Reflection on using Trauma-informed pedagogy in the classroom

I reviewed the plan that I put together before starting this semester, and the one thing I can say was that I followed the plan. I tried to build in flexibility, while at the same time making due dates explicit and issuing reminders. I held a check-in at the beginning of each class. I tried to allow for student choice. I also followed up individually with students who were falling behind using Blackboard and Connect2Success.

However, I am left feeling unsatisfied with how the experience went this semester. In most of my classes, students did not participate in the check-in. There were a few more outspoken students who always spoke, and trying to engage others more often than not resulted in “I’m OK.” It was demoralizing for me to speak to a blank Zoom screen, because I allowed students the option of turning on their cameras or not. Most chose not to turn on the cameras, and it made it difficult for me to connect. I made a Discussion Board on Blackboard that was meant to be fun and tried to start several discussions about cute animals or favorite music and got no responses from students.

In particular, I felt like there was little to be done for those students who really struggled. Some stopped responding to my emails, though they seemed to want to engage early in the semester. Others never really responded. Some sent me a cry for help saying “I am struggling” but did not respond to the next email that laid out some services that BMCC offered. In addition, I got little engagement from the Connect2Success. The students who got the Kudos flag replied with a thank you, but those who struggled didn’t really engage. I also didn’t get much from the advisors – an occasionally auto-generated email that said my flag was closed with no follow-up.

I know that much of this is because we are all struggling to stay afloat this semester. Trauma-informed pedagogy makes the classroom a more welcoming place, but does not solve the myriad structural issues that our students face. As much as we can point to services and try to bring students along, we hit a wall, and it makes me sad to see students unable or unwilling to take that step to ask for help. And even if they do, I can’t give them what they likely need – their basic needs and time and mental energy to focus on school work.

2 Replies to “Reflection on using Trauma-informed pedagogy in the classroom”

  1. Yuliya,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences this semester re the challenges that you faced in implementing trauma-informed pedagogical practices. I know what you mean about feeling unsatisfied. I too offered zoom sessions for review and checking in and bonding but only a few students availed themselves of these synchronous sessions…while I thoroughly enjoyed working with the small group, I felt that I wanted to connect with everyone! Let’s hope that this is just the beginning and that we’ll find more consistent results next semester.

  2. Yuliya,
    Thanks for your comment. First, I hear you and I hear your disappointment. You are correct, trauma informed pedagogy is not a panacea or cure for the oppression, racism, and structural barriers that prevent students from being fully present in class. Students face many factors in their lives that inhibit their engagement in class — this semester those factors were exacerbated. But, as you wrote, trauma informed pedagogy aims to make the learning environment a place that will not be traumatizing & supports learning. I imagine that the trauma informed practices you implemented made a difference to the students in your courses, even if you did not “see” the results in the way you hoped. Although they may not have spoken up & shared, during your class check-ins, you gave students space to reflect “how am I now”, which is perhaps more than others offered/ asked them. Sometimes during my check-ins I have to model or prompt students with questions, such as, “We are approaching the mid-point of the semester, how is the work load in your classes?” or “How are you engaging in self-care with finals approaching? I am trying to read a chapter a night of my book to help me during this time.” Also, as others have written, some strategies work with certain groups & some don’t. I encourage you to 1) engage in self-care and 2) give yourself time and space to explore, knowing this is a process.

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