Adult Learning and Trauma

Various international students in class with some raising hands
     LARAEC faculty and staff surveys indicate an on-going need for strategies and information about supporting students facing challenging circumstances.  We found an instructive article that the Council for Adult and Experiential learning (CAEL) published about how Trauma Impacts Adult Learners.  This article contends that many of our students (and perhaps faculty and staff) have experienced or are currently experiencing trauma in their lives. Sometimes it is easy to see, sometimes students may talk about it, and sometimes it is invisible. The writer discusses how we all carry traumas with us like an omnipresent suitcase that is reopened every time it is triggered. This article offers suggestions for classrooms and schools to help ameliorate the effects of trauma on learning.
One strategy for classrooms: Use the first 10 minutes of class to get everyone grounded and in a space for learning. A way to do this is have all students write down three words on their mind, then rewrite them using their non-dominant hand. This puts students in learning mode and resets the brain.
One strategy for schools: Instead of providing support services in the main office and having students go to an unfamiliar and sometimes scary setting, bring the support services to students. Think of places that are non-threatening and engage students in a friendly accessible atmosphere. Have counselors engage regularly in classrooms, school community spaces, cafeterias, lobby, quads, learning centers, etc. Counselors or advisors can perhaps set up a table and tent on campus once a week with information. Staff can have online office hours with topics and publish these events in public spaces on campus. Give students questions to ask so they don’t feel nervous or threatened.
     The University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center published an article Five Ways to Support Students Affected by Trauma. The authors indicate that for many students school is a safe space. To help build an environment of growth and strength for students, the authors suggest we shift the conversation away from “what is wrong with the student?” toward “what does the student need to reach their potential?” In addition to counseling, the authors suggest five strategies that teachers can apply to their classrooms.
  • Build positive relationships –  Create a safe and trusting environment. Smile, share parts of your life, get to know your students personally, and be a role model of a reliable regulated adult.
  • Create a positive physical space – put up positive quotes and affirmations, maximize natural light, arrange furniture to have students feel safe and connected, and bring plants.
  • Utilize positive priming techniques – use brain breaks and other techniques to boost positive emotions in class.
  • Use character strengths – help students learn about their own strengths and strengths of others.
  • Build Resilience – Allow time for role playing, verbalizing feelings, and having empowering experiences at school.
Both of these articles provide some easy and great ideas for supporting students!
Read the full articles here:

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