Panelists provide valuable insights into trauma-informed teaching  

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Panelists provide valuable insights into trauma-informed teaching

First-ever MB Hub panel discussion highlights best practices for online and hybrid learning

Written and edited by Brenda Boughton

“It can be helpful to view everyone as if they may have a trauma history and to treat them accordingly,” said Ann Gagne, explaining her approach to trauma-informed teaching at Brock University, where she is a Senior Educational Developer.  

“We all are living a trauma-lived experience, we have been for quite some time now, especially around COVID.” 

Gagne was a special guest panelist and one of four in an online discussion panel January 26 who shared perspectives on incorporating trauma-informed principles into online and blended teaching. The event marks the first time the partner institutions of the Manitoba Flexible Learning Hub have collaborated on a panel discussion to support students and increase student success. The collaboration was a resounding win.  

The panelists shared their passion for helping students feel safe wherever teaching takes place. Discussion was wide-ranging and lively, covering the topics of curriculum development, course syllabi, course assessment, and how to improve the online spaces where courses are taught.  

Participation by more than 60 attendees showed the growing interest by MB Hub members to develop teaching skills that create a safe space where learning can happen more easily. All the English-speaking Hub partner institutions participated. 

The practical nature of the panel’s suggestions showed how instructors can take incremental steps to incorporate trauma-informed principles into their classrooms.  

“At Assiniboine Community College, when the pandemic hit, the first thing we did was create a quality assurance measure that talked about the minimal things we need to do online to make sure that our learners are okay,” said Sheryl Prouse, Senior Advisor, Student Affairs and Interim Director, Learning Commons. Most of the items were common sense. “I need to make sure I introduce myself. I need to make sure I have online office hours. I need to make sure I point people to where they can get help, I need to make my site easily navigable – thinking about the user experience on the other end.” 

Prouse also described how instructors can sometimes re-traumatize students unintentionally through assignments. “When we’re asking students to do things like self-reflective exercises, please align those with your learning outcomes and stop being intrusive,” she said. Students should not have to reflect upon abusive childhoods, she explained. Instead, they could be asked to relay an experience with a child they worked with or could use a case study that is depersonalized from their own experience. 

Panelists agreed that building predictability and routine into the course syllabus – and also some flexibility – are all ways to help students navigate their learning experience and balance competing demands of other courses, work, and family. 

“We don’t know what they’re currently experiencing,” said Jocelyn Lavich, Faculty Instructor in the Department of Nursing at RRC Polytech and a marriage and family therapist.  

“Something I do in the first or second class, is collaborate with them to develop a contract for a shared safe space. I want to hear from all students, what they feel is important for them, what they’d like others to know on how they feel safe in the room, so that learning continues to happen.” 

All the panelists emphasized the importance of ensuring that students aren’t passive learners but instead active contributors in the learning process.  

“I absolutely believe in a collaborative learning process, learning from each other in different ways, the small group work, and overall working on leveling out that power imbalance [between instructors and students],” Lavich said. She and others expressed the importance of instructors allowing students to fail, allowing multiple attempts for mastery, and creating choices where possible for ways students can present assignments.  

“Whether it’s in person or online, we have to be very clear and consistent in our expectations,” said Lori Doan, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Developer at UM and Sessional Instructor at the International College of Manitoba.   

“I think what is really important is owning our mistakes. Admitting when we’ve made a mistake. Apologize for it and make it right. I used to tell my students I will always err on the side of what benefits them. I can say that, but they need to see me do that to be able to trust me.” 

The panelists were clearly inspired by each others’ passion for improving the student experience and agreed that so much more can be done for students once one becomes familiar with trauma-informed principles. They agreed that building trust with students is critical, and that instructors need to be aware of the things in their own experiences that might get in the way of providing trauma-informed teaching, such as stress, and the degree to which one is feeling supported in one’s own life.  

The panel discussion event was a new venture for the Manitoba Flexible Learning Hub. Organizers thank the panelists for their expertise and generosity of spirit. The success of the event bodes well for future collaborations that will showcase the knowledge of Hub members and benefit everyone’s work in the classroom.   

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