Trauma is the Greek word for "wound." The term has been used in the past solely to describe physical injuries, but is now just as likely to refer to emotional wounds. Trauma has recently been defined as "any major event (witnessed or experienced) that upsets or interrupts our ability to cope with daily life." The interruption of our in-person work with students, and the shift to new, often unfamiliar, modes of teaching has left many of us feeling frustrated, incompetent and unable to provide the educational experiences are crucially important in our work. Similarly, students are feeling frustrated, incompetent and unable to connect with the material in our courses. The loss of in-person communication and learning experiences is immeasurable. Perhaps we took the benefits of these interactions for granted, as they now seem blocked by masks and the limitations of online interactions. Many of us have experienced the health crisis of COVID-19, having either survived the virus ourselves, supported others through their health struggles, or grieved a loved one.
There are powerful resources for trauma-informed practices in educational settings, and we may also consider a healing-centered approach, which views trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but rather highlights the ways in which trauma and healing are experienced collectively. Healing centered engagement is akin to the South African term “Ubuntu” meaning that humanness is found through our interdependence, collective engagement and service to others. Additionally, healing centered engagement offers an asset driven approach aimed at the holistic restoration of young peoples’ well-being.
Surveys of the CU student experience have suggested that students are struggling with motivation and need synchronous experiences where they are expected to attend and be engaged with a group. Acknowledge the struggle—your own and your students'—as often as you can, and express regard for how they are prioritizing their education. Think carefully about how to provide students with a sense of purpose in your classroom which will help advance their sense of well being during this time. While students need you to maintain high expectations, it must be within a reasonable and flexible framework given the uncertainties that many are experiencing in their personal lives. Be transparent about your expectations for coursework, and provide clear, consistent communication.
Further reading & resources:
The Vulnerable Heart of Literacy: Centering Trauma as Powerful Pedagogy (book by CU Boulder professor Elizabeth Dutro)
A Trauma-Informed Approach to Teaching through the Coronavirus (Tolerance.org article)
Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves, and Our Society Thrive (book by Marc Brackett)