Preparing for Return to Campus – A Trauma-Informed Approach

To say the last 18 months have been challenging is an understatement. As Alyson Quin, founder of the Trauma Informed Practice Institute (TIPI), describes it, “COVID-19 has provided trauma, which can be locked into our bodies for decades, an ongoing opportunity to rise and surface to our consciousness. The collective uncertainty and fear felt globally can provide the conditions for triggering feelings. We may feel fear, despair, sadness, confusion, lost, helplessness, inadequacy, shame, guilt, hurt and anger, to name a few.”  

Post by Helena Prins, advisor, Learning + Teaching, BCcampus

At BCcampus we recognize we are going into an uncertain fall. As students and instructors are told to gather in classrooms again, we may bring into that space the emotions of the past 18 months with added layers of concern or anxiety over the perceived risks involved in face-to-face meetings.  

How can we prepare? The TIPI institute says, “One way to prepare for the fall is to learn more about trauma-informed practice to understand the complexity of trauma, how we can release past trauma and move ourselves to steadier ground in life.” 

Trauma-informed pedagogy is rooted in the theory of trauma-informed practice and reminds us that stress can impede the ability to process information, make choices, and stay focused (Joudrey, 2020). Zacarian, Alvarez-Ortiz, and Haynes (2020) offer the following trauma-informed practices to incorporate in your planning.  

  1. Predictability: Use consistent routines — think about scheduling your daily or weekly announcements consistently and having weekly checklists, clear structure and flow of the course, etc. Provide choices where possible. Follow and make clear your institution’s protocols or health guidelines in place to secure for safe in-person gatherings. 
  • Flexibility: By giving students the option to choose between two readings or two assignments, they gain some control over their environment, and you empower them. Offering flexibility in how you meet students (phone, in person, or online) may also alleviate anxiety. 
  • Connection and warmth: Focus on compassion. This may mean showing leniency with due dates or extending grace when students do not show up as their best selves. One way to extend compassion is by considering the student experience. Some students may not have access to reliable internet or a quiet place to work, while others may have a full course load that requires them to process a lot of information. 
  • Relationship: Get to know your students. Have “a watercooler station” in your online course for random discussions. Arrive 10 minutes early in your classroom or virtual room and allow for small talk. If you have large groups, and individual student meetings are too time consuming, consider inviting students in small groups for a virtual coffee time.  
  • Empowerment: As mentioned above, by giving students voice and choice, they have some control over their learning. Avoid three-hour monologue lectures. Consider authentic and alternative assessments to replace a high stakes final exam.

As Joudrey (2020) also highlighted, you do not have to go at this alone. BCcampus has prioritized two Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) events on trauma-informed teaching to equip faculty and staff with a deeper understanding of trauma and how it affects us and our students as well as provide some tools to support students. 

You are invited to join us! 

Another resource to explore is Capacity to Connect: Supporting Students’ Mental Health and Wellness, a newly adapted resource to help faculty and staff at B.C. post-secondary institutions develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to support student mental health and wellness.  

Coming soon: Additional training facilitation guides on suicide awareness and response for faculty and staff, and foundational mental health and wellness for students. (Get this and the latest information on news and events by subscribing to the BCcampus newsletter).

If you want to take an even deeper dive into trauma informed practice, TIPI also offers trauma-informed practice workshops for people interested in learning about trauma and what helps to heal trauma. You can follow TIPI on LinkedIn to learn more about upcoming events. 

Consider applying for the BCcampus Professional Learning Grant if you are a public post-secondary educator and costs are a barrier to registration. 


Joudrey, Susan, “Trauma-informed Pedagogy: What It Is and How It Can Help Now,” Focus, November 23, 2020. 

Debbie Zacarian, Lourdes Alvarez-Ortiz, and Judie Haynes, “5 Essential Trauma-Informed Priorities for Remote Learning,” ASCD, April 7, 2020. 

The featured image for this post (viewable in the BCcampus News section at the bottom of our homepage) is by SHVETS production from Pexels