Mitigating Trauma In Culturally And Linguistically Diverse Settings: Tools For The Traditional Or Virtual Classroom


Saddleback Educational Publishing Series conducts a webinar series to spread information and resources for online learning programs. The following article is an enhanced summary based on webinar Mitigating Trauma in Culturally And Linguistically Diverse Settings: Tools For The Traditional Or Virtual Classroom hosted by Louise El Yaafour on June 24th 2020.

Students are students. And humans are humans, and we’re all working to negotiate stress, and really pretty predictable ways. The toolbox that I’ll introduce with you today, is the same toolbox that I’ve used with each of these groups of students. To help them be able to manage stress and to be able to create a trauma informed environment.

We’ve got three major goals today. We are going to create a foundation around transition shock. We are going to examine that intersectionality of trauma and culture. Then we’re gonna leave with a bank of tools and resources that we can use and put into action starting tomorrow.

Transition or Culture Shock

Here’s that first piece. We’re talking about transition shock. What do I mean when I talk about transition shock? You’ll hear me lean into this term ahead of trauma, because transition shock, we can think of as this overarching umbrella that encompasses high levels of anxiety on that far end, post-traumatic stress trauma, of course. But it also encompasses culture shock. For those of us working with recent arrival or newcomer populations, that transition shock piece is really key. Of course, we know that transition shock can manifest in a variety of ways and has a lot of different outcomes for each individual student, whether those are developmental, they are emotional, or physical or socio cultural. We’ll refer to this term transition shock as we move throughout the course.

In the classroom, what are we seeing? Here’s what I noticed most frequently and in working with students. one is that physical pains of students coming in every day, maybe from the playground or lunch or starting the morning, hey, my elbow hurts my knee hurts, can you check the scratch? I have a headache. And I see the nurse. Nausea, speech impediments, We see sometimes extreme disorganization, or on the other side of that, excessive tidiness. Sensory stimuli, boredom, on our side, we might see, Detachment, issues like delinquency or defiance. Now here’s the thing I’d like to mention here. All students experience stress or humans, extreme stress. That’s normative. It’s natural, that’s part of what keeps us safe. I’m not particularly concerned when I see 2 or 3 of these occurring at a time. Now, when an individual’s ability to manage that stress becomes overwhelmed, that’s when we run into issues of transition shock, including trauma. In those cases, I might see 5 or 6 or 7 of these manifestations populate at a given time, or I may see 2 or 3 that are occurring on a daily basis. When I’m seeing those, that’s when some flags are going up. And I may be taking some notes. I may be reaching out to resources on deck at our school. Like the school counselor.For other support, I may be starting the RTI referral process, but I’m certainly beginning some trauma informed interventions.

How to Deal With Transition Shock

Here’s how we’re going to move their channel. We wanna create a framework that we can use throughout. We’re gonna rely on four pillars, we’ll look at these, as we investigate all of our strategies, and those are connected, protected, respected, and redirected. We’re going to ground down and maintain authentic relationships, which we already know is important. Protect is really critical at this moment in time with all that we have going on with our students, back that safety and trust. We know that students have difficulty learning when they don’t feel safe. Respect that voice and choice and collaboration, And then, finally, create a system of sustainability so that students are able to redirect to themselves as they run into challenges related to transition shock.

Intersectionality of Culture and Trauma

Now we’re going to start looking at how those two intersect, trauma and culture. We know the transition shock intersects with all kinds of other life features. They’re related to historical trauma, that intergenerational trauma. In that case, perhaps a student has not experienced an adverse experience directly. But it’s living in the home with the parent or grandparent that has lived through that trauma. They’re having that overflow. They’re living in that, in that context. That’s that historical trauma, race based trauma is at the forefront of our thinking right now, as well as it should be. Gender, how boys and girls, or men and women are taught to express emotions, and then the social ramifications, if they don’t align with the social norms for that.

What resources and tools are available? In many of our cultures, say Chen Burma, for example, there’s no word that directly expresses mental health. Much less breakdowns of that trauma. We may have a very difficult time communicating our concerns or our plans in working with a student around that area but today we’re going to focus on this culture piece that’s where we’re routing down into today where transition shock intersects with the cultural piece. In order to do that, we’ve gotta get down into what culture is. We’re going to take just a little detour so that we can understand what we’re talking about when we say culture. This is my onion of student identity. Students come into our schools, into our districts, and they check those tiny little boxes, Black, White, Asian, and so on. And that’s that race bubble. Of course, that really doesn’t give us any truly valuable information about who that student is. Historically features of race are created to facilitate power hierarchies. They’re not indicative of who that student is. Those are external- play constructs placed upon another individual based on their outward physical appearance.

