This Trauma-Informed and Healing-Centered pedagogies module is responsive to broad experiences of individual and community trauma in relation to academic settings, teaching, and learning. While the topics discussed herein vary in breadth and depth, the goal is to provide language, guidelines, frameworks, tools, and supportive resources to support faculty members and students as they navigate the complex layers of trauma and healing.
Honoring experiences that challenge individual and collective courage is critical, but alone not enough to establish a foundation of care that actively supports healing at the individual and community levels. With this in mind, we invite you to incorporate many of the suggested approaches presented in this module into your trauma-informed pedagogy toolkit.
This article covers:
The transition to college may be a time when survivors disclose their histories with trauma to seek support and healing amongst trusted mentors. (Banyard & Cantor, 2004)
Utilizing even a few TIP tools in your classroom goes a long way towards preventing retraumatization and removing barriers in the learning environment. (Stevens, 2012)
Especially in supportive communities, most individuals who experience(d) trauma are successful in education settings, and resiliency and recovery are very common.
Trauma-informed classrooms foster better critical thinking when it comes to core curriculum, and can facilitate student success. (Eilers, 2021)
What is Trauma Informed Pedagogy?
Trauma-Informed Pedagogy is a set of teaching approaches that consider the broader impacts of trauma and the potential paths to resiliency. This approach is anchored on the assumption that individuals are more likely than not to have experienced some form of trauma in their lives (Buffalo Center for Social Research, 2021). Distilled from the wisdom of trauma-informed care practices in the human services field, TIP addresses and thoughtfully integrates policies and procedures in our teaching practices. Thus, as educators, we can actively seek to remove barriers that inhibit student participation, avoid incidences of re-traumatization, and cultivate a supported learning environment.
What is Healing Centered Engagement?
Healing-Centered Engagement is an educational approach that invokes culture, spirituality, civic action, and collective healing (Ginwright, 2018). As such, it allows educators to view trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but, instead, highlights how trauma and healing are experienced collectively. This perspective is essential as societies continue to make sense of and cope with the impact of unsettling collective events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, racial violence, and mass shootings. The term healing-centered engagement expands how we think about responses to trauma, and offers a more holistic approach to fostering well-being in learning environments (Ginwright, 2018).
What is Trauma?
- Trauma is a vast term, but the American Psychological Association defines it simply as any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning. Importantly, this includes results of experience both by natural forces and by human behavior. (APA Dictionary of Psychology, 2020)
- Trauma can also be defined as any experience in which a person’s internal resources are not adequate to cope with external stressors (Hoch, Stewart, Webb, & Wyandt-Hiebert, 2015).
- Trauma can happen to both individuals and communities.
- Trauma disproportionately impacts people in marginalized communities – BIPOC, LGBTQ+ folx, and people with disabilities experience certain types of trauma at higher rates. (CAPE, 2021)
- Earlier conceptualizations of trauma tended to focus on the actual traumatic event(s), but researchers and practitioners now recognize that the same event(s) can be experienced differently from person to person based on a range of cultural contexts, as well as social and psychological variables, unique to individuals and communities (Elliott & Urquiza, 2006).
Types of Trauma
Educators needn't become experts in trauma, but because colleges and universities often field the many complex challenges facing students, faculty, and staff, it can be overwhelming to feel like we're responsible to prepare for all possible student scenarios. Luckily, there are on-campus resources, systems, policies, and procedures to support faculty in being responsive to student needs in real-time. DU Faculty, please refer to the RED folder.
In addition, becoming familiar with some of the broad categories below can help orient us towards the many axes along which trauma may show up in our classrooms.
Community and National
Trauma is not limited to individual, interpersonal interactions. In fact, it is not uncommon for communities as a whole to experience grief after an incident of community violence. This could occur on a local, community, or even national scope. In situations of community violence, people may experience the loss of their sense of safety, their trust in those who live in their neighborhood, or their trust in local government. The trauma and grief of community violence can be experienced by all involved, and it is important to take the impacts of this type of trauma seriously. Some examples include: acts of terrorism, mass shootings, and political disenfranchisement. (SAMHSA, 2014)
Generational and Historical
These terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and both point to the phenomena of major traumatic events whose past or present manifestations continue to impact people alive today, even if the incident(s) occurred in the past. Historical trauma is the cumulative, multigenerational, collective experience of emotional and psychological injury in communities and in descendants (SAMHSA, 2014). Some examples include: enslavement of African Americans in the US, the Holocaust, Japanese American internment, and genocide against Native Americans.
