A Trauma-Aware Approach to Education

We embrace participatory practices, supporting and collaborating with local actors, and fostering agency among the communities we support. Underlying everything we do is the simple belief that everyone, everywhere, deserves to be treated with dignity and humanity.

The primary goals of Better Days’ pedagogical philosophy are to restore human dignity and to promote positive experiences and normalcy for people experiencing displacement. Our objectives have humble and realistic intentions: we do not aspire to solve all of the challenges our participants face but to mitigate these challenges. We support students struggling with the anxiety, stress, and depression that so often result from the trauma of fleeing. In helping our students identify their emotions, we can teach them to process their emotions. Young people enter our services in a vulnerable state of mind, and our foremost responsibility is to facilitate their healing process. We offer trauma-aware education by blending educational experiences with psychosocial support and therapy. This allows our students to discover their potential, meet their academic goals, and believe in their own success.

Because we recognize that the trauma and uncertainty of displacement pose significant barriers to learning and healing, we have carefully cultivated trauma-aware practices and non-traditional teaching methodologies to create a safe and inclusive learning environment for anyone who walks through our doors.

Individual Counselling for All Students

Individual counselling sessions represent a personal and private space where students can feel free to open up and reflect on their experiences. Each intervention is focused on actively listening to students’ concerns, giving them space for decompression and recognition, and offering additional counselling when necessary. At Gekko, our professional staff have worked with various methods of therapy to create responses that meet our students’ needs.

This integrative approach to counselling and psychotherapy allows us to blend theory and interventions, resulting in tailored plans that meet the needs of every individual student. Some of our most popular therapeutic methods include the Gestalt approach, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), and the use of Mindfulness and Tapping which is also implemented in groups.

Individual counselling sessions promote self-understanding, teach methods for coping with feelings, and facilitate individual resolutions in order for students to find peace and restore hope through new perspectives. Our School Counsellor functions as a facilitator, encouraging students to choose their own paths and contribute to the design of their own educational and therapeutic plans.

Group Therapy

Therapeutic group work has proven to be immensely effective for young people who are not ready for individual intervention. It can be much easier to analyse the problems of others than to analyse our own. Group sessions harness the healing power of a community of people who have similar struggles or experiences. Our team facilitates a wide range of group sessions to support our students as they process trauma. These include grief support groups, thematic groups for self-help, managing emotions and developing social skills, groups for personal growth, and gender-specific groups, and yoga.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

SEL is an invaluable tool in the hands of an experienced teacher or social educator. SEL depends on empowerment, shifting control from the teacher to the student. In traditional education models, the student is considered the object or the passive receiver of the learning. In a SEL-oriented classroom, the student becomes the subject of their own learning. SEL breaks through the rigidity of traditional classroom power dynamics and recognises the student as a significant contributor in the classroom, encouraging the impact of voice and felt experiences. SEL transforms the classroom into a place of learning partnerships, where the teacher and student co-create content and guide the curriculum together. SEL methodologies encourage the student to participate at parallel levels by engaging in lessons and expressing needs and emotions. Ultimately, SEL enables deeper communication within the classroom and allows our teachers to foster a safe environment and a positive learning experience for all involved.

This participative methodology has the potential to transform the classroom into a safe space for fun and learning, but it is first necessary for teachers to develop SEL competencies.  Training is a crucial element of implementing SEL successfully. Capacity-building in SEL aims to create teaching and socio-emotional aptitude, turning a local teacher, a practitioner of traditional education, into a humanitarian educator. At Better Days, SEL training is mandatory for our teaching staff to better support students in developing the following:

  • Emotional Regulation and Emotional Education;
  • Social Skills and Social Education;
  • Self-understanding, self-esteem, self-conceptualization;
  • Brain-building.

SEL is a transformative strategy for education for displaced young people.

Psychosocial Support (PSS)

Our PSS program has been customised for Gekko and is regularly updated to respond to the needs and expectations of our students. On Lesvos, our PSS curriculum included weekly mindfulness sessions to cope with anxiety, social skills groups to work on behaviour and social awareness, circle of girls to talk about gender-related topics, grief support groups to cope with loss, emotional groups to find relief, art therapy for emotional release, psycho-motor therapy to learn about the connection between body and mind, and yoga to release tension, anxiety, stress and Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

Personalised Education and Individualised Development Plans (IDP)

Some students need more specialised support. Better Days has dedicated resources to accommodate students who require personalised plans and ongoing progress assessments by qualified professionals to help them achieve their goals.

This component was launched in September 2019 with one teacher supporting a group of ten students each. Initially, individual plans were offered to students who require special education or further assistance, such as daily tutoring or psychosocial support, to reach their potential at school. They allowed our educators and PSS staff to work harmoniously to meet student objectives. A personalised approach to education provides students with time and space to learn at their own pace, build on existing skills, and consider their aspirations and plans. In 2021-22, we adapted our approach to providing IDPs to all public education students. An IDP is a document that encourages growth and development by identifying a student’s career and academic objectives and actions and the commitments they need to make to achieve their goals within a three to twelve month period. The students sign this plan. We continuously monitor students’ progress, and plan frequent meetings with the School Counsellor.

Through witnessing Better Days in action, I understood something that is a game changer for the refugee situation. Better Days was creating a model of refugee education for fleeing, traumatised young people in transit, in a way that was happening nowhere else on the planet. They were experimenting, learning, changing, perfecting and building this model which can then be transported and implemented in refugee hotspots globally, for many years to come. They were giving refugee kids a chance now and in the future to live healthy, productive lives.