September Office Hours: Trauma-Informed Pedagogy in Open Education

Published on October 10th, 2022

Watch the video recording of this Office Hours session, or keep reading for a full transcript. For those interested in reading the conversation that took place among participants and the resources shared, the chat transcript is also available below.

Note: If your comments appear in the transcripts and you would like your name or other identifying information removed, please contact Tonia.

Audio Transcript

  • Apurva Ashok (Director of Open Education, The Rebus Foundation)
  • Karen Lauritsen (Publishing Director, Open Education Network)
  • Janice Carello (Associate Professor and MSW Program Director, Pennsylvania Western University)
  • Caitlin Gunn (Pedagogy Lab Dir. and Senior Researcher, The Center for Black, Brown, and Queer Studies)
  • Mays Imad (Assistant Professor of Biology, Connecticut College)

Apurva: Hello everybody, welcome to another Office Hours session. My name is Apurva Ashok, I use she/her/hers pronouns. And I am the assistant director and director of open education at the Rebus Foundation. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Rebus’ work, we are a Canadian charity, and we’re simply trying to help educational institutions and educators build capacity in all things OER.

Whether it’s OER publishing, setting up open education initiatives or just trying to work on their own professional development to be serving their students in more meaningful ways. Today, I am actually joining you from the traditional territories of the Lenape. Typically I’m based on the traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the First Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat peoples.

And I am just grateful for the flexibility of movement from one space to another and to still be able to connect with all of you in the open education network. And I think that’s a good segue to the OEN organization. And I’ll hand it over to Karen to tell you more about our partners behind this event, the OEN, and our topic for today.

Karen: Thank you Apurva, as always it is a delight to partner with you, Kaitlin, and the Rebus Community on Office Hours. I am Karen Lauritsen, I am the publishing director with the Open Education Network. And we are a community working together to make higher education more open, equitable and accessible for students. I am joining you from central California, which is the ancestral and contemporary home of the Northern Chumash.

Today, we are fortunate to be joined by three guests, and all of you, to talk about trauma-informed pedagogy in open education. As usual, we will hear briefly from our three guests, around five minutes each. And then once they’ve finished introducing their perspective and views on the topic we will look to all of you to have this conversation with us together. This will be our sort of Fall session.

We’re going to take October off for Office Hours, there’s so much going on, it’s conference season. And then, we will do one more final session on November 17th. So I think that covers our preamble, so I’m going to just briefly introduce our three guests and then I will hand things over to the first one. Today we are joined by Mays Imad who is Assistant Professor of Biology at Connecticut College.

We’re also joined by Caitlin Gunn who is Pedagogy Lab Director and Senior Researcher with The Center for Black, Brown, and Queer Studies or BBQ+. We’re also joined by Janice Carello who is Associate Professor and MSW Program Director at Pennsylvania Western University. Thank you all again very much for joining us today. And with that, I will hand things over to Mays.

Mays: Hello, hello everyone and thank you so much for inviting me. Thank you for allocating the time and this space for this topic. And I think when I think about open education, and I think back to my years when I was a faculty senate representative at Pima Community College. We also had a student representative and at that time the student rep was, we would meet, and she was communicating with me how much, how unaffordable the textbooks were.

And we launched, I think, a multi-year campaign slash initiative to investigate, to learn about open education, to investigate what it would. And throughout the process, it became more and more clear to me that open education is about liberation. It is about empowering those who don’t have because of the system and because of the structure of the system don’t have access to things that are necessary for them to move forward.

So that’s just the context of my introduction to open education. Now, how does it connect with trauma-informed education? Well, as my dear colleague and mentor, Janice, talks about that trauma-informed education is really it’s not new. And it’s very much aligned with a lot of the anti-oppressive lenses. And it is meant to empower and elevate. So in a sense, learning about trauma-informed education, learning about trauma and trauma-informed care, for me it is important, if not necessary, that becomes part of the open education agenda.

Why do I say that? Well, I’ve been working with students and colleagues for years. And when the brain is under the influence of the strong negative emotions, our tendency is to sit back and recluse and even think that I’m the only one feeling that way. And it can be really lonely and it can be really, and the default is to go and think in a deficit way. It must be me, it must be this, it must be…

And so I always talk about empowering through education, educating about what is trauma? And while we don’t define ourselves or others by the trauma they’ve encountered, it is important to empower them through the knowledge of what trauma does to the body, to the brain. And also, what are some of the things we could do to regulate and co-regulate so we don’t get stuck in that trauma and move beyond it? So I’ll stop here, and what is the protocol? Do I hand it back to you, Karen?

Karen: We’re casual protocol here, but we will hand things together to Caitlin.

Mays: All right.

Caitlin: Thank you for that, Mays, that was wonderful. And it’s perfect because I’m about to talk about collective trauma. And so I feel like that really just neatly ties into my perspective on this. Which is often in discussions of pandemic pedagogy or engaging students online we get a lot of tech tools and tips for digital classroom management.

