Preparing instructors and support staff to address trauma in the classroom.


As we are watching the global refugee crisis, some individuals leaving war torn areas, others seeking safety from the impact of climate change, it is important to note that adult education programs are often on the front lines in working with individuals entering the United States. How do we prepare our instructors and support staff to address the impact of historical trauma? 

I'd like to draw your attention to three resources. First, there is a brief powerpoint on African Immigrants and Culturally Relevant Trauma-Informed Practice presented by Dr.Brenda Ingman. After reviewing this information, the LINCS Resource: Mental Health and the ESL Classroom: A Guide for Teachers Working With Refugees

According to the article, the ESL classroom is examined through (1) The ESL Classroom as A Safe Environment (2) The Structure and Schedule of the ESL Classroom (3) Recreating Identity in the ESL Classroom (4) Building Community in the ESL Classroom. 

After reviewing these resources, please consider sharing your experiences in preparing staff members to address trauma using culturally sensitive and appropriate methods. What are the PD needs? 

I'm looking forward to your thoughts and input. 

Kathy Tracey


All,  In addition to the resources Kathy cites in her post, a number of other resources, including work by Jenny Horsman ( and others are compiled here:   Janet Isserlis



Thanks for sharing Jenny Horseman's work. Her book, Too Scared To Learn, is one of my favorites. She also wrote a powerful article, But I'm Not A Therapist, about vicarious trauma experienced by front line staff when working with vulnerable populations. However, how does this fit I'm the classroom? We are preparing educators to integrate standards based instruction, move students into career pathways, and improve level gains. Is there room for providing professional development on trauma? I believe this broad concept ties directly to student retention and achievement. What are your thoughts? Sincerely, Kathy

Kathy, In response to your question, I'd offer that a working understanding of ways in which trauma affect learning will inform any sort of teaching/learning that takes place in any learning setting.  If an educator can understand how trauma might impact someone's ability to learn, that educator can work on a range of strategies and approaches that will support and accommodate all learners.  Regardless of the what (what we're teaching, whatever standards we're addressing, whatever outcomes we're hoping for) - if learners are not able to be present to learning, the whole enterprise is in question.  I'd argue, then, that understanding how trauma affects learning not only fits, but is necessary in order to enable learning to occur.  Interested to hear from others, what are your thoughts?   Janet Isserlis

 I'd be one of those staff in need of PD :)   Thanks for these resources, they're very helpful!   I don't teach ESL but many international students and other folks carrying trauma come into my computer lab to work on assorted things.   (Toss in math anxiety...)   

As we consider the need for trauma-informed classrooms, I invite you to review this image from the Real  Depression Project. What are you seeing in the classroom? And how are you addressing these concerns. 


COVID Trauma

Image source: Real Depression Project.