Sexual and Gender-Based
Sexual and gender-based trauma encompasses acts which are directed at an individual based on their gender or sexuality. Often, this type of traumatic violence is rooted in gender inequality, the abuse of power, and harmful norms, and can include sexual, physical, mental, familial, and economic harm inflicted in public or in private (UNHCR, 2021). Some examples include: violence against trans individuals, sexual assault, female genital mutilation, familial and partner violence, human trafficking, and violence against LGBTQ+ people.
Any minoritized racial or ethnic group can experience racial trauma, as a result of direct and indirect occurrences of racial discrimination. Racial discrimination constituting traumatic stress occurs across a broad spectrum, inclusive of institutional, political, and interpersonal violence and oppression. While people of all racial identities can and do experience distress as a result of traumatic events stemming from racism, students of color are significantly more likely to experience re-traumatization due to resonance with personal experience and/or repeated exposure (NCTSN, 2017). Racial trauma can be a compounding force within groups who also experience the impacts of generational and historical trauma. Some examples include: police brutality against people of color, discriminatory policies and procedures in the workplace, invalidation of experiences of racism, and physical and emotional abuse.
Disaster and Conflict-Based
Individuals may experience disaster- or conflict-based trauma from a single occurrence (natural disaster, loss of a loved one) or a prolonged occurrence (war, displacement, military service). Disaster- and conflict-based traumas may result in feelings of hypervigilance, anxiety, anger, guilt, loss of feelings of safety, loss of faith, feeling out of touch, or destabilized worldviews. Community resiliency, personal agency, and access to support can all contribute to recovery following these types of traumas (Rowell & Thomley, 2013). Some examples include: aftermath of natural disaster, loss of a partner or family member, displacement due to war, witnessing an act or accident of graphic violence, and loss of a home.
Health and Healthcare
Trauma related to health and healthcare spans a wide variety of experiences. This form of trauma may manifest in individuals of any age, as a result of a life-threatening illness, onset of chronic condition, or a life-altering diagnoses. However, it may also occur as a result of critical lack of access to healthcare, or repeated negative treatment experiences with providers. Our institutions have a significant role to play in supporting ongoing healing and access for individuals who experience this type of trauma, especially to facilitate full participation in schools and the workplace. An important example is the post-COVID time ahead; acknowledging the long-lasting impacts experienced by many families and individuals as a result of this recent pandemic is crucial for our community wellbeing moving forward (ISTSS, 2020). Some other examples include: discrimination faced by trans and nonbinary individuals, lack of access to reproductive healthcare, physical and cognitive accessibility for students recovering from illness, compounding illnesses resulting from lack of access to healthcare.
Trauma as a Common Experience
Trauma is a common experience for adults and children in our communities, and can impact individuals regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation (SAMHSA, 2014).
By adopting Trauma-Informed Pedagogies, we can seek to:
- Equip ourselves as educators working to remove barriers for students’ access to their education.
- Mobilize our existing networks into a community of care.
- Substantively support learners already in our educational sphere while creating inlets for those who are yet to participate.
Everyone Experiences Stressors
While trauma is a broad, clinical diagnosis describing a constellation of experiences that manifest in response to extreme stressors, everyone experiences stressors along this spectrum.
Developing a trauma-informed learning environment benefits all students in your classroom.
Everyone Experiences it Differently
There is no one way that trauma looks or impacts individuals. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to experience trauma and recovery! Even the same experience may impact a variety of individuals differently.
A trauma response is our body’s normal (reasonable) response to an abnormal situation.
Offering Appropriate Responses
As educators, we should strive to not make assumptions about individual students as we design and moderate trauma-informed learning environments.
