It may be obvious what school mental health practitioners are supposed to do as components of trauma-informed networks, but it is rarely so clear what teachers should do. I’m here to help synthesize what the experts are saying about the role of teachers in trauma-informed networks.
Prominent voices in the trauma-informed education world including Arlène Casimir, Addison Duane, Dr. Elizabeth Dutro, Latoya Nelson, and Alex Shevrin Venet each contribute to clarifying the teacher's role. Some of their thinking includes that teachers: are fellow humans, equally vulnerable to life’s adversities and capable of connecting with children in healthy ways; must be mindful when discussing difficult topics to remain open to the raw emotion of adversity; avoid and/or dismantle savior complexes; set and manage clear boundaries; and be familiar with the resources available in the community.
In this post, I’ll speak to the concept of teachers’ humanity and vulnerability by outlining Elizabeth Dutro's "Testimony and Witness". I want to quickly attend to a caveat. Dutro actually moves beyond the terms testimony and witness, emphasizing "testimony and critical witness" to indicate a more critical stance evoking equity and social justice issues. See her article for more details on what makes critical witness so critical.
For this blog post, I am using the terms testimony and witness because I'm presenting a simplified version of Dutro's model to get you started in your process. I encourage you to read into the concept of critical witness and move beyond simply serving as witness to take action and dismantle oppressive forces in your classroom and community.
I confess, when I first heard about Elizabeth Dutro’s concept of testimony and witness, I felt really uncomfortable. Testimony and witness is a powerful tool to make literacy instruction trauma-informed. Want to know why it made me squirm? Keep reading to find out why and learn how my thinking has dramatically shifted!
In my previous post, I wrote out some legitimate reasons you might resist incorporating, inviting, and engaging in trauma stories in your classroom. I also shared some reasons why doing so is powerful humanizing practice. Here, I'm going to share with you how to overcome the discomfort of resistance by educating yourself, developing a network of support, starting small, and using multiple modalities to make expression less daunting.
Tough topics are uncomfortable. They are prickly and can open old wounds. Yet, these same topics are what make the human experience so meaningful.
Not sure how to overcome the discomfort of allowing trauma and the fullness of life into your classroom? Keep reading to learn how to overcome those barriers to "identify larger themes for connection and invitation and, in turn, allow children to see their life experiences, including trauma, as part and parcel of what matters in school" (Dutro, 2019, p. 31).
Teachers and students who share and bear witness to one another’s adversities and who read, watch, talk, and write about the fullness of life may experience discomfort in doing so.
We are, after all, working with topics that may cause us to feel emotions that are typically unwelcome in schools and may be hard to express publicly. In this post, I’ll unravel what may cause the discomfort with sharing trauma stories in schools.
Have you heard about the idea of bringing trauma stories, trauma-informed literature, or simply stories of adversity into your classroom literacy practices? Not sure you feel comfortable doing so? Keep reading to learn where that resistance might be coming from.
Trauma-informed book choices and testimony and witness practices, when balanced with attention to healthy boundaries, can support the academic success of trauma-affected youth.
Stories that students can relate to open the classroom up as a safe place where trauma is destigmatized. Below, I provide several book lists and recommendations for how to confidently and effectively incorporate trauma-informed literature and share stories of adversity in your classroom.
Teachers have been using bibliotherapy for decades now to support the SEL of students. Recently, they've been finding bibliotherapy to fall short.
Now, educators are recognizing the power of trauma stories to destigmatize trauma, connect students to powerful themes of the human experience, and help empower students in their own recovery from trauma. These include stories shared by both teachers and students in a reciprocal process of testimony and witness, which goes beyond bibliotherapy to develop deep humanizing connection.
Keep reading to learn how to incorporate trauma-informed literature and testimony and witness along with some great book lists! Plus, stay tuned for more posts about what’s happening in classrooms connecting trauma-informed practices and literacy instruction.
My name is Erin E. Silcox. I'm working on my Ph.D. in Literacy Education, focusing on the intersection of trauma and literacy. I want to deepen our base of knowledge about trauma-informed practices in schools and help teachers apply findings right now.