Ethnicity and Nationality

Then we get down to this layer of ethnicity. Ethnicity brings in the element of choice here. An individual can choose to align with their ethnicity or with features of language and nationality and heritage and culture. That’s the element of choice. Race, that construct is placed upon you, based upon outward, physical appearance, ethnicity, is an internal construct. Ethnicity encompasses those other values, nationality, heritage, and culture. Nationality can certainly be the area or the place that a student has. A birth certificate or citizenship was born, but because this is a student identity and it falls under necessity, which is choice. That element of Nationality can also speak to a place that a person identifies with as home. Those students say our Dreamers. That may choose to align with the nationality that speaks most to them.


Then, we have that heritage piece. Heritage is for most of us, a more detached concept, This has to do more with our ancestors. For me, for example, my heritage is predominantly Irish, but I don’t speak Gaelic. I don’t know how to cook any kind of Irish foods. I don’t understand the local culture, I’m detached from that. My own children, however, are very closely attached to their heritage on their dad’s side. We speak only Arabic at home. We prepare Lebanese foods frequently. We spend a significant amount of time in Lebanon, that heritage value is very strong.


Finally, we’re down into this culture piece. I want us to keep in mind that these terms are used interchangeably, very frequent frequently, and that creates some problems for us because they’re obviously very different concepts. We’re in that cultural bubble. We’re talking about our surface level culture right on top. Those are our observable pieces, fashion, and art, and language, and games. We move down a layer, and these are our explicitly taught ideas for our North and East African students, that may be eye contact. We have things like,how you treat your elders, are the concepts of time, or personal space. Living in East Africa, for example, before a meeting, we would say, are we talking about America time? Are we talking about Africa time?

That’s never received or, or put out there is an insult. It’s a clarifying question, because in America 9 o’clock means nine o’clock, or perhaps even 8:55. In Africa, time means I’ll leave my house. I’ll talk to my neighbor and might walk to the market with her, while I’m there, I’ll check on my dress and then I’ll get there when I get there. Tomorrow is another day.

Collective Unconscious

Space and time and gender norms. Finally, we move into the collective unconscious. This is the worldview. This space of collective unconscious, this is where culturally responsive teaching and learning occurs. This is our area here. Everything we’re going to talk about today is going to be within this collective unconscious space. That inclination to be a group rather than as an individual. Which is how we approach things. Here in the West, traditional recall devices, like song and dance and mnemonic devices, then that wander unexplored get out and do itThings like cooperative structures really speak to that oral tradition. Inquiry and project based learning really facilitate wander and explore in your classroom that collectivist nature smart group work or having class jobs. All of that helps to speak to that collectivist nature piece.

5 Tools For Trauma Informed Teaching

Here, again, are there support pillars. Connect, protect, respect to redirect. That’s our trauma informed instruction. And then we have our culturally responsive teaching ways, which is the place for routing down into our collective, unconscious space. Here’s what I mean by that, meaning we’ll start with our non-negotiable five. If I walk into any school, any district, any classroom, here’s what I’m seeking out. I’m looking for that calm organized environment. I’m looking for adjusted sensory stimuli. What I mean by that is that some students may need more stimuli. Some students need less in a traditional classroom. May be very cognizant of how much material is on my walls or how much I’m embedding and the use of sound or when lights are turned off and on abruptly. Or if there’s loud noises coming down the hallway or construction going on, routine and predictability. Routine and predictability create structure, structure creates trust, trust, creates safety, and safety is where students begin having healthy collaboration within the classroom, and most groups.Also with our teaching peers, and then those effective home partnerships. By teaching peers, I’m also talking here about our fabulous care workers or school psychologists or school counselors, or school nurses, and making sure that we have a healthy collaboration with all of those folks.

1. Rooting Aspect

The first three strategies we’ll talk about are all rooting aspects. Protect, respect, and redirect. These can all be considered traditional memory devices, or speak to the wander and explore component.This is my take along strategy, that I can take with me into the library, to the Zoo’s School field trip, In the classroom. Students, once they become really familiar with this one, I see them starting to use it on the playground or with one another and it’s pretty straightforward.

