Trauma-informed teaching during COVID-19
UNICEF supports children affected by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict through education and psychosocial services
Imagine you are a 13-year-old. Imagine that one night you have to flee your town, leaving behind all your belongings, friends and relatives. “All the way from Nagorno-Karabakh, I was scared, I was very anxious,” says Armine. “I was trying so hard to hold back my tears in the bus so that my mother and my brothers would not see me crying. We have lived in this camp for 40 days now. They are very friendly here, they helped me a lot. Now I am not scared: now I am homesick.”
The recent escalation of fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh left nearly 39,000 children, like Armine, out of school. The trauma caused by displacement, a sense of loss, and uncertainty about the future, has affected children in multiple ways. Many experience difficulties socializing and have problems sleeping. The COVID-19 pandemic, and overcrowded temporary living spaces, only make conditions worse.
From early October, UNICEF has partnered with Armenian civil society organizations to provide individual and group psychosocial support to children. Involving psychologists, social workers, as well as teachers in affected communities, the focus has been on welcoming children back to school.
More than 1,100 children and their caregivers have already been supported by UNICEF, in partnership with Parenting School (a parenting, educational, psychosocial support center); the Armenian Association of Child and Educational Psychologists (AACEP); the Armenian Association of Social Workers (AASW); and Arevamanuk Psychosocial Support Foundation.
“Understanding trauma and its impact on learning can help teachers find strategies to better support students,” said UNICEF Armenia Representative Marianne Clark-Hatting. “This is also why, in early November, together with AACEP and AASW, we embarked on a month-long series of online training sessions for social workers, teachers and educational psychologists to enhance their skills and strengthen the support they provide to children and caregivers who spontaneously arrived in Armenia as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”
Trauma-informed teaching recognizes that students’ emotional and physical wellbeing, their sense of security and belonging, and their past and current traumas, influence their ability to learn. The training enabled teachers to identify signs of trauma and to prepare their response.
“Through these training sessions, 150 school psychologists became proficient in working in emergency situations and enhanced their skills at providing psychological support to students. At the same time, 900 teachers from public schools across Armenia delved into the intricacies of supporting children of different ages who have experienced psychiatric trauma,” said Irina Khanamiryan, Co-Founder of the Armenian Association of Child and Educational Psychologists.
The sessions have also helped students to develop strategies to foster connection and sense of belonging, to counteract social isolation as well as enhance their own skills at self-care and understanding of their boundaries. A specific focus on responding to the need of students who have lost loved ones, as well as how to effectively engage with parents and caregivers who are also in distress.
Armine and her new friends are ready to re-start school with new backpacks and school supplies from UNICEF. Like Armine, over 1,100 children will also benefit from trauma-informed teaching methodologies, navigating through in-classroom instruction and distance learning. Together with partners, UNICEF will continue to support children, ensuring that they are able to continue their education and increase their resilience, overcoming the psychological pressure of the conflict.