#99 – Blended Learning as a Response to Trauma-Informed Instruction

Unpacking Education July 6, 2022 33 min

Students have always come to us carrying trauma from their personal lives. With the uncertainties and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these traumas have become amplified. In an effort to find actionable supports and solutions, Elizabeth Buffington and Conrado Julian have joined together to conduct research about blended learning strategies as a response to trauma-informed instruction.

In this episode, we explore the initial connections that Elizabeth and Conrado have found in their collaborative research. Conrado provides context around trauma and how that impacts our classrooms, and Elizabeth brings in ways that blended learning can help teachers address the issues of trauma in our classroom. Together, they help us understand ways that we can support our students emotionally and academically. Our conversation revolves around important concepts like relationship building and student agency.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Trauma can drain students’ sense of self, stripping them of control. Setting them up to succeed reminds them of their worth.

Jesse Mintz, writer


The following resources are available through AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Making Connections

Both Conrado and Elizabeth stress the importance of relationships and student ownership as the “anchors” of their work. We first need to get to know our students, so we can identify their trauma and individual needs. This understanding can then help us design the best learning experience for each student. Elizabeth explains, “The trauma-informed connection [to blended learning] is making time to have that conversation with the student or students. . . . It’s taking that student agency and making it front and center.” She goes on to emphasize that “we need to have relationships in order for that to work.”

During our conversation, we discuss both theory and practice, looking at how each informs the other. Ultimately, we use this foundation to talk about actionable ways to address trauma in the classroom through blended learning strategies. Here are some highlights from this episode:

  • Defining Trauma: Conrado discusses generational and historical trauma and how they manifest themselves in our classrooms. While we often think of trauma in purely negative terms, Conrado explains, “It’s actually something that helps us survive.” Within this context, he discusses our fight, flight, and freeze responses and how this shows up in student behaviors.
  • Neuroscience Behind Trauma: To understand why students are acting as they are, we need to understand what is happening in the brain as they process daily events. Are they seeing their experiences as safe or dangerous, and what role is trauma playing in these perceptions? The answers to these questions impact their behaviors.
  • Secondary Trauma: When students bring their trauma into our classrooms, it can transfer to others in the room, including the teacher. This means that educators can also begin to experience the fight, flight, and freeze responses due to the interactions with their students.
  • Creating Safe Spaces: This ultimately comes back to relationships. For a space to feel safe for both students and staff, they need to have meaningful relationships with each other. When relationships go wrong, it’s often due to one of three problematic relationship models that Conrado describes as color blindness, the savior complex, and over-policing.
  • Relational Capacity: Elizabeth sums this up, saying, “A focus on blended learning really takes us back to the restorative practices we hope we see in all of our classrooms where individuals and groups are taking ownership for the learning. So if we’re in a process of trauma-informed practice, as the educators, what are we doing to intentionally hear what our students are saying they need and find solutions in the classroom to support them within the content and the instruction? . . . It takes some work.”
  • A Fundamental Shift: Blended learning shifts the ownership of learning from the teacher to the students. Elizabeth explains, “There’s this classroom fundamental shift from instruction to integrated learning experiences that take the individual needs of the student into account. . . . It’s asking the student to communicate what their learning could look like and how they could be part of a solution for themselves.”
  • Connections: Beyond providing students with ownership and control of their learning, blended learning supports trauma-informed instruction by providing opportunities to connect with students and get to know their needs. As Elizabeth says, “We have to be more than just a lesson plan. We have to talk about anticipating the needs of our students, and we can’t anticipate the needs if we don’t get to build the relationships.”
  • Getting Started: To get started, teachers will need to be comfortable with flexibility and an understanding that each student might need something a little different. They will then need to get to know their students, introduce learning objectives, and allow them to help guide the best learning path to success. Playlists and stations can be powerful starting points for this since they both allow for flexibility and provide opportunities to meet with individual and small groups of students.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What examples of trauma have you seen in your classroom, school, or district?
  • How do you understand the neuroscience behind trauma?
  • Have you seen evidence of secondary trauma in your classroom, school, or district? Explain.
  • How can you develop relationships and create safe spaces for your students?
  • What is your experience with blended learning?
  • How can blended learning support trauma-informed instruction?
  • How can blended learning support relationship building and student independence?
  • How might you get started addressing trauma-informed teaching and/or blended learning practices?