It’s easy to remember. Five things to look at, four things to touch, three things to listen to, two things to smell, one positive quality. Of all of these, which is the most challenging one for our students. It’s always number one, isn’t it? Those positive call quality. In a traditional classroom setting, what we’ll do is sit together and call out those positive qualities as a whole group, and we will post those just the same way we would as any other anchor chart in our classroom. That’s when students get stuck here, they have that anger to look at and say, I know this is my positive quality. In the virtual context, I’ve used a Padlet for this where there’s a column for each student’s name and we add to those positive qualities as we move throughout the year. Students then also have an anchor chart to look at.

When students get down to that one, if they are re-evaluating and say, hey, my stress level on a scale of 1 to 10 is still more than four, we go right back to the beginning and start all over again. This particular strategy I love for my earlier grades, and also my very early English learners, although I certainly invite students to walk through this in their Native language, because this is not a language activity. This is a trauma informed activity. I find, for my older students, or students with a little bit more language capacity, and here’s what I mean by that agency. Maybe a student chooses to count backwards by 10, maybe they choose to walk in a circle three times, whatever that is for them, Then they’re going to orient on that and come back to a self check. Guess what? Same process still, over four, you just go back to the beginning and start again.

Here’s the last one in the rooting, and this is a circle of control. Students can recreate this whenever they’re at home and feeling overwhelmed. The first point is to write their name. There’s something really grounding about writing something as familiar, as one’s own name, then we move outside the circle. All those things going on, that are outside of my control. You had gotten into an argument with a friend. What are all those things that you can’t control about that, and then you bring it down into this last circle. Number three, which are actionable steps.

2. Journaling and Worry Boxes

I really like books for journaling, because they walk students through what their body, and brain feel like an element of flight, or fight, or freeze, or submit. That brain is fired up. We’ve got the amygdala and hippocampus all fired up, and we get frontal lobe impacts. They’re impacting things like memory and planning, self regulation, organization. Journaling helps students walk through that process and name those for themselves. Journaling, again is a great resource.

Worry boxes would be really great, right now, given all that we’re going through. In a traditional classroom we have a template that we use. Students write their worry on a little piece of paper, and they put it into this worry box and they close the lid and now worry is captured. That’s done out of their thinking for now. They can check back on that worry at the end of the day or for students who are just starting this process in an hour or at the end of the week. If that worry, again, on a scale of 1 to 10, is still on the scale at the same or less than, it was just keep it in the worry box, it’s OK. Think about how you solve that problem and get rid of that. Tear it up, crumple it up, throw it in the trash can. If that worry is bigger on the worry scale than it was, now, it’s time to pass that worry onto your teacher. You’ll see, this speaks a lot to saving face. Those students who are perhaps concerned to bring that worry to the forefront for fear of speaking to the larger family name or the larger community. In a traditional classroom, I have a physical worry box in a virtual classroom. I’ve done this with a Dropbox and Google folder that is set to private, that those. Students can then turn those worries over to me if they would like to work on the worry together.

If students are not able to be receptive to that information right now, it’s really going to be falling on deaf ears. I need to perhaps work on a trauma mitigating strategy first, so that we can move students more into that green area and be ready for learning.

3. Poetry

Poetry, this speaks to the wander and explore, to saving face, to that oral tradition and storytelling, and it’s hitting on those trauma informed components. The point here is to take some of that language load off of our language learners. We can really look at that process of mitigating trauma. Again, not evaluating the language piece. This is used again in a safe space as a calming tool to bring students into a green where you can actually have some meaningful constructive conversation. Again, this process is helping with the right brain, left brain crossover, which is another key piece of trauma informed care.

4. Transition Cards

This is our second to last activity. Transition cards speak a lot to permanence and detachment, that last piece of our manifestations of transition shock in the classroom. You’ll see that I’m very specific in these. I look forward to seeing you on Monday, January second. Sometimes I’ll even put a time on there. I use these cards, especially when we’re heading into long holidays, long weekends, winter break, or spring break, in this context that we are in, these cards are even more impactful. I print them out at 8 or 16 to a page, and then I will sign each one by hand for some students. I’ll make a more personal note. Here is what these cards are saying. I’ll give them to each student. This is saying, I’m not going anywhere. When I say, I will see you at this time, it means I’m waiting here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not leaving you. I’m not abandoning you. We will be here, eager to see you when it’s time to return.

