Commonly Asked Questions

In Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice: Lessons from a Corrections Classroom (2022), I introduce alternative points of entry into trauma work (including teaching and learning), the Trauma-Responsive Framework, rediscovering joy in teaching and learning, and the Expansive Learning Model.  Underneath and throughout each of these is the reality of educational trauma, its impacts across our lifetimes, and actively pursuing joy in learning as a counter to that trauma.

Since the book dropped, I’ve presented to and taught hundreds of adult educators, administrators, and student services staff.  Most of these presentations are 1-2 hours max and done via Zoom.  We have a limited amount of time to dig into a LOT of material, and we all know that virtual learning has drawbacks.  I use a big chunk of time to help people gain some familiarity with concepts and terms, we use the rest for individual and group reflection.  The interactive bits are designed to crack open a host of unexamined classroom practices, most inherited from our own experiences in education.

In all of this, I have two primary motivations.  First, that we look at countering educational trauma as a starting point to transform teaching and learning, and second, to introduce ‘settling the body and expanding the nervous system’ as trauma-responsive classroom practice.  The limited amount of time we have together means that people don’t an opportunity to deeply process and ask questions about application, which I know is frustrating. 

With new material, application is usually where fear of failure is strongest, and our attempts to avoid mistakes can stop us from even trying.  I thought examples of how *I* apply trauma-responsive thinking to common situations might help alleviate a some of that frustration. I also encourage teachers to extend space and kindness to themselves as they work on integrating these concepts into their thinking.

In the list below are the questions and my updates, and it’s easy to see how a shift in thinking changes the questions themselves.  I’ve provided two versions of each question.  The first are the actual questions I hear.  The second is how I reframe the question from a trauma-responsive perspective.  Answers will have their own posts (eventually!).

Blue green background with question marks inside circles, and a finger tapping a circle, indicating common questions about trauma-responsive practice.
What questions would you ask? How would you apply trauma-responsive practice to your questions?

How do I get students to engage with uncomfortable topics?

Reframed:  “How do we redefine rigor to center learning with joy (instead of punishment for perceived failure)?

What do I do when students are triggered?

Reframed: “How do I respond when students are upset or activated?  How do I increase and strengthen my own capacity to be present in the face of others’ pain and anger?”

What can I do to help students heal?

Reframed: “How can we stop replicating educational trauma? How is it possible to teach and learn with joy in the face of enormous harm?”

How do I tell the difference between educational trauma and other types of trauma?

Reframed: “What information about lived traumatic experience do teachers truly need to support students?

What about classroom management and discipline?

Reframed: “How do teachers examine their relationship to power?  How does our power show up in moments of tension? Why is it so important for teachers to understand this relationship?”

How do I motivate students to learn?

Reframed: “How do I help my students (re)discover themselves as capable, confident learners?  How do I model joyful learning and curiosity for them?”


Each of these questions offers an opening into deeper discussion about teaching and learning, not as separate, isolated roles, but states that move us across the course of our lives.  We all are born with the capacity and longing for both: to learn, and to share how that learning shapes and changes our experience.  Making time and space to reflect on and tend our own educational trauma, rethink our use of power, and introduce joy into our classrooms are elements in reshaping and rebalancing education in a way that strengthens and expands both our ability and capacity for learning.

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