To maintain the authenticity of the classroom community, we cannot ignore the issues that dominate the headlines and impact the life experiences of our learners. Disregard for current events can create a vacuum for learning and potentially re-traumatize students; yet, discussing tragedies or controversial issues can seem like a daunting task. A holistic approach to the work that we do as educators calls on us to consider the implications of these events on the mental and emotional well-being of our students. We can assume that students are not aware of the support services available to them and ensure students have knowledge and access to these resources throughout the term.
Leading class discussions on difficult topics is important and requires careful planning. How will the topic be introduced? How can you and your students, as a class, collectively create learning protocols to establish healthy boundaries and a safe space prior to discussions on potentially traumatic topics? Inviting learners to identify values to guide discussions, to receive and share diverse perspectives to nurture empathy, respectful listening, and other essential skills will serve students and instructors beyond the classroom. To avoid re-traumatization, students should not be singled out to educate others by sharing personal, family, or community experiences related to traumatic events; rather allowed to speak about their experiences in a way that is comfortable for them. For example, invite students to share without pressure and thank them for sharing their experiences.
A trauma-informed approach to teaching and learning calls on educators to be mindful of the tragic, painful experiences and ongoing intergenerational trauma impacting students. It requires educators to be proactive about shifting pedagogy to create safe, brave and inclusive spaces. Content advisories and trigger warnings on course material, activities and prior to classroom discussions should allow students the right to step away or opt out, without penalty, from discussions or course content that recalls trauma that they, their families, or communities have experienced.
Supporting Iranian Students
One recent mass traumatic event starting with the tragic death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini led to demonstrations for women’s rights and freedoms initiated by women throughout Iran. The ongoing brutal government retaliations by Iranian forces has sent waves of sadness, fear, and grief through the Iranian community across the globe. Iranian students who are far flung from their communities are facing many obstacles which have resulted from disruption of all lines of communication, timely news, and access to financial assistance from relatives. A support group at snəw̓eyəɬ leləm̓ Langara College explained that Iranian students are experiencing “difficulties in finding the language to fully express the extent of what they are going through right now with many feeling terrified about being unable to establish any contact with friends and family in Iran.”¹ Institutions throughout Canada have offered messages of solidarity against the human rights violations in Iran, including from Langara’s President and CEO, Paula Burns. These messages also acknowledge and empathize with the mental, emotional and physical strain on Iranian students, faculty and staff.
Sharing Langara’s solidarity statement in the classroom can promote a validating and authentic learning experience for students. Acknowledging the current events in Iran coupled with a list of support services available to students who may be experiencing difficulties, can be validating for students and create community in the classroom.
For related resources on trauma informed teaching, please refer to TCDC’s recent post on PD playlist for Trauma Informed Teaching and Learning.
¹Internal email, Langara College’s counselling department.