By establishing trauma-informed learning environments and promoting positive relationships between students, educators can assist their students in achieving their academic goals and promoting their overall well-being. A report by the American Psychological Association concluded that Gen Z members are 27% more likely to report their mental health as fair or poor. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic also impacted every aspect of daily life worldwide resulting in isolation, increased anxiety, and depression. This collective trauma has contributed to a significant increase in mental health diagnoses in Generation Z adults.
Why is this relevant to higher education? Together, institutions experience a 40% college dropout rate every year, with 30% dropping out within their first year (ThinkImpact, 2023). Research indicates that childhood trauma and the resulting stress play a significant role in college outcomes. Studies suggest that increased childhood trauma decreases the chances of a student completing higher education. Among college students, 63% reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety in the past year, up from 50% in 2011, according to the American College Health Association. In a study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, researchers found that 85% of college students have experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.
These statistics, along with the increase of traumatic situations, emphasize the significance of assisting students who may have experienced trauma prior to or during college. By understanding and addressing the impact of trauma on learning, educators can help students feel safe and empowered.
Steps to Ensure a Trauma-Informed Approach
One critical step is to understand the three distinct types of traumas. Emotional trauma is caused by events or experiences that leave survivors feeling unsafe and threatened, complex trauma results from multiple negative events, and secondary trauma occurs when witnessing a traumatic event that did not directly affect the individual. Educators should be aware of the potential effects of these types of traumas on students and adjust their teaching methods accordingly.
Another critical step is to create a safe and supportive learning environment, which is crucial for traumatized students who may feel unsafe and threatened. Educators can use inclusive language, create a welcoming environment, and encourage students to express their concerns. This can help foster a sense of community and make students feel more comfortable sharing their experiences.
Using trauma-sensitive language is also essential. Traumatized students may respond negatively to certain words and phrases, and educators should avoid stigmatizing terms, minimize negative language, and focus on using neutral and nonjudgmental language.
Empowering students by emphasizing choice and control in learning is another crucial step. Trauma can make a person feel powerless, and educators can help students feel more in control by giving them options in their assignments and providing feedback on the course structure and content. This can help students feel more invested in their learning process and promote a sense of accomplishment.
Focusing on students’ strengths, rather than their weaknesses, is also important. Trauma can lead to low self-worth and self-esteem, and educators can help by highlighting students’ strengths and providing positive feedback. This can help build self-confidence and promote a sense of accomplishment.
Offering predictability and consistency is also crucial. Trauma can create a sense of unpredictability and chaos, and educators can help students feel more secure by setting clear expectations and providing a predictable schedule for assignments and assessments.
Creating opportunities for self-care is essential for all students, but especially for those who have experienced trauma. Educators can provide resources for mental health support, offer mindfulness activities, and promote healthy habits like exercise and adequate sleep.
Finally, building a sense of community is critical for postsecondary educators. Trauma can create a sense of isolation and disconnection, and educators can promote a sense of community by providing opportunities for collaboration and group work, creating a supportive classroom culture, and promoting positive relationships between students.
Online Trauma-Informed Instruction
While online classes present unique challenges, the recommendations for a trauma-informed approach can be modified to assist learners online. Setting clear expectations for respectful communication, addressing any hurtful posts, and giving students the chance to speak privately with the instructor if any activities cause them distress are critical steps. Additionally, tools that provide individualized support and outreach to instructors in the event of academic warning signs like missed coursework are critical.
It is crucial for educators to establish trauma-informed learning environments as Gen Z adults embark on their post-secondary school journey. While educators cannot control the extent to which their students are exposed to distressing events, they can help students understand trauma and its effects on their lives. Educators can support their students by understanding the impact of trauma on learning, providing predictability and consistency, encouraging self-care, and cultivating a sense of community. Adopting these strategies allows this resilient generation to pursue their goals while also embracing their strengths.
Author: Justin Louder Contributing Author: Briana McTigue