The Origin and Purpose of the Trauma-Informed Practice Principles for Schools

  • These Principles are provided to assist schools to become trauma-informed.
  • They were derived from a thematic analysis of 20 international trauma-informed programs, then revised and finalised in consultation with international experts via a Delphi Survey.
  • Schools are encouraged to ensure they reach the four Overarching principles which underpin the ten Practice Principles.
  • See the List of Principles below or download a Printable Principles Poster as below.
  • More information including rationale, clear definitions, and evidence based-strategies to assist schools to align with these Principles are provided in The Thoughtful Schools Guidebook.

The Trauma-Informed Practice Principles for Schools

Overarching Principles

Principle A: Student Focused

The School responds to the needs of the children and young people first and foremost


This Principle guides the school to ensure that the school prioritises the needs of children and young people. There are often different perceptions by various school community members about appropriate ways to teach and respond to children and young people, and how to provide a supportive school environment. In these instances, it is important that the needs of the children and young people are put ahead of the opinions and needs of other members of the school and wider community. This Principle also means ensuring proposed or existing policies and practices do not negatively impact the needs of children and young people.

Principle B: Understanding and Responsive

The School is culturally, socially and emotionally understanding and responsive


When the diversity of children and young people’s identities, backgrounds, experiences and capabilities are viewed as assets, this can lead to the development of positive learning communities. Further this can create powerful educational experiences where diversity is respected and celebrated, and connection to the school community encouraged. For this to occur, the school community needs to understand and be responsive to students’ social and emotional needs and demonstrate cultural competence.

Principle C: Models Compassion and Generosity

The school models and honours compassion, empathy, caring and generosity


What does this Principle mean?
This Principle guides schools to promote and demonstrate compassion, empathy, caring, and generosity. This includes engaging the school community in positive and respectful relationships and supportive learning experiences. Compassion, empathy, caring, and generosity is also applied to engagement with the wider community. Communication is premised on the use of kind, respectful, and appreciative language and interactions that are open and honest. This Principle guides schools to ensure children and young people are honoured as citizens of the school and wider community and are recognised for their capabilities and contributions. This Principle encourages school staff to be exemplars in modelling compassion, care, empathy, and generosity in their communication and interactions. In addition, school staff are guided to encourage children and young people to share in this modelling – thus co-contributing to the leadership and the culture-building of the school community. Learning experiences are focused on, and responsive to the rights, identities, and needs of all learners. Learning environments are holistically representative of care and compassion – this is apparent visually and behaviourally and is positively reinforced by school staff using a strength-based approach.

Principle D: Ethos Incorporates First Nation’s Peoples

The culture and experiences of the traditional custodians of the land on which the school sits are incorporated into the schools ethos


This Principle guides the school to meaningfully embed the knowledge and perspectives of First Nations Peoples into the heart and soul of the school. The cultural understandings and practices of First Nations peoples must be embedded through genuine and reciprocal partnerships with Elders, Knowledge Holders and community. Embedding trauma-informed First Nations knowledge and perspectives is everyone’s business and a whole-of-school approach will achieve high-impact community-level outcomes in partnership with community.

The school’s built environment needs to incorporate First Nations peoples’ cultural symbols, languages and visual arts to make a clear statement of reconciliation to community and promote a reflective learning environment and cultural safety for First Nations students, families and community. Partnerships must be formed with First Nations peoples with deep understanding of cultural kinship structures to better align key school strategies and decision-making.

Elders and community leaders are key stakeholders in the conceptualisation, implementation, and review of significant school events. These key cultural stakeholders are then given the opportunity to share their ways of being, knowing and doing during the school’s events and that they are acknowledged and compensated for their significant cultural knowledge. An understanding that engagement with First Nations peoples must be consistent, long-term and centred around community and the role that the school plays as part of that community.
Trauma-informed and culturally safe and responsive schools build partnerships in learning with staff, First Nations students, their parents and carers, family, Elders and community to empower the self-determination of students. Schools engage through strong listening to the parents, families, Elders and community of First Nations students to improve educational outcomes, promote socioemotional wellbeing and build career aspirations. Trauma-informed culturally responsive schools build on the considerable cultural capital that First Nations students bring with them to the classroom to ensure learning is reflective, connected and appropriate to achieve education success and nurture the development of a strong self-identity placed within a wrap-around cultural framework. The school makes connections between each student’s home and school experiences and values through a range of culturally responsive learning experiences that make schooling more culturally reflective for First Nations students.

Practice Principles

1. Priorities safety and wellbeing

The school prioritises physical, social and emotional safety and well-being.         


This Principle guides the school to provide a physically, socially and emotionally safe environment for all community members including children and young people, school staff, parent/carers and the wider community. This incorporates emphasising the importance of safety in physical activity, treating students with respect at all times, being sensitive to individual differences, and providing an inclusive learning environment that recognises and respects the diversity of all students and accommodates individual strengths, needs, and interests. This Principle also guides the school to ensure the safety of school staff is considered and attended to, including staff wellbeing, job satisfaction and reduced risk of burnout.

3. Provides a positive school culture

The school provides a positive school culture that acknowledges and respects diversity, and builds connectedness.


This Principle guides the school to acknowledge and respect all its members regardless of their backgrounds, experiences, and capabilities. This also includes that there is a shared understanding of diversity in all its forms and an understanding of what respect means.