And that’s pretty much the extent of the engagement with the way that Covid and racial unrest and political turmoil and even climate change have had a huge impact on our students over the past several years. Many students in higher education have never been in college for example without those conditions. And so, what we’re really looking at is an experience our students are having of undergoing collective trauma.

And our flexibility, our adaptability, our patience as educators will really be tested in new ways going forward and have been for the past several years. As you likely know for our students, that trauma can show up as different emotional states, changes in the way that they think and process emotions or information. And an avoidance of trauma triggers, which is tricky, when a lot of their trauma triggers are set against a backdrop of higher education.

So it’s quite a bit for us to navigate how to engage students and make them feel safe enough to learn, so that they can actually take in information and not get stuck in fight or flight or with avoidance kinds of responses. So all that said, I usually give some basic advice to educators about navigating this moment of collective trauma. The first of which being higher education can be a very structured, bureaucratic place.

Do your level best to create the most flexible environment for your students possible, and do not see that as a lapse in rigor, but rather see that as a way to increase the rigor, because students will learn better that way. This is a big one for academics and librarians especially, releasing the notion of perfection, imperfection isn’t just something we now have to tolerate under these conditions.

It’s a vital stepping-stone towards knowledge. Viewing perfectionism as the enemy of growth and knowledge is really a lesson for this moment. So emphasizing compassion for self and others. But what does this all look like in the classroom? Here are some ways that you might navigate some of these very traumatized students and the way they’re learning right now in the room.

So I’m a big proponent of mindfulness and breathing practices, ground students before beginning class, in the middle of class, after difficult subjects. Related take lots and lots of breaks. Five minutes to review this reading, 10 minutes to stretch, water breaks, camera off breaks. Our attention spans are not what they were and they are not built for this moment. So really meeting students and yourself where you are, especially when you’re in digital classroom spaces is really crucial.

I like to use pedagogy that engages the senses, this can help students feel more connected to their own bodies and to others. And that can be really simple. That sounds maybe a little abstract but it can be playing music as students come into class or as they free write. It can be a pause to have students look at an image or a video periodically. Lots of body movement can be helpful shake out the limbs, jumping jacks, dance break, wiggle in the chairs, whatever.

Help students get back into their bodies, trauma can very much take us out of our bodies so those physical movements can really help students re-engage. And my favorite one personally is laughter, it’s the best one. Get students loose and laughing, you can foster connection, ground students in their bodies, so play games and share memes and do all of the silly things that under conditions like these where everything feels like it’s urgent and a crisis and something is wrong.

Stopping to slow down and be playful with our pedagogy is actually going to increase the effectiveness of that pedagogy, not just be a waste of 10 minutes of class. Sometimes folks can think of it that way. And as it relates to open education, I know at the Pedagogy Lab, one of the things that we’ve been experimenting with is delivering information through different mediums than just the written word.

Students are tired, and burnt out, they’re tired of writing, they’re tired of reading. And instead of forcing those things out of, for the sake of tradition, it’s really about meeting students where they are. We’ve been doing a lot of like short audio content on various themes that they’ll be covering in college classrooms. And that seemed to be very effective for both the scholars creating those works and for the students taking them in.

So I’m definitely in the discussion curious about other ways you’ve found to engage students beyond traditional articles and textbooks and I’m hoping to take some of those insights away and back to my classrooms and my peers. So thank you for having me.

Karen: Thanks so much, Caitlin, and over to you, Janice.

Janice: Thank you. I’m really excited to hear from Caitlin and Mays, it’s so great to get these different perspectives, and that’s been one of the greatest things about doing this work around trauma-informed teaching is to be in conversation with other educators as we figure out what trauma-informed teaching means together. The approach I’m going to take is more of a storytelling approach.

So I’m going to share a little bit about my background and how I became interested in trauma-informed teaching, what it means to me, and some questions that I’m continuing to navigate in terms of what open education and thinking about it from somebody who does training and research around it. If someone would have told me 30 years ago I’d be doing the kind of work that I am doing and engaging in public speaking, I would have surely thought they were joking.

I am a high school dropout, and I am the first in my family to attend college. I had no idea how to navigate explicit or implicit college norms or how I was going to pay for college. I’m also very introverted and I have social anxiety, so this was not the kind of career that I had envisioned for myself. Nevertheless, I persisted, my first master’s degree is in English, I spent about 20 years teaching composition, creative writing, literature, and academic success courses.

And learned right away in my first few semesters of teaching that the students who were most likely to struggle, to have difficulty adapting to college, to get bad grades or to drop out were those who had some type of a crisis happen or who had some type of a trauma history though I wasn’t using the word trauma then. I also learned that teaching was hard, I was working as an adjunct and I was questioning whether or not college teaching was actually a good fit for me.

