Cuing Safety in the Law School Classroom: Using a Polyvagal Theory Framework in Support of Trauma-Informed Teaching Practices

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Jefferson Law Book Company




The past few decades have seen a welcomed focus on “Trauma-informed education.” This focus is often traced back to the 1997 Adverse Childhood Experiences study, which identified many significant negative outcomes that resulted from childhood trauma.1 While the original study focused on outcomes such as chronic health problems, incarceration, and employment challenges, later researchers focused on the negative impacts on education and learning as a result of trauma.2 Educators continue to work with this research trying to figure out how to be more “trauma-informed,” and to better reach those students whose lives and learning capacity have been affected by Trauma. This work usually begins with an exploration classroom and curricular adaptations designed to avoid retraumatizing students. Unfortunately, it often ends there. Researchers don’t usually take what we see as the next step. They don’t usually explore the psychological and physiological changes caused by trauma, and the negative effects these changes have on the capacity to learn. And they do not suggest possible steps to address those negative effects. We aim to do this here by first digging into the ways in which trauma affects the brain, through a larger discussion of the application of Steven Porges’ “Polyvagal theory”3 to education. And we will conclude by suggesting concrete steps you can take to address the negative effects of trauma in the classroom.

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