Trauma-Informed Pedagogy

Introduction

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. 

  • 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).

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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)

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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)

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Especially in supportive communities, most individuals who experince(d) trauma are successful in education settings, and resiliency and recovery are very common.

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Trauma-informed classrooms foster better critical thinking when it comes to core curriculum, and can facilitate student success. (Eilers, 2021)

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). 
  • DU Faculty please refer to the Culture of Dignity Tiny Guides embedded in the Faculty Institute for Inclusive Teaching (FIIT). 

EXPLORE

VIDEO: THE IMPACTS OF TRAUMA

To learn more about the trauma, its impacts, and how it might show up in our classrooms, check-out this short video by Amelia Gentile-Mathew, Instructional Designer at the University of Denver.

PODCAST: TRAUMA-INFORMED PEDAGOGY

Tune in to hear Dr. Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave as she discusses the sources of trauma in our students’ lives and how the chemistry of the traumatized brain interrupts deep learning.

Helpful Handouts

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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)

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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)

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Grounding Techniques

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) 

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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. 

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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) 

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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.

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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.

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Racial

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. 

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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.

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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. 

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Types of Trauma Teaching Tools

To learn more about any of these types of trauma, engage with further research, and understand what you can do as an educator, visit our Types of Trauma teaching tools page!

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Remember:

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. 

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EXAMPLES OF TRAUMA-INFORMED TEACHING AND LEARNING IN COLLEGE CLASSROOMS

Janice Carello, PhD, LMSW

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Role-Clarity and Boundaries for Trauma-Informed Teachers

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Why Our Trauma-Informed Teaching Must Be More Culturally Responsive

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Key Takeaways

Related Frameworks

Other entry-points to engaging trauma-informed and responsive practices that continue to humanize teaching and learning environments for all.

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Teaching Practices

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.  

Language You Might Encounter

DU Inclusive Teaching Practices Team, 2021

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The 3Es- Empathize, Educate, & Empower

Amelia Gentile-Mathew, 2021

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Pause, Recognize, Assess

 Dr. Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave, 2020

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Critical Incident Questionnaires

Brookfield & Preskill, 2005

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“The Day After” Tools

 Heath & Iturbe-LaGrave, 2021

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Student Surveys (That aren’t about course content...)

Durand & Goldrick-Rabb, 2020

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Supportive Boundaries & Referrals

Amelia Gentile-Mathew, 2021

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Addressing & Combatting Compassion Fatigue

Dr. Leslie Cramblet Alvarez &
Amelia Gentile-Mathew, 2021

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Types of Trauma Teaching Tools

Dr. Valentina Iturbe-LaGrave &
Amelia Gentile-Mathew, 2021

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“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)
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Supportive Media

Websites, Podcasts, and TED Talks related to Trauma Informed Pedagogy!

Podcasts

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

  • Suggested Citation

    Gentile-Mathew, A., Iturbe-LaGrave, V. (2021) Trauma-Informed Pedagogy and Healing-Centered Engagement, Faculty Teaching Module for Inclusive Teaching Practices. Office of Teaching and Learning, University of Denver.