Because I was facing challenges that I had not anticipated, and that I had not been prepared for in my graduate training. Like what do I do when a student discloses childhood sexual abuse? Or homelessness or some other past or current suffering? I had no idea, nobody prepared me for that. What do I do if I have to fail a student with an A average because the attendance policy that I inherited said that’s what happens when they miss too many classes that are not excused?

What do I do when a student curses at me or threatens me because I won’t change their grade? Access to education is very important to me, as you can imagine, as a high school dropout. So if teaching didn’t work out, I wanted to be able to do something to help college students succeed. I had worked in the States here with students in trio programs, like the educational opportunity program.

And I saw that those students who had financial and academic and personal support succeeded. So I decided to enroll in a master of social work program, thinking that I would become a college counselor of sorts, right, if teaching didn’t work out. In my MSW program, I learned about trauma and trauma-informed care and teaching and learning and life made sense to me in a way that it never had before.

I learned about ways in which traumatic stress affects learning, some of the things that Mays was talking about, how it affects the brain, right? And that when people feel threatened, their prefrontal cortex goes offline, and they are prepared for survival, they are not prepared for optimal learning. I learned how to recognize signs of stress in students that my colleagues have mentioned, and I didn’t take it personally then when students missed a lot of classes or they were non-responsive or disruptive or that perfectionism that Caitlin mentioned.

I learned how to recognize signs of stress in myself, including that perfectionism, headaches, sleeplessness, feelings of guilt or helplessness in the face of student suffering. I learned that trauma-informed care was originally developed by folks who recognized that standard operating procedures were sometimes unintentionally causing more harm than good and making it difficult for people who had experienced various forms of violence and victimization to stay engaged in services.

And so, I started interrogating my own teaching policies and practices and applying trauma-informed principles to my course design and delivery to try to make space for students and for myself to stay engaged in teaching and learning. And very happy, I saw immediate and positive results, fewer of my students were failing. I stopped feeling like I was failing my students all of the time.

They were getting better grades, we were having better class discussions. And then, I was having better relationships with them because I stopped inadvertently engaging in power struggles with them and I could convey compassion and care and that I was on their side even when we were in conflict. So I discovered that I didn’t actually need to become a counselor or a social worker to help students succeed.

That I could actually make a difference as an educator. I enrolled in a PhD program then and tried to acquire research and other skills that would allow me to go beyond my own classroom then with these experiences and collaborate with other people who were interested in bringing a trauma-informed approach to higher education. And when I graduated in 2018, there was still not a lot of info on trauma-informed teaching in higher ed.

We saw a lot about trauma-sensitive schools at the K12 level, not a lot in higher ed. And then, of course in 2020 Covid hit. And higher education was in crisis, as everything was in crisis, and it wasn’t just some of our students who were struggling or some of our faculty and staff, it was everyone who was struggling. And since then we’ve seen more investment in student and educator wellness.

We’ve seen more of a commitment in many colleges to diversity, equity and inclusion. More interest in universal design for learning and best practices in online education and more interest in trauma-informed care. So I’ve had the opportunity since Covid to collaborate and be in conversation with hundreds of adult college educators who have a wealth of wisdom and experience to share.

And it has been an honor to be in conversation and to collaborate with them. And so, as I participate in these conversations some questions that I’ve been thinking about in terms of open education too, thinking about the work that we’re doing and the ways in which we’re working together to develop trauma-informed approaches in higher ed. And questions like okay, so how should I disseminate my work?

And what do I call it? Like there’s controversy over that. How much can I provide for free? How do I pay my bills if I’m doing that? What’s appropriate? How do I amplify the voices of others who are doing this work and similar work, as Mays pointed out? Trauma-informed is one way to do this, but there’s lots of forms of anti-oppressive practice. And how will I continue to move forward in this work and move this work forward? And with those questions, I will end my intro. Thank you.

Apurva: Thank you, Janice. And I also just want to note that Janice has put together a list of resources that we will share with all of you in the chat, if possible. If not, you can always find a record both of this conversation and other resources shared in our forum discussion space, which is where you can also continue the conversation beyond the hour.

Thank you so much all three of you for just introducing this topic and also for the emphasis that you’ve made, both on how trauma-informed pedagogy is something for us to keep in mind not only for the students that we teach, but for us as the educators, librarians, teachers, who are doing this work day in, day out.

Now is really the time of our Office Hours session where we turn the conversation over to all of you, our attendees, our participants. Feel free to post some comments or questions in the chat. Share your reflections, if you’d like to, by unmuting your microphone and using your voice here as well. I do want to note that Mays has another session that they need to head to shortly. So in about six minutes or so Mays unfortunately will be stepping away.

But I think is willing to come back to questions or come back to the discussion in that forum space afterwards. So if you have any pressing questions for Mays, use your time now. Kaitlin is noting in the chat that the session has been validating and healing as well as informative and they so much appreciate all of the sharing. It is a lot to process, and I will note on my end I appreciate I think the larger notion that education is care.

