TAP Online Training: Understanding Trauma and the Impact on Learning Part 1: Definitions and Effects on the Brain

TAP Online Training: Understanding Trauma and the Impact on Learning Part 1: Definitions and Effects on the Brain

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The Clough Foundation Training and Access Project (TAP) is an initiative within the Boston Children's Hospital Neighborhood Partnerships Program (BCHNP) in the Department of Psychiatry at Boston Children's Hospital. BCHNP is a community based behavioral health program that partners with Boston Public Schools. In order to reach schools beyond Boston, TAP is developing a series of free online trainings for educators and school communities everywhere.

This TAP Online training is called Understanding Trauma and the Impact on Learning Part 1: Definitions and Effects on the Brain. This training is the first in a three-part series focused on the impact of trauma. The series will discuss neurological factors, behavior and learning, as well as supports that schools can provide to students who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.

This training opens with definitions of trauma and traumatic events along with distinguishing single event trauma and complex trauma. Information on a study on adverse childhood events (ACEs) is also shared. Different types of stress and the stress response are described within the context of trauma. The training provides foundational information about specific structures of the brain, how the brain can be impacted by trauma, and how that may affect a student’s learning and behavior. Protective factors and the role of schools in supporting students who have experienced trauma are also discussed.

This video features interviews with B. Heidi Ellis, PhD, the Director of the Refugee Trauma and Resilience Center at Boston Children’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. To find out more about Dr. Ellis, please visit: http://www.childrenshospital.org/research/researchers/e/heidi-ellis

A certificate of completion and access to additional resources are provided at the end of the training.


About TAP Online

TAP offers high-quality professional development and consultation services to Boston schools to help build educators' capacity to address students’ social, emotional, and behavioral health needs.

Since 2015, TAP has facilitated a Learning Collaborative with Boston schools that brings together teams from participating schools for a series of professional development workshops. Participants include administrators, teachers, nurses, social workers, psychologists, support staff, and specialists. TAP has evaluated and enhanced the trainings to prepare them for this video series.

This ongoing online training series includes topics such as social-emotional development, information on behavioral health and supporting students in accessing services, managing behavioral health crises, and other key topics for schools. All trainings feature interviews with school professionals discussing how they have implemented strategies in their schools. Please see below for the list of current and future trainings.

Course Format

This training consists of a series of five chapters described below. By the end of the training, the goal is for each participant to have a foundational understanding of definitions of terms related to trauma and the effect trauma can have on the brain.

  • Chapter 1: Training Overview 
  • Chapter 2: Self-Care
  • Chapter 3: What is Trauma?
  • Chapter 4: Impact of Trauma on the Brain
  • Chapter 5: Training Summary

Upon successful completion of this training, participants will receive a certicate of completion. To be granted access to the library of resources mentioned in this training, please send this certificate to BCHNP@childrens.harvard.edu

Please visit our website for more information, or contact us at BCHNP@childrens.harvard.edu with questions regarding this and other TAP Online trainings.

Learning Objectives

Participants will be able to:

  • Define trauma and traumatic events as well as single event trauma and complex trauma
  • Understand the role of trauma on the functioning of specific structures in the brain
  • Understand the role of protective factors and neuroplasticity
  • Identify ways that trauma's impact on the brain can affect learning

Statement of Need

There is a national crisis in the accessibility and availability of behavioral health services for children and adolescents. Approximately 20% of youth are in need of behavioral health interventions1, and in urban areas this number is often much higher. Nationwide, only 20- 30% of children who need behavioral health services are receiving care.2

Schools have become the de facto providers of behavioral health services for children, providing an estimated 70-80% of psychosocial services to those children who receive them.3 As a result, school-based behavioral health services are evolving as a primary strategy to remove barriers to access and to improve coordination of care for children and adolescents.1 There is increasing recognition that a "shared agenda" involving collaboration among leaders and staff from behavioral health and school systems, along with families and other stakeholders is needed to promote youth's success in school.4

Providing support for social, emotional, and behavioral health in schools reaches beyond clinical services. School-wide supports are essential to providing a safe and supportive learning environment and all educators have an impact on a student’s development.5 Research shows that students are more likely to be engaged in learning and feel supported when they perceive school staff as dedicated to emotionally supporting students.6 Providing educators with the necessary tools to promote healthy social-emotional development has shown to improve academic performance, lower discipline rates, and increased attendance.7 When educators have the necessary information and skills to address students’ social, emotional, and behavioral health in the classroom, all students can benefit. One in four students attending school have been exposed to a traumatic event.8 This can impact a student’s learning, behavior, and relationships at school. By becoming more trauma-informed, schools can build protective factors to actively support students who have experienced trauma.