5. Supports vulnerable students

The school identifies vulnerable children and young people early and provides individualised attention and support.


Children or young people’s behaviour in the family or school setting may change following adversity or traumatic event. These behavioural changes may be indicators of the child or young person’s underlying or ongoing distress and uncertainties. Children and young people respond to adversity and trauma in a range of ways, including changes in capacity for learning and physical and psychological wellbeing. They may become withdrawn or display challenging behaviours or moodiness, regression or requiring more attention or direction than usual. A range of support processes and strategies are likely to be beneficial for children, young peoples, families and members of the school community. A continuum of responses within schools is necessary to address both the variety of student needs and the staff capacity to work with student’s issues around adversity and trauma. This Principle guides the staff and other school community members to understand signs and symptoms of vulnerability and be aware of response pathways to address these issues in children and young people.

7. Provides trauma training

The school offers a range of learning opportunities to staff, students and the broader community about trauma and it’s impacts.


It is well documented that a child’s reaction to trauma can “commonly” interfere with brain development, learning, and behaviour – all of which have a potential impact on a child’s academic success as well as the overall school environment. By understanding and responding to trauma, school administrators, teachers, and staff can help reduce its negative impact, support critical learning, and create a more positive school environment. Programs should be supported with a quality professional development program based on up-to-date, relevant, evidence based best practice. Relevant education and training programs for schools include the effects of adversity and trauma for children and young people and the processes that may facilitate their healthy adaptation and when referral systems may be needed. Professional development and training should be available across a range of levels within the education system and be designed to address the challenges integral to experiences of adversity and trauma. Professional development should be appropriate to the context of the school and the relationship that school personnel have with students and their families, as well as having core elements relevant to all staff, with additional levels of expertise as required.

9. Identifies and nurtures strengths

The school identifies and nurtures children and young peoples’ strengths to ensure they feel valued and challenged.


A resilience-based approach to youth development is based upon the Principle that all people can overcome adversity and succeed despite their life circumstances. Resilience is a strengths-based construct, meaning its focus is on providing the developmental supports and opportunities (protective factors) that promote success, rather than on eliminating the factors that result in failure.

The strengths-based approach is a move from a focus on deficits to a focus on abilities and strengths (i.e. competencies, resources, personal characteristics, interests and motivations) of individuals, family or community. The benefit of a strengths-based model for education is that it builds upon the personal competencies associated with healthy development that everyone has. A strengths-based approach identifies the resourcefulness and resilience that exists in all students. The underlying philosophy in strengths-based practice is that each individual is an expert in their own life and should be central in decision making about any changes that impact on them. In focusing on the positive (but not ignoring risks), this approach helps teachers to reframe how they see students and to view behaviour from a different perspective, as well as to recognise the incredible resilience of students, especially those facing immense challenges in their lives.

2. Models positive relationships

The school values and models positive relationships, communication and interactions.


Positive relationships in schools are central to the well-being of both students and staff and underpin an effective learning environment. Developing positive relationships between a teacher and student is a fundamental aspect of quality teaching and student learning. This Principle guides the school to assist with supporting the generation of positive teacher-student relationships to promote a sense of school belonging and encourage the entire school community to participate, communicate and interact cooperatively.

4. Consults and collaborates

The school works with families, community and services to identify and respond to trauma.


As part of building and sustaining a caring and trauma-informed school community, school leaders and educators work in respectful and collaborative ways with families, communities, and services to identify and respond to trauma. Through this process, partnerships are built and sustained. The identification of trauma is free from stigma and informed by a strong understanding of the evidence in this area, and an appreciation of the significance and worth of a trauma-informed approach. Responses to trauma are collaborative and supportive of all involved.

6. Teaches social and emotional learning

The school teaches social and emotional learning to promote emotional intelligence and resilience.


Children and young people are better able to thrive in school and in life when they are taught skills beyond academics. Teaching social and emotional skills to children and young people empowers them to feel secure in themselves, build relationships with others, and navigate transitions and change.

8. Is predictable yet flexible

The school provides a structured and predictable environment that is flexible to individual children and young peoples’ needs.


This Principle guides the school to provide a balanced environment that is predictable yet flexible and responsive. This includes a focus on being structured and predictable, to ensure continuity and stability for all learners, but with opportunity for flexibility to ensure that everyone can thrive. This Principle guides the school to generate and teach an understanding and appreciation of the value of this approach for their whole school community, including those children and young people who have experienced and/or who may be living with trauma. This Principle means the school is dynamic in prioritising what the young people must have to flourish physically, socially, emotionally, and academically and seeing that structured and predictable environments are crucial to this. The school accommodates all children and young people with recognition of their rights, identities, and the impact of trauma on children and young people. The school further implements its plan, as purposed, to satisfy students’ expectations and negate apprehension.

10. Reflects change and grows

The school reflects, changes and grows in response to the integration of trauma-informed practices.


Becoming Trauma Informed is an ongoing process that requires the staff to first assess the needs of their school, identify and adopt innovative, evidence based trauma informed strategies and then reflect on the impact of these strategies. Once the impact has been evaluated and the needs reassessed, the process begins again. Effective strategies may result in a change in student needs, ineffective strategies would be replaced by other, evidence-based practices.