So that question of why should we even be talking about trauma-informed pedagogy in the first place has been answered very clearly in that notion. Caitlin, you gave us a lot of concrete suggestions about what folks can do in the classroom to work with students. Janice, you gestured a little bit to that idea of reflecting on your own teaching practices. And Mays, as well, you talked about some of the triggers that you’ve seen in folks who either have experienced trauma or who are aware of this.

Do any of you have suggestions for educators to do that moment of sort of reflection and pause, who might be coming to this anew? Folks who have never had training in their career as educators, teachers, librarians. What sort of questions should they be asking themselves at this point?

Mays: That’s an excellent question and I want to thank my colleagues for what they shared. I always start by saying learn about trauma. Not from an academic or like a scientific, but just from a human perspective that trauma is very much part of the story of life, part of our stories. So learning about it, at least for me, even though I had done my training in neuroscience, but when I began to learn about trauma and how it shows up and how it stays in the body and how...

I really started having self compassion, like that’s why I am doing this. That’s why that happens. And it was those moments of self compassion that without even me intentionally, they extended to others. As Janice said, that she began to see, to recognize it in herself and then in her students. And I think right now educators are carrying a lot, and I often say, “Who’s helping the helpers?”

And so, maybe watch I don’t know, like something on YouTube or pick up a book or an article and learn about trauma. And then, and I always also say that we don’t need to have training. This is about I think one of the most powerful tool to help with healing is to let someone know that you see them and that they matter. It’s the relational, it’s the laughing with someone.

Caitlin talked about laughing, how important it is for the health of the brain. And so, I say, “Be yourself, empower others by letting them see your humanity and elevate theirs.” So that’s what I usually begin with.

Caitlin: You said what I could not say that eloquently, it was perfect because all that was going through my mind before you started speaking was I don’t know an educator working right now who could not be benefitted by regular therapy. So that just addition onto what was said there I think is important, just taking care, and understanding the self will help you understand how you show up in your classrooms.

And yeah, I saw something in the chat about especially as you’re dealing with other educators, especially as you’re dealing with faculty. There’s so much, everything in those dynamics can be so loaded and can trigger things in your own academic trauma that you didn’t even know was there. And like again, most educators do have a lot of academic trauma, so sorting through that.

Having a space outside of the academy or outside of your workplace where you can process those feelings. And sort of pick apart those dynamics so that you understand how you’re operating and why is just really crucial for how you show up.

Janice: I love that, because we go to therapy not because there’s something wrong with us, but because we deserve that space to recover. And we will get triggered, it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of kind of when and then how we make space for that, for ourselves and for our students so that we can recover when those kinds of things happen. And thrive, right? And one way then that’s been helpful for me I find that helping to reflect on those trauma-informed principles, I kind of de-mystify it.

If you take a look at the trauma-informed principles, there’s no checklist. Caitlin had all those great strategies and they may look different in different spaces and that’s been the biggest challenge I found in talking with educators. Like how we operationalize this? What does it look like in higher ed? It looks like these principles. And what’s great about these principles like safety and trust and support, those are all things that we tend to have, we share those values in common.

And when we start thinking about how do I create this space, well let me think, what might safety look like in this situation emotional safety, social safety, physical safety, academic safety? How do I build that in? Because there’s not one right answer, but it provides a framework for us.

Karen: Thank you for all of those thoughts and ideas. I am turning back to the chat and looking at Kaitlin’s question about whether or not any of you have experienced pushback from trauma-informed pedagogy and practices from students or other educators? And if so, how you approach that kind of pushback and maybe open a conversation.

Caitlin: I get pushback all the time about the rhetoric of trauma-informed care and teaching, but sort of Janice was implying if you don’t label things that way, you very rarely get pushback to the principles themselves. So if you’re in a classroom space and you’re trying to instill trust and connection and relationships and getting in your body. And we took a stretch break today, very few people will challenge that.

But if you come into a space and say, “Hey I think we should implement trauma-informed care and learning in this space.” The words themselves tend to disrupt or cause friction. But just as there can be a power in naming things, because here we are all under the umbrella of wanting to know more about this topic and how to learn. There’s also a power in un-naming things.

You can operate within a framework without being particularly explicit that that’s the framework you’re using to folks who might pose a challenge to that kind of work in the classroom. But I like to be sneaky with it, so that might just be me.

Janice: It’s not sneaky, it’s motivating, it’s how do you tie into the values they already have and find those commonalities. I don’t think I’ve ever, one of my colleagues jokes every time we do a presentation together I always get pushback and it’s usually around the coddling variety. Why are you coddling students? Why don’t you value academic rigor? As if flexibility was somehow synonymous or that people think that trigger warnings are about not having the conversation instead of no, we are going to have the conversation.