Suggested Audience

  • Teachers and School Staff
  • School Administrators
  • School Psychologists
  • Social Workers
  • Adjustment Counselors, Guidance Counselors, School Counselors
  • School Nurses
  • School-Based Behavioral Health

Curriculum Directors

Shella Dennery, LICSW, PhD; Andie Fox, LICSW, MEd; Molly Jordan, LICSW


Elizabeth Belton, LICSW; Amy Kaye, PhD; Gisella Mendizabal, MSW, LICSW; Vanja Pejic, PhD

Marketing and Communications Specialist

Priscila Paulino, MS

Video Production

Giro Studios

We would like to thank our donors for making this project possible:

  • The Manton Foundation
  • Gloria and Charles Clough Foundation
  • C.F. Adams Charitable Trust

Available TAP Online trainings

We encourage you to view our other online trainings:

  • An Overview of Social-Emotional Development: What Can We Expect in the Classroom? 
    • This workshop includes foundational information about social, emotional, and behavioral health in schools and incorporates important concepts such as engaging families, cultural sensitivity, and the impact of social-emotional development in academics and learning. It also highlights strategies and activities that can be easily used in the classroom to promote social-emotional skills. There are additional resources provided upon completion of the training.  
  • Introduction to Behavioral Health in Schools: Supports for Students  
    • This training uses an ecological model that takes into account development, environment, and cultural considerations to help build a context for understanding student behavior. Behavior is explored in more detail with a focus on its function and purpose. Foundational information about behavioral health is provided including definitions, prevalence, considerations when behavior is concerning, and an overview of some common behavioral health disorders. The training also shares positive behavioral supports for school communities and suggestions for replacing challenging behaviors with pro-social skills. The strategies focus on prevention as well as building coping skills for students to help them succeed in school. Lastly, the training discusses an overview of therapeutic services that could be provided in schools or in the community. Considerations for how schools can support students, families, and caregivers find services and navigate the system are highlighted. Additional resources are provided upon completion of the workshop. 
  • Managing Behavioral Health Crises in Schools
    • This training opens with definitions of behavioral health and behavioral health crisis. Beginning with prevention, it will describe key components of developing a crisis protocol and why it is helpful to have a school-wide plan. Concrete strategies for supporting students during a behavioral health crisis using a variety of techniques are discussed, as well as ideas for partnering with caregivers using a strengths-based and culturally responsive approach. There are considerations for when to refer for an emergency behavioral health evaluation and best practices when using emergency services. It describes various treatment options and facilitating communication between schools and providers. Knowing that students will continue to need support following a crisis, the training also shares tips and tools for planning a thoughtful transition plan for students returning to school after a crisis. Interviews with school professionals from elementary, middle, and high schools are featured throughout these videos, discussing how they have addressed behavioral health crises in their schools.

Coming Soon 

This online training series will continue to expand with upcoming trainings on trauma and the impact on learning, building effective teams to address social, emotional, and behavioral health, self-care for the educator, and other key topics for schools. Please visit our website for further updates on future trainings: http://www.childrenshospital.org/taponline

Additional BCHNP Trainings: 

  •  Break Free from Depression Curriculum 
    • Developed by the Boston Children's Hospital Neighborhood Partnerships Program, this 4-module curriculum is focused on increasing awareness about adolescent depression designed for use in high school classrooms. Throughout the curriculum, there are didactic presentations, interactive activities, and opportunities for discussion. The goals are to increase awareness about depression and suicide, identify signs and symptoms of depression in oneself and peers, and provide strategies for finding help.

Release Date

  • March 13, 2019

Instructional Time 

  • 1 Hour, 30 Minutes


Committee on School Health (2004). School-based mental health services. Pediatrics, 113(6), 1839-1845

Weist, M.D., & Evans, S.W. (2005). Expanded school mental health: Challenges and opportunities in an emerging field. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 34(1), 3-6. 

Rones, M., & Hoagwood, K. (2000). School-based mental health services: A research review. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 3(4), 223-241. 

Andis, P., Cashman, J., Oglesby, D., Praschil, R., Adelman, H., Taylor, L., and Weist, M. (2002). A strategic and shared agenda to advance mental health in schools through family and system partnerships. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 4(4), 28-35.

Mizell, H. (2010). Why Professional Development Matters. Learning Forward. 504 South Locust Street, Oxford, OH 45056.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention Adolescent and School Health Resources: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/school_connectedness.htm

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta‐analysis of school‐based universal interventions. Child development82(1), 405-432.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network Schools Committee. (October 2008). Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators. Los Angeles, CA & Durham, NC: National Center for Child Traumatic Stress.