• Irene Gómez, Ed.M. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2022 •
This time last year, like many students, I didn’t know if I would finish the semester. On paper, as a Harvard grad student, I seemed to thrive. But in a then-vaccineless pandemic, I was caring for a mom with cancer, worried for a dad teaching in person, and navigating a degree not originally meant to be online. I had quality preparation for school. I had access to remote employment and mental health care. Still, I was drowning – and I wasn’t alone.
Studying and experiencing education policy during massive systemic change, I often saw education graduate students positioned to stand in solidarity with young people. In the classroom, we had undergone the same chaotic shift to online learning as K-12 students. We witnessed (and many times were) educators, mentors and leaders pushed beyond their limits. We sensed the same intergenerational grief and moments of humanity through a pedagogy of Zoom.
Outside the classroom, many Black and Latino graduate students intimately understood the inequities K-12 Black and Latino students face. Hardest hit by the pandemic physically and financially, our families had fewer opportunities to work in safe conditions and, like many communities from the Global South, a higher likelihood of meeting healthcare barriers (Sim & Obasi, 2021) and vaccine apartheid (Folkenflik, 2021). While racist violence rose, as well as backlash against protests for justice, other policy failures led to disasters like Texas’ power outages during the winter freeze (Yancey-Bragg & Jervis, 2021).
It made sense in early 2021 that I came close to taking multiple incompletes. Yet one key difference between graduate students and K-12 students is that no one deemed my learning lost or behind. At one of the world’s most elite institutions, I did not take a single test because project-based learning is considered best practice (Terada, 2021), along with providing time and space to build trust and relationships. Why then, don’t young people deserve the same grace?
Reframing Trauma-Informed Care
When I think about grace in education, I return to the work of Drs. Jeffrey Duncan-Andrade and Shawn Ginwright, whose frameworks are highly relevant to our pandemic reality. In his research, Duncan-Andrade highlights how toxic stress negatively impacts student health outcomes. He emphasizes that many traumatic experiences, such as housing and food instability or the school-to-prison pipeline, stem from inequitable policies (Duncan-Andrade, 2010).
Meanwhile, Ginwright stresses that adults in the education field can use this systemic analysis to build on the idea of trauma-informed care and tap into a more expansive fullness for communities called healing-centered engagement (2018).
Often, adults discuss trauma as an individual personal problem. But healing-centered engagement means contextualizing the widescale collective harm many communities experience and thinking through the actions groups can take together to chip away at societal root causes.
In one example, Ginwright reflects on the term post-traumatic stress disorder and the connotation it carries of a single person impacted by an isolated incident or series of incidents. Ginwright counters that in our society “there’s nothing ‘post’ about the trauma that young people are experiencing,” and that persistent traumatic stress environment can be a helpful reframe for the many institutional factors creating adverse childhood experiences (2019). From March 2020 to today, persistent traumatic stress environment certainly seems fitting.
Tenets of Healing-Centered Engagement
Healing-centered engagement aims to move with our pain into more moments of joy, rest and communion. Ginwright offers the following ways this can take shape in the education system.
Let students explore past, present and future realities. Citing research on youth development, Ginwright explains that, as young people gain agency and political awareness to engage with the issues that impact them, they develop a sense of control over their lives that improves their well-being. Ginwright emphasizes that this type of exploration should include ethnic-racial identity development and guidance to work through current events (2019).
During the pandemic, over 30 states considered classroom censorship legislation or state-level action, with at least 14 states passing censorship laws to date, including Texas (Education Week, 2022). IDRA fought tirelessly through three Texas legislative sessions in 2021 to stop these bills and is extending policy, research, advocacy support and teacher training in states where similar bills are being considered or have been passed (Latham Sikes, 2021). We affirm the importance and legality of youth participatory action research, culturally-sustaining pedagogy and K-12 ethnic studies classes that teach students the hard parts of history and current events (Gómez, 2021).
Center asset-based practices in the classroom. One difference Ginwright illuminates between trauma-informed care and healing-centered engagement is: “When we talk about healing-centered engagement, it is dream-driven… We begin to create opportunities for [young people] to have an imagination about their lives so they can begin to move forward in a positive way” (2019).