And here’s how we’re going to make space for you to be able to take care of yourself during that conversation. Yeah, appeal to their values, sometimes just talking explicitly with people about well, what do you call it? And then, any conversation that I have like if I’ve been invited to do a workshop or a training, I’m asking folks, “What are you already doing that’s congruent with these values?”

Because I know you’re doing it. And then, when they see that I’m not here to try to point out anything you’re doing wrong, I’m here to talk about what are you doing that’s working, and how can we share that knowledge with each other and build on it. And oh, by the way, as Caitlin was saying, this is congruent with what you already value, we can keep doing this. And then defenses are down a little bit. And I still get some pushback, but it’s not as much. Caitlin, do you also get the variety of pushback of it’s not my job?

Caitlin: Yeah, I think that is number two to the coddling comment. And I’ll never quite understand it, but I do know that when I focus more on making sure that people understand that they’re valued as educators and that they are doing things right, that that lessens the struggle. It’s less thick, the tension is less thick to get through to get them to effect change. And in turn, that can help with some of the exhaustion that somebody mentioned in the chat.

That constant battle of this is important, you should care, this is important, you should care is not actually super effective. And it’s burning you out, right? So it’s a delicate balance about when and where you choose to challenge resistance and how you do it. It’ll save you a lot of energy in the long run if you understand the pushback for what it is, which is oftentimes insecurity, nerves, defensiveness about one’s own teaching.

Fear that there is something that folks don’t understand yet or are not doing well. Just general fear of critique, fear of embarrassment, and if we recognize that that’s what it is, it’s much easier to approach because we approach that kind of defensiveness in our students all the time. So it’s really just treating every space that you’re in like a pedagogical opportunity instead of just your classroom can be helpful in that way.

Karen: I appreciate what you said, Caitlin, about using different words. This has been a sort of recurring theme in terms of it being an effective strategy in achieving your goals without sort of setting off controversy or unproductive conversation and just talking about things in a different way or as you said operating within a framework without being explicit about it. I wonder you were both just talking about where some of the pushback comes from.

Do you ever have the sense that pushback is coming from that person’s own trauma and that this is a very sort of scary intimidating approach that maybe they’re not ready for?

Janice: Yeah.

Caitlin: Yes. I definitely do think that. I think that comes back to that academic trauma that I was mentioning earlier, where vulnerability in these spaces is not rewarded. Not knowing is something that’s not rewarded. So a lot of that fear around just not letting people know that you need help, that you want help, that there are things you have yet to learn, there’s growing you have yet to do.

For an environment that claims to be all about that kind of education, it can be very hostile when people are open about their own lack of knowledge or understanding and need for improvement. So a lot of the pushback is very self protective and justified self protection. So you can’t come in condescending about why someone might respond that way. You have to come in with a great deal of empathy for why someone would be self protective in a hostile place.

Like that’s a very natural, understandable reaction to any sort of perceived challenge here. Yeah, Janice, I’m sorry, I’ll pass it to you.

Janice: No, same. I don’t know if Mays is still on either, but if she is, I hope she’ll join in. One of the eye opening things for me when I first started learning about trauma-informed care is that in their seminal text Harris and Fallot talk about not reproducing abusive dynamics in relationships and the importance of then changing culture. And so to be able to look in the mirror as an individual or as an institution because we get pushback at the institutional level when we try to take it beyond our classrooms.

How do we do that? How do we tie it to strategic goals? Right? Because there’s absolutely going to be that defensiveness. Mays is still is on, I want to make sure that she has time.

Mays: Thank you. I have experiments running the whole day, so I’m in and out. It was several years ago I was teaching a physiology course and it was... So I actually don’t know the question, but I’m going to, I’d like to say something, I think I know the question, I don’t know. So I was teaching a physiology course, and it was an exam day.

And I came in, and a lot of my students they are [inaudible 0:35:34] students, they’re older students, they work in multiple jobs, they are refugees, they are human who come with a lot of complexities, like we all do. And they’re also on the margins. And I remember coming in, and I saw and I just looked, and the students did not look all right. As a matter of fact, one of the students looked like they were and I said, “Are you okay?”

And it was like the fear of this exam and how if they did not do well everything else depended on that one exam, whether they got into nursing school or not. And I remember thinking is what I’m doing ethical, to give them these high stake exams that a lot of times are not really testing what they learned? They’re testing did they memorize or not?

Knowing that in fact after that I started we did as a class looking at the cortisone level, measuring the cortisone level what happens right before an exam and measuring our sympathetic, parasympathetic activities. And what I found, and I wasn’t surprised is a lot of it was like they are putting them in a high state of anxiety that is not conducive for memory collection or learning.

And really, that kept me up at night, that I was not just part of a system that was obsessed with rigor, whatever that meant. But it was a system that wasn’t kind, that didn’t say, “Now, let me see what is the optimal way to assess whether you learned or not? And if you didn’t what can we do to optimize?” It was really to weed out students who...

