More Important than Ever: Trauma-informed Adult Education
January 5th, 2022 | Blogs
January 5th, 2022 | Blogs
Perhaps now more than ever, adult educators are paying attention to the impact that personal and community trauma has on adult learners’ ability to learn and pursue their goals. While the reasons for this increased awareness are devastating, the turn toward mental health and trauma-informed practices in our classrooms and programs is welcome.
Trauma has a direct effect on our capacity to learn and retain information. In her piece “Trauma Impacts Adult Learners: Here’s Why,” Karen Gross (2019) states that we live in a world filled with trauma, and that its symptoms are often invisible or misunderstood. While trauma and its impacts are omnipresent, the recent pandemic is revealing the depths of inequality in our systems as well as the consistent trauma associated with these inequities. Losing paychecks, constant exposure to stress, unrelenting racialized violence, threat of eviction, deaths in families and communities, in addition to the consequences of persistent and continuous social inequities, are all potential triggers for heightened traumatic responses.
Those most affected by the devastation of the pandemic are disproportionately people of color and immigrants, especially those who are women. When these adults are our students, using trauma-informed practices will increase their opportunities to learn and pursue their education and career goals. Using trauma-informed practices is an integral part of enacting our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Massachusetts’ approach to trauma-informed practices in adult education
The good news is that there are strategies to address trauma in teaching and learning, and we can use professional development in adult education to teach them. In Massachusetts, we offer sessions to help individual educators use trauma-informed practices. We also encourage leaders to take a program-wide approach,—including classroom and advising strategies, strong community partnerships and referrals, and educator self-care and boundary setting—to develop and apply trauma-informed practices. Our professional development aims to first build understanding of trauma, and then introduce instructional and administrative strategies and skill development through scenarios, group work, and reflection. The following objectives from a recent session on trauma-informed advising and programmatic practices illustrate this approach:
Our presenters draw from evidence-based sources to educate on trauma, and facilitate peer-generated scenarios and group problem-solving to practice applying new knowledge. For example, presenters teach the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s core principles for relationship building (realization, recognition, response, and resisting re-traumatization), to establish trust and facilitate healing. When working through scenarios in small groups, we discuss how safe spaces cannot be commanded, and that people who are most impacted by the effects of trauma should be the architects or co-architects of creating safe spaces.
The following are statements from adult educations who have participated in these sessions:
“Becoming more trauma-informed is a question of adapting practices, not just taking in information and saying ‘Okay, I get it!’ So multiple opportunities to learn are important.”
“Thank you. By far, this has been one of the top most helpful trainings for my position. And so absolutely necessary.”
What You Can Do Now
These suggested resources and actions are curated from the SABES resource library or pulled directly from the sessions mentioned above.
Gross, K. (2019) Trauma Impacts Adult Learners: Here’s Why. Retrieved from: The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014a). SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach (HHS Publication No. 14-4884).
SABES is a project of World Education, Inc., funded by the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Dani Scherer oversees professional development in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion, career pathways, advising, and ADA resources and training for SABES. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments.