’s Center for School Behavioral Health (CSBH), for your guidance and expertise. Our thanks also goes out to members of the CSBH Collaborative, who played an instrumental role in piloting the initial simulation and providing insightful feedback for further product development.

The new simulation, called Trauma-Informed Practices for K12 Schools, was completed in time for the 2018-19 school year, which coincided with the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. Right now, UNICEF USA has provided access to the simulation at no cost for all 31 Houston-area school districts and other community and faith-based organizations. This effort is reaching 57,000 educators who serve 940,000 students. Over 5,000 educators have already been trained since the August 1 launch.

What happens when another natural disaster hits, or when ongoing sources of trauma persist? When the dust settles and students return to school, how can schools themselves be ready to recognize student trauma and connect students with support? Our vision is that every teacher and school employee becomes trauma-informed, and we are on our way to making that a reality.

Trauma-Informed Trauma Training for Schools

Trauma-Informed Practices is a 30-45-minute online professional development simulation that builds educators’ awareness of the impact of trauma and teaches effective ways to respond to students who may be experiencing distress as a result of a traumatic experience. The simulation allows teachers and staff to practice talking with virtual students in distress using an innovative conversation platform developed by Kognito.

As the user, you’ll sit down with the character that matches the grade levels that you teach (elementary, middle, or high school).

You’ll build trust and encourage your virtual student to share, brainstorm solutions to any problems they identify, and determine if they need a referral to the school counselor. Then, optionally, you’ll have the chance to complete the other two conversations. The learning objectives of Trauma-Informed Practices include:

  • Increasing knowledge and awareness about the types of experiences that can cause distress or trauma, and how these relate to brain development
  • Recognizing when a student’s behavior might be the result of trauma or distress
  • Leading conversations with a student about how they might be feeling
  • Problem-solving ways that their class or school can become a more comfortable place for students who have experienced trauma
  • Assessing the need for referral, motivating students to seek help when needed
  • Considering educators’ own needs for self-care

Now that you know a little more about Trauma-Informed Practices, try a demo of the simulation here. If you’re like the majority of our webinar attendees and your school or district is looking to become trauma-informed, contact us at

Interested in learning about our other solutions for educators? Check out the articles below! 

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