Professional development trainings tend to be hours filled with presentations about stale systems, pedagogical fads, or bureaucratic infomercials that result in paper packets that will never be glanced at again. At the end of the day, there is very little development as a professional. On the other hand, I have participated in very useful professional developments, and these have usually centered around learning how to support specific subgroups, specifically students with Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs), English Learners, and students of color such as Latino/a and black students. One of the most impactful professional developments I attended was led by my credentialing instructor, and the topic centered around trauma informed teaching.
Trauma informed teaching is teaching practices that are designed and implemented for students who have suffered some form of trauma in the past. In my experience working with students in the city of Richmond, most have experienced trauma ranging from emotional, verbal, and/or physical abuse; witnessing the death of a loved one, family or friend, as the result of gun violence; fearing the risk of a parent being deported, or getting deported themselves; suffering from extreme poverty, and other ailments that are conducive to deep rooted trauma. According to an article published by Edutopia.com, “First, as teachers we need to focus on the individual student and the strong, one-to-one relationships that support our trauma-affected kids. And second, creating these bonds requires a broader cultural adjustment and reprioritization, where the whole community works together to cultivate a space in which students, educators, and staff members thrive.”
In this professional development, we were taught practices that can foster trauma informed teaching practice. Some of these practices include setting clear classroom expectations for both behavior and classwork, establishing clear and consistent routines, offering criterion-based feedback on assignments, establishing frequent communication with student stake-holders, and developing strong connections with students themselves. It is important to learn to listen to students while striking a balance between not reprimanding students for what they share and not enabling students. Simple stuff, right?
Trauma informed teaching is not easy, and it does not come naturally. Trauma informed teaching begins when educators are intentionally empathetic towards students and when the student is placed at the center of the learning process. Although this might sound like common sense, a lot of times it is not implemented as such. I have witnessed teachers, and for an unforgivable set of years I was a teacher, who placed school rules, state standards, and other stale systems at the center of learning, and when students did not oblige, I’d reprimand the student. I forgot the eternal proverb: educational systems and structures are built for students; students are not built for those systems and structures.
Trauma informed teaching asks educators to take a step back and re-evaluate their motivations when interacting with a student–are educators taking into consideration the past trauma our students are bringing to our classroom? All educators, including educators of color who because they physically and culturally may resemble their students may also erroneously assume immediate and natural connection with those students, must evaluate their teaching practices. The professional development seminar on trauma informed teaching inspired me to re-evaluate my teaching practices, and as a result, I developed professionally. Perhaps, if educators were offered more relevant topics during professional development, we would develop faster, and our students would benefit significantly more.
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