I like these, again, as we’re transitioning into a timelapse where I won’t see my students. Students who have a history of transition shock, including trauma, tend to really struggle with gray areas. They struggle with ambiguity, with the unknown. And the time that we’re living in at the moment is 100% filled with unknowns. For many of us, we don’t know if we’ll return to school in a brick and mortar classroom in the fall. We don’t know how a lot of things are going to play out around us currently.

This is a really impactful way to keep and maintain that structure for students, of saying, Yes, we are here, and we have one area that is solid, that you can count on in your life in this community. That is our class. I usually print those out. Now, I do also use them as we transition, not just to breaks, but also as we transition from one activity to another. Again, because the students who have experienced adverse life experiences are likely to struggle with ambiguity. I give them some heads up saying, this is going to happen next. A couple of slides back. We said, hey, guess what? In four minutes, we’re going to transition? And you had that opportunity to put that in your head, OK, I’m going to need a paper and pencil in four minutes. Listen for my transition cue. This is your transition cue. That just set us up to make sure that those students are ready to move on. Here we are at our last activity. For this, as you know, you’ll need a piece of paper and a pencil.

5. DBT House

In that saving face, there were a lot of questions about, Gosh, how do I know when someone’s ready to talk or how do I know if there are elements that I need to bring out? Disclaimer: I’m not a school counselor or a psychologist, or any one that has those types of certifications. I don’t advocate digging up traumas that students have. But there are pieces that are helpful for us as teachers or educators and practitioners to know in creating a trauma informed environment.

Let’s see what I’m talking about here. I ask on a piece of paper to draw a house. Your house is going to need some elements, you’ll need a door and you’ll need a window. You’ll need a chimney. And you’ll need a billboard or sign of some kind. It can be a sign on your roof or perhaps coming out of the window or a sign in your front yard. Next I’m going to ask to draw the foundation at ground level of your house. I’d like you to write down the values that govern your life.

If I’m talking to a language learner, I might say, write the things that are important to you, to be happy. Or write the things that are important to you, to live a good life, but write the things that are important to you, to be a good person, those are the values that govern your life. And backing up even further, for some of my early, early language learners, those level ones, I might spend a day just labeling the parts of the house. This is the door. This is the window. This is the chimney. And then each day, I might introduce one of these categories. I wouldn’t introduce them all at once. On the walls of your house are the values that govern your life, the people, or things that support you. Your roof, The people, or things that protect you. On the door, something that you are ashamed of or you’re embarrassed of or that you tend to keep hidden from others. Now, a disclaimer here before you jump to any conclusions with our early students, frequently, very eager to share this information. I might say something that you’re afraid of or something that bothers you or something you don’t usually share with other people. For my older students, I just invite them to draw a symbol or something that they just have that awareness.

Coming out of the chimney ways that you blow off steam or get rid of stress. How do you get rid of that stress? How does that come out coming out of the chimney, The ways that you blow off steam. On or in your billboard, something you’re proud of that you do want others to see you want other people to know about uses something that you’re proud of.

Finally, in the window, a goal, or dream, or vision that you have for the future. I tend to introduce this activity as we move into the school year a little bit, and we’ve developed some trust. Let’s take a look at a few student examples. Before we do that, we just do the simple version. There is an advanced, more intricate version of this workspace for high school students. I don’t tend to use this because that version we just did is enough, especially for the language load from my recent driver populations, but it also gives me all the information I need to start constructing my trauma informed space.

Trauma Informed Care vs Socio Emotional Learning

When we talk about being trauma informed, we’re really thinking about the environment and that’s how it’s different from socio emotional learning. Trauma speaks to managing that external environment so that students feel safe learning, whereas socio emotional learning, focuses on the internal environment. And managing that piece, which in turn can, can influence the external environment. We’re working to manage the external environment here. Here’s the first thing I noticed.These are three pretty healthy examples, all different ages in different countries here. The first thing I’m looking for is someone from our school. If it’s a janitor, if it’s a librarian, if it’s the PE teacher, if it’s their reading coach, someone from our school, either in the protection area or in the walls. If I don’t see that, that’s my goal for the entire year. That is where I’m looking for. First off, then we’re looking at some of these other areas for some clues.

