Challenges of the FHLE: Trauma, Mental Health, Disability, and Accommodations

Dr. Cathy N. Davidson, CUNY Professor and author of The New Education, writes that the most essential thing to keep in mind when planning for Fall 2020 teaching is that we are all speaking, teaching and learning from a place of trauma. Below are some suggestions and resources about how you might engage with issues of trauma, mental health, differing abilities, and accommodations.

How might you plan to accommodate your students in light of the current context? 

  • Trauma affects learning, including content retention and working memory;
  • Strategies exist to help students learn in traumatic situations;
  • Find ways to repeat and reinforce essential information, both course content and course policy;
  • Zero-tolerance is not advisable, as students’ personal circumstances may change or be unstable. As much as possible, design flexibility into your course policies;
  • Do not assume that students will automatically ask for help when they need it.

How do you plan to ensure equity and access among students whose personal circumstances may be various?

  • Consider providing multiple pathways (e.g. assignments having several options for completion, having a variety of question types on an exam) for arriving at the learning goals:
    • To facilitate the learning of all students;
    • To acknowledge that we all learn differently and that we all face new challenges in light of the pandemic;
    • To extend special consideration for our most vulnerable students;
  • Articulating the purpose, the task, and the criteria for assessing each assignment helps students understand what is expected of them and why; 
  • Ensure that course material is accessible across media and platforms and consider explaining material using different methods and across different media; 
  • The Center for Teaching and Learning at Columbia University synthesized a great many resources on strategies for implementing inclusive and equitable teaching and learning. Five principles are articulated: 
    • Principle 1: Establish and support a class climate that fosters belonging for all students;
    • Principle 2: Set explicit student expectations;
    • Principle 3: Select course content that recognizes diversity and acknowledges barriers to inclusion;
    • Principle 4: Design all course elements for accessibility;
    • Principle 5: Reflect on one’s beliefs about teaching (online) to maximize self-awareness and commitment to inclusion;
  • More information about ensuring an inclusive teaching environment can be found from Georgetown University.

How do you plan to create an environment that is anti-racist and safe for all students