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).
Start by educating yourself and others on how and why to incorporate trauma stories in your classroom. Here's a video of the famed trauma and literacy scholar, Dr. Elizabeth Dutro explaining the problems with how schools have treated trauma and some eloquent examples and thoughts on humanizing students' trauma experiences through literacy.
I recommend also reading Dutro's (2019) concise and poignant book "The Vulnerable Heart of Literacy: Center Trauma as Powerful Pedagogy." In this book, she outlines the powerful practice of testimony and critical witness. That is, she walks the reader through opening up and allowing your own vulnerabilities into the classroom before asking your students to do so.
We often ask (sometimes require) students to write about and discuss their emotions without expressing our own adversities. I remember once when a student lost his cool in my classroom and stormed out. When we chatted later about it, my colleague and I were talking to him and she said, "You don't think Erin ever gets upset or has a bad day?" His response was, "No, she's perfect."
I will never forget that. It would have been so powerful for him to have had me share something that was difficult for me as he aired his challenges daily. Without me sharing and with him always doing so, there was an imbalance. Learn the concept of testimony and critical witness and incorporate it into your instruction.
Develop a Network of Support
We have PLCs and committee meetings in schools and we talk about data and behavior plans. But, do you have anyone you can turn to with the more personal and emotional side of the job? Maybe. Maybe not.
What I mean is, to overcome the challenges implicit in bringing tough topics into your classroom, you need others who a) will help you grapple with what is appropriate and what isn't AKA what your boundaries are and b) have your back when/if you get push back from other adults. Develop this network on social media (DM me @betraumainformed on IG and @erinesilcox on Twitter and I'll connect you!) and in your building.
Not only will doing so give you the confidence to make some changes in your pedagogy, but it will also get you in touch with others who have valuable resources to share.
Not all incorporations of trauma stories need to be earth shattering. In fact, they may never be all that wild and challenging.
One way to start getting comfortable providing testimony of adversity and bearing witness to students is to play a little game called "high, low, funny." This or any other game in which students share a little bit about themselves and you join in the sharing, can break down walls of what counts in schools.
In "high, low, funny" everyone (who is comfortable doing so) shares one thing that was a high or a good thing, one low or challenging, fear inducing, frustrating, or scary situation, and one funny. Sharing even one low can begin to expand what stories are welcome. Be sure to NEVER require students to share trauma stories. Don't probe. Just listen.
Print-based literacies are sometimes inadequate to do justice to the emotions of life's greatest challenges. Consider opening up your expectations of students' products to include multimodalities.
Yes, journaling, writing poetry, and discussion are powerful tools for expressing the emotions of trauma, but sometimes self-expression is more forthcoming when we bust open the art closet and allow students more freedom.
Van der Kolk (2014) said, "the limitless creative possibilities of art allow young people to express their feelings without having to talk" (p. 244-245). Multimodalities including digital production may provide students with a bit more privacy as they can use symbolism and make design decisions about how to represent their stories.
If you think you're ready to incorporate trauma stories and stories of adversity into your classroom and welcome those of your students, start by educating yourself. Dutro's book is super short and chock full of rationale and examples.
Also, by connecting yourself with like minded adults who understand what you're trying to do or at least support your efforts, you can increase your confidence and tool box. Start small with implementation and play some simple games that begin to open the floor to adversity. Finally, consider going multimodal to decrease barriers of expression. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you want more resources!
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.