I hope that was helpful for you. And most of these tools have been addressed at some point in our blog series. Again, if you have questions about exploring this deeper, We do have one of our online courses digs into this in a really deep way that is available currently. But if you do have any questions, please feel free to reach out.Louise, we have quite a few that I want to address at the moment that are coming in about the house activity, because that’s the most recent one we just did.


Do you model your own example of the house before asking students to do the activity?

That’s a really great question. I don’t because I like to see what populates just without any prompting. Looking at, this is an art based therapy, but also as a tool. I don’t want to feed them that information first. I just let them work on this independently. And then, I might come back with a student and sit with them and say, Can you tell me a little bit more about this piece?

And a follow up question to that. Are the students sharing their DBT house with others other students in small group? Or is this something done privately and shared only with the teacher?

I’m glad you brought that up. No, these are done privately. However, there’s one piece of the DBT house that I do share with all of the class and that’s the billboard. We make either, again, we’re talking about the anchor charts, we make an anchor chart in the classroom of that billboard. All of those things that students want to share with others, that they’re proud about, those accomplishments are those things they’re really great at. If we’re in an online context, again, we would we could do that on Google Slides. They could create a slide that represents just their billboard piece or they could introduce that in a Padlet or, but that’s the part that I would share inside the classroom. I use that billboard and an inside outside circle format. Then, we’re taking that piece and moving into co-operative structures, which speaks to that oral tradition component of culturally responsive teaching, and is the best practices for language acquisition. That piece, we will share an inside outside circle in a traditional classroom.

When we’re talking about working with adults, what are the best ways instructors can assess when an adult students are ready to talk about traumatic past experiences?

Again, when we go back to that products, and I’m not a counselor, I’m not a psychologist, I would never advocate unless you do have those tools in your tool belt. And I don’t, I would never advocate going about the work of digging those up, because we’re not most of us trained to, to handle that. Another way to that, also brings that, that trauma and that stress and brings and vicarious trauma and secondary trauma piece.

Things like the DBT house are revealing in the sense that, the one from Democratic Republic of Congo that had some information she needed to volunteer, she needed to express. And that was a safe space in that saving face capacity, that she could do that. Also, the worry boxes, setting those up is a great tool for adults as well. If they are ready to share that worry, and I like that, in that case, it’s not always face to face. If I’m not prepared to handle that worry, I can converse with that person and say, listen, this is a big worry and I’m glad you shared it with me and let’s find the right people to help manage this worry. Are you willing to do that with me?

In light of recent events. What unique responses do you think we can expect when we come back with our students, specifically?

Gosh, there’s a lot of that going on. First of all, we will have that cultural aspect. We will undoubtedly see some implications related to race based trauma.

We will see some implications related to historical trauma, where for many of our community members, that trauma, including race based trauma, has been passed on inter-generational, And we will see, kind of the manifestation of that. In all of these, we focused on that cultural piece, because instructionally, that’s, that’s where we are. And that’s our responsibility. But any of the strategies that we use can be applied to help mitigate trauma across any of those other intersections students will almost certainly have more than one, that’s why we call them intersectionality.

They may have race based trauma and the cultural influence and intergenerational trauma, and there’s gender implications for that. We will see that again, we go back to that idea that students who have experienced adverse life experiences struggle a lot with ambiguity, gray area, or with the unknown. The best thing we can do is create as many knowns as we can. Scheduling is important. Trying our best to stay with a schedule as we think about, how we’re setting up our classes for the fall, it’s a really challenging time, especially if we’re working virtually to maintain a schedule, but trying to remain as predictable as possible can help mitigate that. And that’s really one of the first steps in that non negotiable.

How do you build enough trust with a newcomer that they are willing to be this vulnerable and share this personal information through the DBT house activities and some of the other ones?

Absolutely. We can look at trauma as managing the external environment, with socio emotional learning, looking towards the inside the internal environment, and managing that piece. All that we can do to manage that external area, which is really, especially in the virtual context, more and more out of our hands.

In this case, bringing those parents on board is a super critical part. It’s not just the student we’re building that trust with. It’s the whole family, and that cultural aspect goes far beyond the students. In some cases, that student might be ready, but because of say, the saving face or the collectivist nature, that as Geneva Gay’s puts it, our outgoing messages are not being received through the student’s cultural reference points and making sure that we’re engaging with humans in that piece as well.