Training when your students are recently traumatised

Australia is living through bushfire hell as I write this. The feeling of overwhelm and paralysis will be familiar to many as we watch the pictures and interviews with those who have lost homes, livelihoods and seen things beyond description. The frustration of wanting to help but not being able to needs to be converted to positive action.

Consider also that people not in the affected areas, distress can still be an issue especially for those who have been through similar experiences in the past or who know people in the bushfire areas.

As teachers and trainers of teens and adults, how do we live through this ourselves and support our students in the days and months ahead?

While I am not a psychologist, I have been the pastoral care link with students, and I would like to start the conversation about how we can help our students deal with these traumatising events. I say this fully conscious that sometimes the we have the best intentions but that some things are also best left to professionals.

Some of the things that trainers and teachers might consider:

  1. A trauma-informed approach to your training:
    1. Encourage people to participate but if they really don’t want to, don’t make them. Offer other ways of staying included in the activity such as recording results, acting as scribe, observer roles etc.
    2. Have information about other support groups and professionals available if students need it
    3. Don’t hide your own experience if you have also been through the same experiences as your students. Monitor your own needs and set limits to how you engage with and support your students. Self-care is important or you can’t help others!
    4. Do the First Aid for mental health training if possible
  2. Know your limits. Some of us want to lend an ear and can support our students through talk and specific activities in class. This is something that can be really helpful, but if this is not for you, then don’t do it. Acknowledge your limits and let students know. This doesn’t make you uncaring. Sometimes the best thing for people who have gone through a big event is to just be normal for a while… to not talk about or think about the event… to get on with working toward a goal they had already set and feel that they still have something in their control when other things may feel out of control. This can be an important part of the rebuilding and regrouping after an event.
  3. Students may need to take time off to sort out their life. This might be hours here and there or blocks of time. Consider how you can make training flexible to accommodate this. Can they do work online, from booklets, in focussed blocks? Are there specific times they can take phone calls in privacy? Can trainers be available over more flexible hours?
  4. If you have a lot of students, can you invite professional services to your site rather than students trying to get to them? Centrelink? Free legal services? Employment services? Counselling services?
  5. Plan activities that achieve the outcomes of the units and that help students feel like they are contributing to the rebuilding of their community. For example:
    1. Aged care students – visit aged care and hospitals and just visit. Run some fun activities with the residents, help with their gardens or arts and crafts. Leave with good memories and happy conversations for everyone
    2. Building and construction, electrical, plumbing and other related trades areas: Rebuilding community centres and shared spaces preferably through formal arrangements so everyone is covered for safety etc
    3. Events planning courses and commercial cookery students: plan community morning teas, dance parties
    4. Arts students: create memorial pieces for either families, schools or their community
    5. Hairdressing students: give free haircuts to the firies as a thank you
    6. IT students: run a set up and repair stall to help people set up new phones and computers
    7. Retail students – help out at charity shops providing clothes and household goods to prepare and present products

Every part of a community has a role in supporting the rebuilding of a community – physically and emotionally. We as trainers and teachers have a role in helping guide students into productive and supportive engagements that move people through a trauma to a more positive place.


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