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Invisible Wounds: Navigating Emotional Trauma at School

Hear from Tom Hixon, an esteemed teacher and band/performing arts director from California, as he discusses educators' pivotal role in addressing their students' emotional well-being. In this insightful talk, Hixon sheds light on the silent struggles many students face — emotional traumas that are less overt than physical injuries but can significantly impact learning and development. Drawing from his rich experience, Hixon articulates the need for a compassionate, trauma-informed approach to classroom management that goes beyond traditional teaching methods. As Hixon eloquently argues, social-emotional learning isn't just a wise choice; it's an essential, mandatory facet of modern education that enables students to heal, grow, and thrive in the real world.


Invisible Wounds: Navigating Emotional Trauma at School

"We are really good in the Western world when it comes to our physical process. We have western medicine, we do, we do the reaction thing extremely well. Kid breaks their arm immediately. Everybody stops what they're doing runs that child to the hospital. That doctor who spent years and years and years in training fixes that bone, puts a cast on it. And within, you know, X number of weeks or months, the bone is healed. The problem is emotional trauma cannot be seen in that matter. So if you think about child has trauma, you don't even know this. And this is the problem. You, this child walks into your classroom and you have all these other things that you have to do because the state tells you you gotta do 'em. But before we can even get to that point, you have to deal with the trauma that lives in that body. So if you could think about, let's say this kid had four or five incidents that were just horrific, you know, domestic abuse, et cetera, and they walk into your class with bones that aren't healed because when they were broke as little kids, nobody fixed them. And that why would they, right? The house has generational trauma because they haven't healed their own trauma. So it happens, the child witnesses it and then they carry that broken bone around. So now let's just think about this for a minute. Kid walks in, they got four or five broken bones that have never been healed, never. That means that bone is still broken. Now the problem is I come in, I sit down in my chair and I happen to walk. The teacher happens to walk by and unbeknownst and accidentally bumps the broken arm. Now I've got a trigger kid screams, reacts, et cetera. Teacher looks at that and says, you're a behavior problem. More importantly, you're a behavior problem in my class. What the heck am I gonna do with you? Because I have got to deal with this curriculum that everybody has sent me. And, and it's difficult for a teacher to try to figure that out because they have to deal with classroom management. So my thought here is that classroom management is really social emotional learning. Just like everybody studied Maslow and understands safety is the big issue. Can't talk about learning until we have these basic STA steps in front. But C-O-V-I-D exacerbated everything. So kids are coming into your classroom that are not well and they are not safe in their homes, let alone what they're carrying because of what happened during the pandemic. So you have to do all of this work. You have to assume that child has trauma when they walk into your classroom. If you can make that assumption and create that space, 'cause of course they will. They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. So you can create a, an environment that is about the old style of classroom management through safety in relation in that classroom. And if you don't do that, you're inviting problems and you won't even know. You'll be walking in having a normal day kicking off your, your lesson for the day and you happen to say something X, Y, and Z, and kid just loses it or steps out. Or they come into your classroom and they are not ready to learn. So it's one of those things that we have to think about. If we could just change the thought process on classroom management to social emotional learning, and everybody does stuff like this on a regular basis, the amount of trauma, or at least triggers that take place in your class are going to decrease on top of which you have to have a, you have to have a plan for when the trigger happens. What are you gonna do? So when we started here, we had a thing called, you know, hot pass. At any given moment, the entire staff would say, are you having one of those days? So things would happen in class and they said, you can take a hot pass. Go stand outside. It's okay. They had all these ramps of these bungalows we had. And then what would happen is the child would go out there and the teacher, as soon as they had a moment, would step out and start to have a conversation and start to unearth what is going on? Why are you here? I've got you, you're safe. Talk to me about why you're in that space today. So for the teacher that doesn't think they have to do it, I don't think that's a reality in the future world. And that's why, you know, the old, a lot of teachers are leaving because they have not made that transition. I went back to behavioral analysis at 57 because too many of my kids after they graduate were committing suicide. And I didn't know what the heck was going on. I had to figure out why, what was I doing or not doing to help them transition into the real world. So I don't think social emotional learning is a, it's not a choice. It's a mandatory process that all teachers need to do in their classrooms. Period."

-Tom Hixon


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