“See each other for the humanity that holds us” Lessons in Trauma Informed Pedagogy from Mays Imad

Published by Cathryn Mattimore
on Oct 20, 2021

O’Donnell Learn recently hosted a webinar led by Mays Imad, Ph.D. as a part of its recent Purposeful Learning Festival focused on mental health and wellness. Dr. Imad is a thought leader in trauma-informed pedagogy and a professor at Pima Community College based in Tucson, Arizona where she is also the coordinator of the Teaching & Learning Center. As a current Master’s of Education student at Northeastern University who lives with mental illness, I was excited to learn more about using the classroom, virtual or traditional, as a safe place for learners to heal and grow. I met virtually with Dr. Imad to hear more about her teaching philosophy, beliefs surrounding mental health, and ways to ensure student success in uncertain times.

Throughout our discussion, it quickly became evident that her work emphasizes embracing humanizing vulnerability as a means to cultivate an educational climate that feels safe and is grounded in compassion. She invites educators to utilize storytelling as a way to build trust with their students. Dr. Imad says, “Trust takes evidence so I tell stories. I show my own vulnerability. I am intentional from the beginning to offer that evidence.” This skillful emphasis of vulnerability, manifests more effective learning environments in an era of uncertainty and collective trauma. Students are encouraged to “come as they are” and to embrace their common humanity in the classroom. Giving students the space to engage authentically resonates and feels critical.

“Trust takes evidence so I tell stories. I show my own vulnerability. I am intentional from the beginning to offer that evidence.”

Dr. Imad highlights the idea that every learner is unique and brings their own experiences to the classroom. When I asked her about different mental illness diagnoses and how they relate to trauma informed pedagogy, she was quick to emphasize the importance of individualized instruction and support. “We have to be careful not to paint mental illness with the same brush.” Learners come to the classroom with their unique circumstances and educators should prioritize personal connection as an avenue toward more successful learning. Dr. Imad speaks to the cruciality of seeing students’ humanity and modifying support based on each individual student. “Let the other person know that you see them.” This personalized connection is key in helping students succeed.

While the classroom is a place for connection and growth, it is not the only avenue for healing. Dr. Imad reflects, “The classroom is one part of the equation for sense of self and empowerment. The classroom is an important space but it’s not the only space.” Humanized pedagogical approaches are imperative, but support from the larger community is also needed to ensure mental health and wellness. A holistic approach is needed.

Connection, compassion, community, and humanized instruction are all powerful forces to help cultivate mental health wellness. I have personally experienced the benefits of trauma-informed pedagogy and hope that educators embrace trauma-informed instruction, to allow for a climate of vulnerability, and, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Imad, “see each other for the humanity that holds us.”

Dr. Imad’s presentation continued the mental health and wellness conversation O’Donnell Learn hosted this past September as a part of the Purposeful Learning Festival 2021. We are working with notable presenters and partners like Dr. Imad, the Jed Foundation, and others to bring awareness to student mental health’s role in student success and its cruciality in fostering meaningful learning. It is our hope that our readers, partners, affiliated instructors, and learning designers continue this vital conversation surrounding mental health and to further reflect on how it directly relates to learner success.

Watch a replay of Dr. Imad’s presentation “Growth and Healing Through Trauma-Informed Education” here. And use this link to access other recordings from the 2021 Purposeful Learning Festival.

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