So to me it was a matter of, and I was you know, I’m always like, I was worried to change too much in my class because I was worried that my colleagues would say I wasn’t rigorous enough, I wasn’t this enough, I wasn’t scientific enough. But it reached a point where I couldn’t live with myself. I was seeing the role I was playing in making people’s lives more difficult.

And to me, I couldn’t keep… And eventually, I began to listen to the students and let the students, it was really the students who empowered me to do what my heart was telling me this is the right, the ethical, the humane thing to do. So I’ll stop here, I don’t know if this was addressing the question or not.

Apurva: This was helpful, and it reminds me of Janice, you talked about failure and how with your story that you shared a trauma-informed approach in the classroom helped you and your students fail less. I think it also has to do with redefining those terms, right? Failure is not just as you said, Mays, a letter grade or a number grade. Success is also not just submitting an assignment on time, but it’s feeling that sense of safety, feeling that sense of I guess empathy.

To know that as you were saying earlier that you are not alone in these experiences, in these emotions, to make your way around this. In that spirit of we’re not alone in this, I relate very much to the question that Amy has asked in the chat. Amy says that the conversation so far has been resonating with her experience in Oregon, where professional development participation is down because she says everyone is so tired.

Do all three of you, any of you, have additional thoughts about when you are working with a classroom of educators, educators as your students, so for instance faculty in OER workshops? Do you have any thoughts around working with this subset of particularly hard students to work with?

Caitlin: For me it’s creating the same flexibility that I would create in a classroom of college students. That means this is actually a really great example. I can imagine an educator who just didn’t have the space today but wanted to hear this conversation laying down with headphones on and listening to it later. Just giving lots of opportunities for the information and for the knowledge to be absorbed in different ways at different times.

I’m a big fan of asynchronous work, I’m a big fan of different sort of mediums, video, audio, all those sorts of things that can help meet people where they are, so that they’re not continually fitting into the same mold just in digital space or just in another way that continues to burn them out. And grace with ourselves as we might do less PD than we’re used to doing outside of these.

We just have often less capacity and less of an attention span these days. And that’s okay, how do we make the most out of the time and space that we do have to give? And not trying to hold ourselves to a standard that really no longer exists in this world that we’re living in? It’s really adjusting to our current climate and our current situation and not well, past five years ago I could have done X. This is not that time.

This is not pre-2020. Things are going to look and feel different. You are going to be more tired and strained and it’s challenging. And no perfect PD format is going to change that, so how do we work within our new parameters is really what I spend a lot of time thinking about. Because ultimately I would rather have folks come away with smaller bites of information and skills and things like that.

Than trying to enforce the same levels of professional development as we have in the past and then not really implementing or learning much of it. So those are just my preliminary thoughts on that as someone who’s sort of perpetually exhausted, those are my thoughts on that. (Laughs)

Janice: I’ve been doing a ton of training since the start of Covid. And what I tell people is I’m going to give you strategies, but when I talk to people collaborating beforehand a lot of this is motivational. And I’m going to normalize what you’re going through, and I go through often will go through the stages of disaster and what that looks like so people understand why they’re feeling exhausted.

Because we are at that disillusionment phase of what happens during a disaster so that helps to normalize it. Again, tapping into what people are already doing, because we know about burnout that we often experience that when we feel like nothing we’re doing is making a difference and that’s the point that a lot of us are at.

And so, helping people to identify those small things that they’re doing and reinforcing how guess what, those relationships you have with your students and all of those things that you’re doing helping you see that that really makes a difference. And then, there was a great Tweet that was out a few months ago and I’m forgetting the name of the person who tweeted it.

But they were talking about going into a faculty meeting and their dean charged them with doing the bare minimum and finding joy in order to get through these times. And that has become my mantra, bare minimum, find joy because folks like us who are doing all of this, our bare minimum is a lot. Right? So things like that and amen to everything Caitlin has said.

Karen: Bare minimum, find joy. I am repeating that often. New mantra, absolutely.

Apurva: Mays, I saw you go to unmute, so I’m going to let you share whatever you wanted to say.

Mays: Bare minimum, find joy and the same flexibility as Caitlin said that I afford the students I do to myself and my faculty, I afford that. I think we’ve been through a lot. And whether the term is collective or mass trauma or this or that, we haven’t stopped to process the grief, the insurmountable loss. And that’s a lot. That’s really heavy. And we carry that with us, we lost colleagues and loved ones and students.

And the cashier at the drug store that we know. And, and, and… And you know, we’re living in a world of ongoing and relentless racial injustice, oppression of many kinds. It wears heavy on us with relational. And in the midst of this I am part of a system that is about urgency, everything is urgent and deadline and this, and this. And just the body is not really designed to be able to do all of that without stopping to metabolize, to process what happened.

And so, I am just, I don’t want to, because what I notice is that when I don’t slow down my body says, “I’ll make you slow down.” I don’t want to get to that point. I want to be kinder to my body. So in the recent months I’ve been trying to really figure out what does it mean to grieve? And what does it mean to do justice by the wounds that I’ve had but also I’ve picked up over the past three years?

