Skip to Main Content

Pedagogy and Practice: Trauma-Informed Pedagogy


“We are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.”
Antonio Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens

What is Trauma?

SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) conceptualizes trauma around what they call the Three "E's": Event(s), Experience of Event(s), and Effect:

"Individual trauma results from and event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experiences by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual's functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being." (SAMHSA's Concept of Trauma and Guidance for a Trauma-Informed Approach, 2014).

Many educators and practitioners have applied SAMHSA's trauma-informed approach to teaching and learning in higher education. Looking at the principles of trauma-informed care (safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment) through a student-centered lens allows educators to create a trauma-informed environment (SAMHSA, 20212) that:

  • realizes the widespread impact of trauma;
  • recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma;
  • responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  • seeks to actively resist re-traumatization

What is the impact of trauma on learning?

In "Leveraging the Neuroscience of Now," Mays Imad summarizes the impact of trauma on learning:

when we experience trauma, whether consciously or subconsciously, the limbic system (emotions) hijacks the cerebral cortex (reason). Learning, which requires the expenditure of energy, becomes physiologically less of a priority to our brain -- making it difficult to learn about, for example, linear regressions or the cell cycle.

While classroom instructors cannot diagnose or treat students' trauma, we can take steps to create learning environments where students feel safe, supported, and empowered to learn.


Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning Principles

The following principles can be applied in classroom, department, and college-wide settings. For additional information on these principles and considerations for your practice see Janice Carello's Creating Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning Environments: Self-Assessment Questions for Educators and Self-Assessment Questions for Programs and Departments

Efforts are made to create an atmosphere that is respectful of the need for safety, respect, and acceptance in both individual and group interactions, including feeling safe to make and learn from mistakes.

Trust and transparency are enhanced by making expectations clear, ensuring consistency in practice, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and minimizing disappointment.

Individuals and groups are connected with appropriate peer and professional resources to help them succeed academically, personally, and professionally.

Opportunities exist to provide input, share power, and make decisions. Individuals and groups act as allies rather than as adversaries to reach common goals.

Individuals and groups are empowered to make choices and to develop confidence and competence.

Individuals and groups strive to be aware of and responsive to forms of privilege and oppression in order to respect one another’s diverse experiences and identities.

Strengths and resilience are emphasized over deficiencies and pathology. Feedback is provided to convey optimism and to facilitate growth and change.


Foundations of Trauma-Informed Pedagogy recorded webinar by Anita Chari, January 2022

"Trauma-Aware Online Teaching" presentations slides for OLC Ideate by Karen Costa

"Trauma-Informed Care in the Classroom: A Resource Guide for Educators in Higher Learning," Trauma-Informed Oregon

TIP sheet from TIO on how to create academic environments that are trauma informed. The TIP sheet aims to provide educators with tools that acknowledge the diverse backgrounds of each student that enters their classroom in order to enhance learning opportunities for all.

Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning resources from Janice Carello, PhD, LMSW:

Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning (for teachers) recorded webinar by Mays Imad, April 2020

Imad, Mays. "Hope matters." Inside Higher Ed, 17 March, 2020.

Imad, Mays. "Transcending Adversity: Trauma-Informed Educational Development." To Improve the Academy: A Journal of Educational Development 39, no. 3 (2021).

Immordino‐Yang, Mary Helen, and Antonio Damasio. "We feel, therefore we learn: The relevance of affective and social neuroscience to education." Mind, brain, and education 1, no. 1 (2007): 3-10.

Van der Kolk, Bessel A. "The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress." Harvard review of psychiatry 1, no. 5 (1994): 253-265.

Magna Commons videos

Trauma-Informed Pedagogy: Teaching in Uncertain Times - This online seminar is designed for educators who are interested in learning about how they can teach their students despite the presence of trauma. Participants will acquire strategies they can use to help students continue their learning in the middle of this pandemic.

Leveraging the Neuroscience of Trauma for Informed Teaching - Part 1 - For educators who are teaching during stressful times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and recognizing that both their students and they are disrupted by stress and anxiety, this special two-part Magna Online Seminar provides actionable ideas and tools for teaching with a trauma-sensitive approach

Leveraging the Neuroscience of Trauma for Informed Teaching-  Part 2 - For educators who are teaching during stressful times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and recognizing that both their students and they are disrupted by stress and anxiety, this special two-part Magna Online Seminar provides actionable ideas and tools for teaching with a trauma-sensitive approach

Facilitating Success: A Guide to Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom - Understand the prevalence of unrecognized trauma in the general population and in the educational setting, learn to identify common characteristics of trauma, be able to recognize how maladaptive behaviors serve as coping skills in trauma survivors, learn the six principles for creating a trauma-informed classroom, and will learn strategies to evolve the learning environment and avoid re-traumatization.


  • URL:
  • Last Updated: Mar 6, 2024 11:16 AM
  • Print Page