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What is Trauma-Informed Engagement[1]

Trauma-informed[2] engagement is about critical self-awareness, increased vigilance on how our personal intersectional identities and experiences can impact and be impacted by others. It is about acknowledging power and privilege differentials, as well as understanding that we do not know what people have experienced, and therefore should engage with people with increased empathy and care.

Trauma-informed engagement and practice strive to reduce the risk of negatively impacting other people through our interactions with them. It keeps educators accountable and responsible for the way in which they interact with and influence or impact others. Trauma-informed engagement, relationships, and practice encourage ongoing reflection and reflexivity. For students, educators must critically understand how trauma can impact students and the way in which they navigate their classroom.

What can trauma-rooted behavior look like in the classroom

  • Disruptive behavior,
  • Problems with building healthy relationships with peers,
  • Inability to pay attention in class
  • Spiraling of academic grades and engagement or poor academic outcomes (poor grades, going from participating in activities to withdrawing)
  • Isolation or Withdrawal
  • Hyperactivity

When educators punish students for any of the above behaviors that they witness in the classroom, they are punishing students for the trauma they faced. Imagine being punished for being a survivor of a horrible incident that happened to you, for which you did not have the coping skills to understand and respond to the incident, and then being punished for the coping strategies that you normalized to cope with the trauma.

Trauma-informed engagement and teaching centers on educators trying to put themselves in their students’ scenarios and strive to understand their realities. Trauma- informed engagement expects educators to critically reflect on their words, tones, body language, and facial expressions. It also compels educators to remember that their experiences may be their own truths, but they are not the truths of others.

[1] Refer back to ‘Important Guidelines for Using this Module

[2] Trauma informed practice and engagement is the humility, empathy, and built capacity that understands how interactions can impact others negatively, and that a person’s behavior can be a symptom of trauma. The person is not the problem. The problem or root cause is the problem. Trauma informed engagement and practice strives to reduce the risk of negatively impacting other people through our interactions with them. It keeps us accountable and responsible for the way we interact with and influence or impact others. Trauma informed engagement, relationships, and practice encourages ongoing reflection and reflexivity.