And why it is important to do justice by them and really to share that with my students and with my colleagues. Yesterday we discussed an article about the power of tears and what’s the composition of tears? What is the chemical composition? And the students were like what? Like one student said, “You know this makes so much sense, that’s why when I cry I feel so much better, and I should express it.”

Yeah, we should express it. And so, allow the space to be human, to feel, to cry, to laugh, to fall apart and come back together.

Apurva: And to hopefully not hide that from one another as well. I think in our field, that type of vulnerability is seen as weakness, as someone who is not doing their job well. In fact, I shared with someone on my team there is a spot in my house that I like to go sit down and take a breath in the days when things are a little bit too busy. And it’s good for us to share not only what we’re experiencing, but also how we’re able to reset, pause before again our bodies make us do so, as you said.

I’m looking at our time, we have about eight minutes left. And I do want to make sure that anyone else who has questions or comments or thoughts is able to take a moment to unmute and share or ask in the chat. And I am happy with 30 seconds of silence while we do that. And I wish I had music prepared, Caitlin, for this background.

Kaitlin: If I can ask one more question, if that’s okay? Because like I said, this has been really great and trying very hard not to cry throughout it. But maybe it’s good that you cry, right? Do either of you, or not either, all three of you have any tips I guess? I think the one central piece was showing that self compassion. And maybe any tips or advice for individuals to have that, the chemical reaction of tears got me.

Apurva: Yeah, do you have suggestions for how we can show that kindness and grace to ourselves? It’s hard to do and I think it’s probably going to look different for everybody depending on our personalities, our stories, our behaviors, but maybe what would be helpful I know for me would be to hear how you all show yourselves some self compassion. And with that, I might be able to draw inspiration and hopefully, Kaitlin, you can too.

Janice: Yeah, that’s what I was thinking about. I’m curious as to what people do, because it can be hard to even admit that you’re not always kind to yourself or to recognize ways in which. So part of it’s even I have difficulty crying in public, I don’t think I cried in front of other people until I was in my 30s and giving my permission for that is a challenge. Recognizing and working on my self talk is really super hard.

Taking time off to prioritize my own needs instead of the needs of other people is super hard. Saying no (laughs) is super hard, so it’s figuring out, and I love when Mays talks about the body. I am terrible, like as much as I can tell you what’s going on in my body at any given time, I can’t always tell you that I pay attention to it and use that information as a signal that I need to do something else.

And I can interpret crying as a way that my body is trying to comfort myself. That I know that when I feel anger here or I feel sick to my stomach that I need to go take a time out and then honoring that need instead of answering more email. So I guess a lot of it, if you look at a theme in some of mine is really thinking about boundaries and self care as boundaries to help improve the relationship that I have with other humans in the world.

Caitlin: Yes, to boundaries. I was, Kaitlin, sort of taken to a place where I was least kind to myself and least extended myself the least amount of grace. And what I was doing at that time was really not having much of an identity outside of myself as an academic or an educator. And that will produce for me at least the most miserable result. When I don’t feel whole or like I’m showing up in other parts of my life with other people in my life.

Like I’m Caitlin independent of the structures that I’m a part of. Because they’re not, you know, folks like that are in this group are trying to carve out spaces that feel safe, that feel good, that feel beneficial, but they’re not designed that way naturally. And so, if you give too much of yourself to those spaces, you will begin to treat yourself the way that those institutions treat you, which is extractive and exploitative and never enough.

And that’s not sustainable, it’s impossible. It’s not healthy for you, it’s not healthy for the folks that you are hoping to guide and teach. So when I find myself too overwhelmed in certain environments, I really need to do a lot of conscious thinking about how I can give less of myself to that environment and more of myself back to me and back to my family and back to my weird chihuahua and back to all the things that matter to me outside of the space of academia or even the space in the classroom.

Because even when it feels good, you’re in the classroom a lot and it feels so great or you’re working with the populations you’re working with and in the moment you’re so energized and like this is great, I want to just give more of myself, it’s a trap. It’s a trap. There are lots of things that feel good in that moment will leave you so depleted and if you want to do it forever, like I know a lot of educators do, we just cannot live that way and be good to ourselves at the same time.

My heart goes out, I can’t watch people be hurting right now, it’s just a really tough, tough period of time and it’s not easy to be good to yourself. But yeah, so important.

Apurva: Mays, did you want to share as well what you do to practice? No? You don’t have to. I just want to make sure if you did.

Mays: It’s so beautiful, this. You know. There’s a lot emerging about the science of the heart and how the heart has its own brain. And actually the heart sends more messages to the brain than the brain to the heart. And when the heart is in a state, when the brain is in a state of anxiety and turmoil, it’s the heart that helps relax the brain. And so, I have been practicing self compassion, I have been trying to be kind to my heart, to do justice by my heart.

