Six Tips for Cultivating a Trauma-Informed Higher Education Classroom at the Beginning of Each Semester
Collective trauma, in spite of its profound gravity, has granted us an opportunity as educators. Through the devastation of COVID-19 and chaos of various social and political events within the past two years, attention to mental health has encouraged conversation instead of stigmatization (American Psychological Association, 2019). We are also more attuned to the presence of the trauma and toxic stress that many of our students are shouldering, and how their ability to learn can be compromised as a result (National Council of State Education Associations, 2019).
As educators, we remain responsible for creating an optimal environment in which student learning can flourish. When students feel that they are in danger—whether it is real or perceived—tasks such as critical thinking, emotional regulation, processing, and concentration are obliterated in favor of self-preservation. The ability to establish trust becomes complicated if not impossible. Self-efficacy and esteem are often under threat as well. Awareness of trauma and its effects on learning can provide an informative lens through which we can contextualize student behavior and better structure an environment that is responsive to their needs.
There is undoubtedly major cognitive overload for us instructors as we try to establish the tone and structure of our classrooms in addition to delivering material. The thought of trying to incorporate trauma-informed principles into that equation may seem rather intimidating, especially because we have to re-evaluate the needs of the class every semester and modify best practices accordingly. However, many recommendations for trauma-informed educational practices are similar to student-centered teaching techniques with which you are probably already familiar. They can be modified easily with the goals of safety and optimal learning in mind. Below are some strategies you can implement seamlessly into the first week of your course and set the tone for the rest of the semester.