Asset-based practices that focus on relationship-building and student strengths include pedagogies of restorative justice (Wilson & Johnson, 2021), anti-racist social-emotional learning (Simmons, 2021), funds of knowledge (NCCLR, nd) and community cultural wealth (Da Graca & Dougherty, 2015). IDRA offers free training and assistance for these approaches to qualifying schools in 11 states in the South and Washington, D.C., through our federally-funded equity assistance center, the IDRA EAC-South (learn more at https://www.idra.org/eac-south).
Support the adults who are supporting youth. In 2019, Ginwright noticed during his decades-long career that educators received too little time for reflection or collective care. Meanwhile, researchers documented high nationwide teacher attrition, especially among systemically under-supported Black educators (Carver-Thomas, 2018). During the pandemic, teachers have endured injustice and exploitation and had to jump through impossible hoops, such as simultaneously teaching online and in-person students in the same class period, with less time off and under harder collective circumstances (Cardoza, 2021). IDRA urges school and state leaders to meaningfully prioritize and protect the well-being of district employees, like my dad, through humane policies and benefits that alleviate teacher workloads and ensure their safety.
One year ago, I didn’t know if I would finish the semester on time. But I know now it would have been okay if I didn’t. In a persistent traumatic stress environment, it makes sense if we pause or move slow. Beginning 2022, I am grateful to rest and to push for more people’s right to do the same.
My rest includes catching new episodes of Station Eleven, a timely mini-series about healing pandemic childhood trauma. As communities in the show come together to make art and rebuild society, we would do well to remember their mantra: “Survival is insufficient.”
Cardoza, K. (April 19, 2021). ‘We need to be nurtured, too’ – Many teachers say they’re reaching a breaking point. NPR.
Carver-Thomas, D. (April 2018). Diversifying the teaching profession: How to recruit and retain teachers of color. Learning Policy Institute.
Da Graca, M., & Dougherty, L. (November 24, 2015). Community Cultural Wealth Version 10. First-Generation College Students: Navigating Higher Education.
Duncan-Andrade, J. (April 28, 2010). Note to educators: Hope required when growing roses in concrete, conference presentation. Askwith Forum, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Education Week. (January 19, 2022). Map: Where critical race theory is under attack. Education Week.
Folkenflik, D. (November 28, 2021). As new COVID-19 variant spreads, human rights lawyer points to ‘vaccine apartheid.’ NPR.
Ginwright, S. (May 16, 2019). Radical Healing in Critical Times, conference keynote. BOOST Collaborative.
Ginwright, S. (May 31, 2018). Shifting from trauma-informed care to healing-centered engagement. Medium.
Gómez, I. (May 2021). Visions and provisions – Planning for K-12 Ethnic Studies Implementation. IDRA Newsletter.
Latham Sikes, C. (November-December 2021). Strategies for school leaders to melt the chilling effects of bad education policy. IDRA Newsletter.
National Center on Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness. (no date). Exploring Cultural Concepts: Funds of Knowledge, handout.
Sim, S.C., & Obasi, E.M. (May 14, 2021). Opinion: Pandemic hit Black and Latino communities hardest. Texas must address the root causes. Houston Chronicle.
Simmons, D. (May 1, 2021). Why SEL Alone Isn’t Enough. ASCD.
Terada, Y. (June 12, 2018). Boosting student engagement through project-based learning. Edutopia.
Wilson, T., & Johnson, P. (April 26, 2021). A Culture of Student Engagement Through School-Wide Restorative Practices – Episode 210. IDRA Classnotes Podcast.
Yancey-Bragg, N., & Jervis, R. (February 20, 2021). Texas’ winter storm could make life worse for Black and Latino families hit hard by power outages. USA Today.
Zamarro, G., Camp, A., Fuchsman, D., & McGee, J.B. (September 8, 2021). How the pandemic has changed teachers’ commitment to remaining in the classroom. Brown Center Chalkboard, Brookings Institution.
Irene Gómez, Ed.M., is IDRA’s research engagement strategist. Comments and questions may be directed to her via email at email@example.com.
[©2022, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2022 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]