And for me I imagine my heart as a kid, as a child that wants to play. That wants to just get out of this office and go and just stand in the sun. And when I do this, imagine like my heart as a child that really wants to connect, and I see like elements of compassion. I also sometimes, I think when it’s most difficult for me to have self compassion, I look for a witness, a close friend, a sister, someone that I speak with them and they help me.

It's almost like the compassion they give me, my mirror neurons will then pick it up and say, “Oh okay, I could do that.” So the relational. Yeah.

Apurva: Thank you, I don’t have words to respond, but my body wants to come and give all of you a hug at this stage. I am seeing in the chat a lot of gratitude coming in from everyone who has listened. And I think Karen and I both have that to share with you three speakers for just taking the time for not saying no to this conversation and for sharing all of your words. Mays, for being in many experiments, including this one, at the same time. Thank you.

We are at our hour together, and I don’t want to take up more of anyone’s time. It has been a pleasure as always to connect with more of you as Karen noted at the start of the session, we’re also mindful of the many things everybody has going on and the urgency of the moment. And we’re taking a break in October, give yourself a chance to do whatever you need to do, whether that’s attending conferences or not.

And hopefully, we will see you again in November, on November 17th to regroup for Office Hours, and we’re just going to be reflecting on community. So that’s our topic to close out our year of Office Hours programming. As always, stay tuned for the recording of today’s session, which will be shared on YouTube as well as all of the resources and conversation from the chat. So thank you all again. Enjoy the rest of your day, enjoy your weekends, and I hope we can all be kinder to ourselves.

Caitlin: Thank you all, this was wonderful and so healing. Thank you.

Mays: Thank you.

Janice: Thank you. 


Chat Transcript

12:55:03 From Caitlin Gunn (she/hers)  to  Everyone: I’ll be right back!
12:57:04 From  Karen Lauritsen  to  Everyone: BRB
13:03:06 From  Apurva Ashok  to  Everyone:
13:03:37 From  Karen Lauritsen  to  Everyone:
13:03:46 From  Apurva Ashok  to  Kaitlin Schilling (Direct Message): all good!
13:15:47 From  Amy Hofer (she/her)  to  Everyone: I love all these suggesitons!
13:23:55 From  Apurva Ashok  to  Everyone:
13:24:41 From  Karen Lauritsen  to  Everyone: Please share your questions and reflections!
13:25:16 From  Karen Lauritsen  to  Everyone: Now is the time!
13:25:30 From  Kaitlin Schilling  to  Everyone: This session was incredibly validating and healing, as well as informative. Very much so appreciate you all sharing! (still thinking of questions hehe)
13:27:29 From  Kaitlin Schilling  to  Everyone: Have any of you experienced push back from trauma-informed pedagogy and practices, from students or other educators? If so, how do you all respond?
13:27:33 From  Amy Hofer (she/her)  to  Everyone: this is resonating with my experience in Oregon where PD participation is down because everyone is SO TIRED. Do the panelists have additional thoughts about when your students are educators, for example faculty in OER workshops? 🙂
13:29:20 From  Louann Terveer  to  Everyone: Thank you for sharing your experiences! I am still trying to translate how this carries over to supporting OER / open pedagogies creation. +1 to Amy's comment and question!
13:29:30 From  Apurva Ashok  to  Everyone: Thank you! That was lovely.
13:31:00 From  Caitlin Gunn (she/hers)  to  Everyone: Because we are human often living through inhumane situations
13:41:00 From  Caitlin Gunn (she/hers)  to  Everyone: Now THAT is some good pedagogy
13:46:25 From  Amy Hofer (she/her)  to  Everyone: Thanks Caitlin, really helpful thoughts!
13:47:46 From  Apurva Ashok  to  Everyone: ICYMI, our last Office Hours session was about Legitimizing Burnout:
13:54:36 From  Louann Terveer  to  Everyone: *trying to let go of "perfection” - so hard me…
13:58:04 From  Kaitlin Schilling  to  Everyone: Thank you all so much for this session and for providing such a safe space for vulnerability. Beyond grateful for today ❤️
13:58:25 From  Anders Tobiason  to  Everyone: Thank you all for a really excellent conversation and great ideas
13:59:26 From  Caitlin Gunn (she/hers)  to  Everyone: I can't tell you how much I love that!
13:59:31 From  Apurva Ashok  to  Everyone: hear hear!!
14:00:02 From  Louann Terveer  to  Everyone: So much gratitude to be invited into this space with a group of caring and wise individuals, thank you!
14:00:25 From  Karen Lauritsen  to  Everyone: Yes, indeed.
14:00:58 From  Jesika Brooks (she/her)  to  Everyone: Thanks, all, for the great talk. I appreciate everyone's willingness to share!
14:01:41 From  Amy Hofer (she/her)  to  Everyone: Thank you!

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