In the midst of traumatic events, such as a neighborhood shooting, positive classroom behavior management interventions may not work as well for all kids, a new study shows.

In general, offering students positive encouragement rather than negative reprimands not only reduces disruptive student classroom behavior but can also improve students’ academic and social outcomes, says Keith Herman, professor of educational, school and counseling psychology in the University of Missouri College of Education and Human Development.

However, the new study finds those interventions may not have the desired outcomes for certain children who could be struggling with trauma or depression associated with such an event.

For the study, Herman implemented CHAMPS, a classroom behavior management training intervention for teachers, into a St. Louis County school district’s middle school classrooms from 2013–2017.

The intervention emphasized communicating clear expectations to students, giving more positive encouragement compared to negative reprimands, and moving around the classroom to monitor student behavior.

Herman found that, in general, the intervention resulted in fewer disruptive classroom behaviors and student concentration problems, as well as an increase in completed class work, standardized test scores, and the amount of time students remained on task with classroom assignments—all of which led to more engaged learning.

However, the traumatic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, motivated Herman to examine what impact that event had on the mental health and well-being of students and teachers in the St. Louis County school district where the CHAMPS intervention was implemented.

When he reanalyzed the same data set from his previous CHAMPS study, a randomized, controlled trial involving more than 100 middle school teachers and 1,450 students, he found that while the positive student achievement benefits affected both white and Black students equally before the shooting, the student achievement benefits disappeared for Black students after the shooting.

“It’s possible this traumatic historical event happening so close to these students may undermine some youths’ ability to benefit from these positive classroom interventions,” Herman says. “If you feel threatened or unsafe based off the trauma from that event, you might become more distracted, frustrated, and less able to pay attention in class, which may impact academic achievement.”

Read the full article about the impact of traumatic events on students by Brian Consiglio at Futurity.