Bringing Trauma-Informed Strategies into the (Online) Classroom

by | 07.10.20

Jorge Valenzuela is an education coach and author. Follow him on Twitter @jorgedoespbl.

As educators, every day of teaching is an invitation to learn more about ourselves and our practice. And then summers hit, offering us a chance to step back and go even deeper – renew our energies, reflect on our goals and dig into compelling and necessary new learning.

For many of us, the school year ended in turbulence. We left our buildings with anxiety and filled with worry for our students. Things are no easier now. Fall planning, as online and hybrid teaching options evolve, feels complicated. But we know our kids will need us to provide supportive, inclusive classroom communities so that they can process trauma and continue learning. On top of that, now we have time to do what educators do – prepare so that the growth we accomplish this summer will make a lifelong impact on students.

I’ve devised a couple of easy, manageable strategies for doing my own self-directed PD, and I share those with you below. Please remember – there’s no one way to do this, and it’s all about figuring out what’s most effective for you. Plus, we’re all in different places – with lots to learn. Some of us have already built up knowledge on culturally responsive lesson planning, trauma-informed instruction and SEL strategies. Others are just beginning their journey.

A few of the resources I’ve drawn on for insights and inspiration are CASEL’s breakdown of core SEL competencies and Edutopia’s recent educators’ guide to equity and antiracism. A collection of resources curated by the ISTE COVID-19 SEL working group, Education Week’s four-part series on culturally responsive instruction and Resilient Educator’s tips on trauma-informed teaching also provide incredibly useful strategies.

As you identify materials you want to learn from, check out a couple of the tools I used to stay focused and growing:

Use graphic organizers to draft SEL and restorative justice plans

I use a simple graphic organizer to list and categorize the SEL strategies I want to bring into my classroom (physical or virtual!). For example, as hard as we teachers try to make every student feel seen and celebrated for who they are, there will be times when a student feels isolated or wronged. And there will be times when our classroom culture just feels “off” – when students don’t feel as close or connected as usual, and we need to get everyone back on the same page. It’s up to us to restore a shared sense of equity, inclusivity, and synergy in our classrooms in those moments. When I was ready to introduce a restorative justice process to my students, I created this graphic to keep me focused on two things: the issues I wanted to address and the tools I wanted to use:

Build in space for regular “emotion check-ins”

Stretching for new knowledge can bring moments of stress and struggle to our students. The more we guide them to recognize what they’re feeling in those moments, the more we can equip them to manage their emotions. My students and I use this “emotions planner” to label their emotions and identify the SEL strategies that will best support them. And when external events bring up feelings of anxiety, fear or anger for our kids – such as the isolating effects of COVID-19 or the renewed trauma of systemic racism – we can use this check-in to provide a space for stability, self-expression and support.

No matter where you are in your ed equity learning, if you don’t quite feel prepared to adopt SEL strategies and inclusive-teaching tools for a virtual classroom or a hybrid teaching structure, you’re not alone. Equity-driven teaching always takes knowledge and care, and the prospect of using inclusive, affirming teaching strategies to support our students, both in-person and online, is challenging. This summer, I shared my recommendations on integrating SEL practices (like the ones I described above) into remote learning environments at ISTE’s Summer Learning Academy 2020.

It’s a growing time for us. As teachers, we know better than anyone that growth requires a supportive, sustaining environment. So I encourage you to build reflection and collaboration into your learning plans. Whether you check out the resources at ISTE or find another way to learn in community, I hope you’ll connect with fellow teachers who are just as committed to ed equity as you are. Let’s embrace our growing time – and our chance to create lasting change for our students. 

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