Trauma Informed Pedagogy in K-12 during a Pandemic: Some thoughts

I have been learning about and teaching through the lens of Trauma Informed Pedagogy (TIP) for a couple years at the college level. Here are some of my basic assumptions and practices:

  1. I don’t know peoples’ stories.
  2. Many people have experienced trauma and I cannot predict or judge how my curriculum may affect them.
  3. I recognize that discrimination-based trauma is ubiquitous and I do my best to acknowledge harm and make amends when I cause, misunderstand, or overlook it.
  4. I try to center marginalized voices in my classroom.
  5. I acknowledge the influence of colonialism and patriarchy on the formation of philosophy and science and try to provide access to research by non-white voices.
  6. I provide trigger-warnings and alternate assignments for topics such as hate crime, police violence against people of color, domestic abuse, child abuse, and sexual abuse.
  7. I allow students to actively use self-care, including leaving the classroom or engaging in non-distracting breaks (drawing or looking at phones) if they are feeling triggered.
  8. I discuss and provide resources for counseling, mindfulness, and self-care on and off campus.

This is just a starter list – I expand it as I go and learn new things. In the Zoom school world, there has been conversation about video and how to manage TIP while teaching online. As a professor, it really helps when I can see my students’ video feeds. Screaming into the void is hard and exhausting. However, I don’t mandate video use because, again, I don’t know people’s stories. They might be homeless. They might be sick. They might be having a bad hair day. I’m not God, and I don’t get to choose for people how shitty they are feeling and which reasons are valid.

My daughter started the 5th grade this week and it’s mostly on Zoom. She did Camp Half Blood this summer for 4 weeks, all online, and it was EPIC. Like so good. So she’s fairly comfortable with the technology and how it works. But it’s very different to be in a Zoom classroom with stressed out teachers and stressed out kids with stressed out parents, trying to have a “normal” school day. I feel for the teachers. It is a whole damn thing to try and make this work with 10 year olds–can you imagine what it is like for first graders? I can’t even.

But here’s the thing. Some topics, like in my classes, are intellectual and easily discussed without getting overly emotional. Some are not. My kid spends most of her day with her two main teachers, and a few short sessions a day with the PE, Art, Music, Chinese, Library and Social Emotional Learning teachers. These topics are not all the same. How kids react to them is not going to be the same for a variety of reasons.

I want to see TIP practiced in elementary schools. If you are talking to kids about feelings and stress, they may get stressed out. They may have had relatives die in the last few months. Their parents may be out of work. They might be food insecure. Don’t force them on camera. Don’t make them parrot words back at you. Don’t threaten to call their parents in front of other kids.

Like just don’t.

Need to call on kids in math class? Probably fine. But remember, you don’t know their life. You don’t know if one of their parents is drunk and abusive and at home. You don’t know if they are worried about not having new clothes and looking bad to other kids. You don’t know if they have shitty bandwidth.

You. Don’t. Know.

I need elementary school teachers and counselors and administrators to recognize this nothing is normal right now. Pantomiming normal is not helpful for kids, it’s confusing. Compassion is helpful. Grace is helpful. Many teachers know this and do endless amounts of emotional labor to help kids feel safe. But please remember that kids do not have the same capacity for denial as adults. They can’t filter, and they can’t choose what makes them feel scared.

Whether you teach grad students or kindergarteners, please remember that you do not know what they have seen or experienced in the past few months. It is not your place to judge. We have to do our best to provide education under the weirdest of circumstances, and if we want our students to give us a break when we screw up, we need to afford them the same respect, no matter their age.

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