A new approach to trauma-informed teaching: Teacher practice with the Berry Street Education Model

Content type
Short article

August 2019


Brendan Bailey, Tom Brunzell

One of the risk factors for poor school engagement is exposure to traumatic stressors including abuse, neglect and violence directed at and witnessed by children and young people. Trauma affects child development in a number of ways, including the ability to navigate and succeed in education. In response to this, programs addressing poor school engagement should be trauma-informed.

Up to 40% of Australian students have been exposed to, or witness to, traumatic stressors (ABS, 2011; NCTSN, 2014), and approximately one-in-six Australian women (16%) and just over one-in-ten Australian men (11%) experienced abuse before the age of 15 (ABS, 2016)1.

The Berry Street Education Model

With foundations in trauma-informed teaching and learning2 and in positive psychology3, the Berry Street Education Model (BSEM) has been developed to target this cohort of Australian students, who can often be the most disengaged and disruptive in the classroom and the school community. The model combines approaches to welfare, wellbeing and academic learning to help struggling students develop the skills and relationships that enable them to heal first, then thrive.

The BSEM tailors to the national curriculum, providing schools and teachers with specialised strategies to engage these students and better address their needs for health, growth and achievement.

The BSEM aims to achieve the following short-term outcomes for students:

  • Improved academic growth and social/emotional wellbeing
  • Greater ability to maintain relationships
  • Increased school attendance
  • Decreased incident reports and suspensions
  • Increased teacher knowledge and capacity to work with them.

The BSEM also aims to achieve the following long-term outcomes for these students:

  • Improved self-esteem and capacity for healthy relationships
  • Less anti-social behaviours for future success
  • Improved Year 12 completion and participation in post-school training, education and employment.

How the Berry Street Education Model works

The BSEM focuses on training teachers and educators in classroom and whole-of-school strategies to promote an understanding of the five domains of the model:

  1. Body 
    Building students’ capacity by increasing physical regulation of their stress response, de-escalation and focus.
  2. Relationship 
    Nurturing on-task learning through relational classroom management strategies.
  3. Stamina 
    Creating a culture of academic persistence by nurturing resilience, emotional intelligence and a growth mindset.
  4. Engagement 
    Motivating students with strategies that increase their willingness to learn.
  5. Character 
    Harnessing a values and character strengths approach to instill students’ self-knowledge for future pathways.

The model sees these domains as corresponding with the child development capacities that each student must build in order to be ready to learn.

The BSEM is regularly evaluated. An evaluation of the pilot primary school was undertaken by the University of Melbourne Graduate School of Education Youth Research Centre. It found that the BSEM contributed to more than two years’ learning in one academic year. The evaluation identified significant links to academic improvement, increased student engagement and better teacher–student relationships following implementation of the model (Stokes & Turnbull, 2016).


Trauma can affect a student’s ability to engage and succeed in education. The BSEM provides schools and educators with a model to help these students by using specialised strategies aimed at healing, growth and achievement. These strategies are useful for anyone who works with trauma-impacted populations. The model highlights the importance of addressing trauma and its adverse effects through the use of tailored trauma-informed models of practice. More information about the Berry Street Education Model can be found on their website.

Related resources


Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2011). Australian social trends, March 2011 (Cat. No. 4102.0). Canberra: ABS.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). Personal safety, Australia, 2016 (Cat. No. 4906.0). Canberra: ABS.

Bloom, S. (1995). Creating sanctuary in the school. Journal for a Just and Caring Education, 4, 403–433.

Downey, L. (2007). Calmer classrooms: A guide to working with traumatised children. Melbourne: Child Safety Commissioner. Retrieved from: https://kidsthrive.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Calmer-Classrooms-A-guide-to-working-with-traumatised-children.pdf

National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2014). Facts and figures, rates of exposure to traumatic events. Los Angeles, CA: NCTSN. Retrieved from: www.nctsnet.org/resources/topics/facts-and-figures

Norrish, J. M., Williams, P., O’Connor, M., & Robinson, J. (2013). An applied framework for positive education. International Journal of Wellbeing, 3(2), 147–161. doi: 10.5502/ijw.v3i2.2

Seligman, M. E. P., Ernst, R. M., Gillham, J., Reivich, K., & Linkins, M. (2009). Positive education: Positive psychology and classroom interventions. Oxford Review of Education, 35, 293–311.

Stokes, H., & Turnbull, M. (2016). Evaluation of the Berry Street Education Model: Trauma informed positive education enacted in mainstream schools. Melbourne: Youth Research Centre, Melbourne Graduate School of Education, The University of Melbourne.

Waters, L. (2011). A review of school-based positive psychology interventions. The Australian Educational and Developmental Psychologist, 28(2), 75–90. doi: 10.1375/aedp.28.2.75

Wolpow, R., Johnson, M., Hertel, R., & Kincaid, S. (2009). The heart of learning and teaching: Compassion, resiliency, and academic success. Olympia, WA: Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Compassionate Schools.

1 Respondents were asked if they were sexually and/or physically abused by an adult (aged 18 years or over) before the age of 15.

2 See Bloom (1995), Downey (2007) and Wolpow et al. (2009).

3 See Norrish et al. (2013), Seligman et al. (2009) and Waters (2011).