While the awareness of trauma-informed teaching has been a concept I have grappled with, teaching amidst the COVID-19 pandemic has moved this concept to the forefront in terms of how to be effective as a trauma-informed educator in the virtual classroom.
Trauma is prevalent in the lives of both educators and learners. Though prevalent, it can also be silent in that it is not always a visible or known quantity. Living through a pandemic, by its very nature, has been traumatic for everyone and it is important to debrief and reflect on the failures and successes of our educational practices during this time.
It may be surprising to learn that as of 2020, according to the CDC-Kaiser Ace Study, up to two-thirds of U.S. children have experienced at least one type of serious childhood trauma. Some examples include abuse, neglect, or witnessing violence. Trauma may be the largest public health issue facing our children today (CDC, 2019). It is imperative that we are not only aware of these statistics but that we act on known strategies that help our students cope with trauma so that they can meet with success in both in-person and virtual classroom spaces.
Edtech tools help facilitate trauma-informed teaching in a big way
Looking back on last school year, many edtech tools have emerged and been thoroughly explored by educators in a way that was not always possible prior to the pandemic, mainly due to time constraints that come from things like sports games, social gatherings, music lessons, carpooling, and all of the other activities that previously occupied our calendars.
From great struggle comes great growth and, as a result of the pandemic, there is a whole new toolbox of options to take advantage of and to leverage in helping our students who suffer from trauma. There are three familiar edtech tools in particular that have become a staple in my own classroom that have significantly elevated the options I have for trauma-informed teaching.
1. Avoid triggers with a Bitmoji Classroom: When it comes to students who need help coping with trauma, many things can trigger their overactive stress response system. Not knowing what is coming next can put anyone on high alert, especially traumatized students. In her article “Trauma-Informed Teaching Strategies,” Jessica Minihan, a licensed and board-certified behavior analyst, special educator, and consultant to schools internationally, explains that providing predictability through visual schedules of the class agenda or school day can help (Minihan, 2019, p. 33). Bitmoji classrooms became all the rage after many schools made the pivot to distance learning. If you have never heard of a Bitmoji Classroom, check out this article to get more information: Education On Trend: Oak Cliff’s Momentous School Launches Bitmoji Classrooms for Virtual Learning. Setting up a Bitmoji Classroom that is used daily and consistently can provide a uniform and interactive environment for students coping with trauma. They can be personalized and adapted to the specific needs of the students you teach as well as providing a fun and positive learning environment. The fact that students can engage with this classroom both in and out of school can provide tremendous help with relieving anxieties students may have about expectations and planning. This is a great benefit to all learners!
2. Know your students better through FlipGrid: Many educators agree that relationships must come before content, especially with students who are victims of trauma. Fortunately, relationship building between educators and their students in the virtual space is made possible through FlipGrid. Not only can students take the time they need to record a video of themselves that can be viewed only by the teacher, but comments and even video responses from the teacher can be sent directly back to the student. In addition to being a wonderful formative assessment tool, FlipGrid provides a great platform to build trust and rapport with your students as well as helping them to reduce negative thinking.
3. Promote a safe place with Padlet: Creating a safe platform for student collaboration is paramount to trauma-informed teaching. When it comes to students suffering the aftermath of trauma, Minihan explains, “Students can’t learn unless they feel safe. When it comes to student trauma, there is much that is beyond educators’ power, but there is also a great deal they can do to build a supportive and sensitive environment where students feel safe, comfortable, take risks, learn, and even heal.” (Minihan, 2019, p. 35). With collaboration, vulnerability must come into play and the activity can be risky. Padlet is a tool that lets you create walls where students post various content to share. This platform allows teachers to be in full control of what gets posted to the wall by students as there is a setting available that requires teachers to screen posts before they are posted. Teachers can also enable a function where students can post their responses anonymously. The ability for students to comment on their classmates’ posts can easily disabled depending on the group of students you want to give this ability to. I have found Padlet to be quite valuable for students coping with trauma. The positive feedback from peers can be uplifting and healing.
Don’t forget about self-care
As educators, we are a major source of support for learners. Research has found that as adults are faced with increased stress, the pandemic has had the potential to have significant impacts on children (Minkos & Gelbar, 2020, p. 417). As a result, we must be able to cope with our own stress by taking the time to process our own emotions.
While it is has been a challenge to be a trauma-informed educator during a pandemic, this period of time has brought to light some wonderful new uses for our familiar ed-tech tools which enhance our arsenal as we fight the good fight for our students’ education, no matter the background, no matter the trauma. And that is a beautiful thing.