Trauma-Informed Approach to the Semester
We’ve all been traumatized by the ongoing local and global challenges of the pandemic, wars, migration crises, and the mounting effects of climate change. We can’t know what anyone else may be feeling. While we’ll be eager to begin the semester as near to ‘normal’ as possible, students–and faculty–may not have the mental and emotional stamina to support a full plunge into the syllabus in the first days.
A trauma-informed approach to teaching creates a space where students feel supported and connected; includes predictable moments and practices; allows students to exercise agency; promotes self regulation; and provides opportunities for exploration of individual and community identities.
During the early weeks of the semester, faculty are encouraged to use some class time to address any challenges students may be experiencing, e.g., continued personal and family trauma; transition to NYC for new students; fear for the future; and most importantly, making connections with their new classroom community. Many younger students have difficulty with face-to-face communication because of their reliance on social media and digital platforms, including especially text messaging, for communication. Faculty are encouraged to hold space for conversations, reflections, and aspirations.
Having a very basic understanding of how the brain functions and how trauma impedes learning, memory and decision-making can help.
Faculty learned ‘flexibility’ in their experiences teaching during the pandemic. Flexibility can mean allowing open or flexible deadlines for submission or work, allowing for multiple revisions/submissions so that students can demonstrate improvement or providing alternatives to ‘attendance’ and ‘participation’, e.g., use of a Canvas discussion board or posting/contributing in hy.pothesis or Mural as a complement to in-class discussion. Faculty are encouraged to think about different ways of evaluating participation, attendance and assignment submission deadlines, to recognize that most students are well intentioned, and to show understanding of the real mental health challenges students are experiencing and feel newly empowered to vocalize. Be sure they are aware of the mental health support services available to them by including the information on their syllabi. Faculty are also encouraged to remember their own mental health needs and to show the same generosity of spirit, flexibility and understanding they will show to their students, to themselves.