With greater responsibilities increasingly being placed on teachers and schools, a trauma-informed model can help support improved learning and wellbeing outcomes.


With teachers supporting young people every day and with greater responsibilities being placed on schools' to ensure the wellbeing of its students, The MacKillop Institute has created a trauma-informed model to support schools and teachers to improve learning and wellbeing outcomes.

Identified in the Royal Commission into Victoria's mental health system interim report, the impact of mental health on young people results in adverse life outcomes, impacting their ability to learn.

National Lead of Program Development & Implementation at the MacKillop Institute, Ben Sacco, says teachers are trying to run a classroom while being cognisant of their student's mental health and wellbeing.

“What we recognise is that these are real issues for teachers,” Sacco says. “They are being asked to respond to matters relating to student mental health and wellbeing in their teaching and learning programs, but what kind of resources and support are we putting in place as a society or at education institutions to support teachers?”

“Being informed in trauma-aware education means our education professionals have a deeper understanding of the impact trauma can have on a child or young person's life and as an outcome are better equipped to respond to the challenges that their students are facing.”

Sacco says the research suggests that school staff are frequently reporting challenges to their own wellbeing when managing the mental health needs of their students.

“By offering assistance to meet staff members own wellbeing needs, it can actually enhance their ability to look after the wellbeing needs of their students,” he says.

The Mackillop Institute has combined educational research, social science, behavioural theory and neuroscience to bring practical strategies to schools to embed in their daily practice.

The ReLATE model - which stands for reframing, learning and teaching environments - positions schools to create safe, supportive and predictable environments. It enhances teachers' understanding and responses to behaviour and improves student learning and wellbeing outcomes.

“Our skilled ReLATE consultants work directly with schools , to provide bespoke implementation based on the individual schools' needs. ReLATE follows a three-year implementation cycle, with annual professional learning to deepen and embed staffs' understanding of trauma-informed practice,” Sacco says.

“Our team provide school level reports, baseline assessments and ongoing impact assessments, so that efforts are translated into real outcomes. ReLATE promotes personal growth and builds staffs' resilience, strengthening their understanding of how to drive change in their behaviours and responses, enhancing their wellbeing and interactions and relationships with others.”

Sacco says since implementing the program in schools, students have made progress in literacy and numeracy, there has been a decrease in staff self-reported stress and fatigue, and teachers have adopted the model's key concepts in their daily work.

“We are seeing a decrease in critical incidents and staff absenteeism whilst at the same time seeing an increase in student attendance, which suggests staffs' attitude to school, their motivation to be at school every day and their workplace being a safe environment to do their job has improved,” he says.

“Students are also reporting that they are feeling heard and that there is a strong sense of student agency,” he says. “They feel the schools are listening to how they feel about matters that concern them and are being included in the decision-making process for solving their problems, reframing their goals to achieve in education.”

Adding to the benefits of the ReLATE program, teachers also have access to four days of professional learning, which equips staff with tools to implement in the classroom.

These include self-regulation plans to de-escalate challenging behaviours for both students and staff, traffic light systems to discuss critical incidents proactively and with a degree of urgency, debriefing and communication strategies, which give staff a process to mitigate abusive behaviours or mistreatment.

“Within ReLATE, wellbeing is understood as an essential pre-condition for quality teaching and learning. Safe, predictable and supportive learning environments are created and maintained in classrooms where students are not just known, but deeply understood,” Sacco says.

“Schools and systems can expect a shift in their culture and attitudes and strengthened responses from teachers to student behaviour- all of which create the pre-conditions for improved learning and wellbeing outcomes.”

Through the MacKillop Institute's program, teachers and students become more trauma aware and best positioned to meet the diverse needs of its community, improving not only student's wellbeing, but their teachers too.

“When we think about what intrinsically motivates a teacher, we cannot look past their honest desire to make a difference in the lives of children and young people. Teachers invest in our children's future every day knowing they will be challenged mentally, physically and emotionally,” says Sacco. “We want teachers to know that we see them, we have got them, and we want to walk alongside them.”

This article originally appeared in Education Matters magazine