Knowing how to offer concise, appropriate responses to difficult disclosures from students can go a long way toward supporting them.
The Center for Advocacy, Prevention, and Empowerment (CAPE) offers free and confidential services to all staff, faculty, and students at DU, including free consultations with faculty and staff to support them in responding to disclosures, or to talk through trauma-informed responses in and out of the classroom. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303-871-3853 to request more information or get support.
Responding to Traumatic Community Events
Tramatic community events require the robust deployment of support structures to address faculty and student well-being while being responsive to violence's seen and unseen impacts.
Our students are incredibly resilient, and we don't need to know, or fix everything for them. And, in fact, we should not try to! Becoming familiar with the basic impacts of trauma equips us to identify behaviors stemming from stressors and lead with empathy in our responses and solutions.
Your students might experience non-traumatic psychological, physical, or emotional distress across these categories, which can still significantly impact their engagement or performance in your class! Read on to learn about some simple and successful teaching practices and tools for the classroom that support students all across this continuum.
Other entry-points to engaging trauma-informed and responsive practices that continue to humanize teaching and learning environments for all.
Healing Centered Engagement (Ginwright, 2018)
This ongoing discussion amidst educators seeks to address the risk of pathologizing that can come from a trauma-based focus, hoping instead to focus efforts on language and the practice of bringing about healing-centered learning environments.
Communities of Care Model (Heath, 2019)
Travis Heath, Co-Director of the MA in International Disaster Psychology Program at DU- discusses the critical perspective shift towards taking the systemic factors of traumatic stress seriously in our models of care and pedagogy.
Trauma-Informed Social Emotional Learning (SEL) (Transforming Education, 2020)
Bridges early childhood education with larger approaches in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and the considerable overlap between SEL methods and TIP approaches.
Resiliency/Resilient Pedagogy (GTSU, 2021)
An approach to teaching that accounts for resiliency of course design, faculty, and students during uncertain times and changing circumstances.
Responding to Trauma in the Classroom: Toolkit
For a brief overview of many of the tools below, visit our OTL article on Responding to Trauma in the Classroom by Dr. Iturbe-LaGrave, and this helpful Trauma-Aware Teaching Checklist by Karen Costa and the 100 Faculty initiative.
Click on the individual tools below that explores application in your classroom, including instructions, suggestions, and scenarios.
Addressing & Combatting Compassion Fatigue
Dr. Leslie Cramblet Alvarez &
Amelia Gentile-Mathew, 2021
“While teachers play many roles in students’ lives, psychologist should not be one of them. This is for the benefit of students and teachers alike. For students, school needs to be a place of safety and predictability. Clear boundaries and roles help students establish a sense of safety in relationships. If we dig too deeply into explorations of trauma with students, at best we create a confusing dynamic. At worst, we can impede a student’s healing journey by providing uninformed counsel or treatment.” (Venet, 2019, p.3)
TIP: The Role of Assessment in Deep Insights and Learning - Dr. Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave
On Grief Pedagogy, a Kitchen Table Talk from Inclusive Teaching Practices at DU with Professor Erin K. Willer
Window of Tolerance
The Window of Tolerance is a model we can use to talk about our ability to function and thrive in everyday life. When stressors of certain types push us outside of this window, we can become stressed in a way that neurobiologically prompts us to over-or under-function. However, grounding and coping tools can help us reenter and stay within our window of tolerance, changing and growing it over time, even after a traumatic event (NICAMB, 2019)View PDF
The Continuum of Stress
The Continuum of Stress is a tool that helps us to visualize the impacts of stress on ourselves and others. Certain types of stress are an everyday part of life. In contrast, others fall outside of the normal range of psychological experience, causing an undue amount of strain on our minds and bodies, and may require time, rest, or additional support to heal from (Whitlock, 2021)View PDF
Grounding exercises are short activities that engage our minds and bodies to help us recenter into the current moment. These coping mechanisms can help combat the impacts of stressors that push us outside of our window of tolerance and promote emotional re-regulation in the moment. Most grounding exercises are quick, easy, and do not require much space or materials! (Schuldt, 2021)View PDF
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