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Chicago, IL

Cities of Peace seeks to amplify the struggles of young people in Chicago and Phnom Penh as they organize to transform harm and create community healing. Using their own site-specific histories as a jumping off point, the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Peace Institute of Cambodia will form Community Peace Councils which will interrogate the roots of structural and relational violence and practice transformative justice. They will produce a documentary film, develop exhibitions, and participate in an international exchange which will culminate in a Community Peacebuilding Summit in Chicago in the summer of 2015.



Cities of Peace Teach-In participants share their research, learning, and questions about structural violence, community resistance, and healing. 

What trauma-informed practices are you incorporating into your learning space?

Maria De La Paz

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain...until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.” - Jane Addams
The way to right wrongs is to shine the light of truth on them.” - Ida B. Wells
Healing justice requires us to address the institutional causes of trauma, while simultaneously building practices in school and communities that promote well-being.” - Shawn Ginwright

We believe in teaching culturally relevant history, uncovering systems of power, and highlighting struggles for liberation. However, we realize that historical narratives particularly around issues of structural and interpersonal violence may present content that is triggering and even re-traumatizing for both students and educators. We recognize that trauma experienced by students, their community, as well as trauma inherited genetically from their parents and grandparents is detrimental. We aim to acknowledge this harm, empower students by helping them begin to identify their own stressors, triggers, and coping mechanisms. We also aim to develop classroom strategies to transform moments of harm into opportunities of healing.

Here are some strategies our teachers are practicing this month:

"Some of the trauma-informed strategies I'm practicing are establishing shared values and guidelines from my students' feedback, playing music while we create art to create a more relaxed space, implementing culturally relevant topics into the curriculum and creating spaces where students can share their ideas without feeling judged."

"Needs & ideas board as a permanent, visible fixture in the space -- Check ins suggested by the students themselves -- Community-created accountability process (after we create group values, as we always do), which includes explicitly asking the group, what do we do if someone isn't upholding one of these values? Individually? As a group? -- Arriving / break music - have youth choose (maybe one person signs up for it each day?) -- In discussion on "Who tells your story?", asking open-ended questions: i.e. Why do you think that? Where’d you learn that?"

"Create community norms to support building a safer space for sharing • Use community norms to develop accountability practices for school that is restorative and relationship oriented • Create opportunity for students to talk about their own experiences around trauma and make connections to their familial history • Support students in self-reflection around how their behavior is connected to past experience and trauma."

"Accountable Language - explicitly taught accountable language for conflict solving: -When you....I feel...because...what I want is... - I'm sorry for...It was wrong because.... I won't do it again...How can I make it right? Peace table - using accountable language students use this designated space to solve conflicts and hurt feelings. Reflection table- for when students are having big feelings which make it hard to concentrate or cope or when students have made a bad or harmful choice and need to reflect. Meditation - three times per day with discussions about mindfulness and how to practice it/why it's important. This discussion of the brain and its basic parts, with the idea that we must meditate to calm down our amygdala (the brain's security guard) so we can let information pass to our Pre Frontal Cortex, where we make our wise decisions. Explicit teaching of intention vs. impact, consent and boundaries."

"+ Uplift stories of local community resistance + Personal reflection time followed by group sharing + Youth-led discussion; allow youth to dictate the flow of conversation + Create a space where youth are encouraged to ask for what they need to remain engaged and focused"

"Circle check-ins and community sharing, while nourishing/replenishing ourselves with healthy snacks. Choice and decision-making power within the program for the students - to reflect the importance and value of their opinions and abilities. Active listening - specifically modeled by adults to reduce any adultist leanings. Examining the subtle yet deep underlying tones within our language - to reduce any stigma or re-traumatization through communication"

"Student choice in discussion groups so that students can share thoughts/feelings with - Incorporate students interests and experiences into the topics (El Chapo, gender differences) - Healing through performance"

"1. We have been recently trying to engage students in asking about how they would like us to respond when the class begins to disrupt other students. We have seen tactics in lots of schools that have been harmful or militant that we don’t want to recreate. This gives students the opportunity to recognize us as trying to break down the hierarchy in the classroom and give them agency to reflect on their own actions.

2. While discussing how to support a friend who is in a violent/unhealthy relationship we focus on the need to take care of yourself throughout the process. While we don’t name it as vicarious trauma we talk to students about how it may be triggering to watch something play out that they have seen in their own life. We give students the opportunity to share if they have struggled with a situation like this before and also allow for space to talk about if they have seen this play out in other relationships.

3. We discuss communication a lot during our class and that communication is part talking and part listening. The trauma informed approach here is where we bring up that you can’t just look at a person and know what that person is going through and you certainly can’t tell them how to fix it. We let students know that sometimes someone might not want to share something with you and that you need to respect that. Students might disagree with this approach but then when we ask them how they feel when they are pushed to do or say something they automatically recognize the need to respect peoples boundaries."

"Some of the trauma informed practices that I plan to engage in include creating safer spaces that are rooted in restorative justice. Many of the youth come into experience trauma and violence, and are really vulnerable to systems that perpetuate that violence. In light of this I want to create models of harm reduction that create better relationships but also hold accountability for folks who violate the community’s level of trust. The first trauma-informed practice would be to create check-in’s with clients to understand what energy and mood they are bringing into the space and their day was going to see what they needed into the space. The next practice that I want to institute is peace circles that will address the cycle of harm and violence that informs our daily interactions and how we maneuver spaces. Creating peace circles will help address violence that happens within the space and how that violence is something that we hold in our spirits."

"Strategies for trauma-informed space are as follows: analyzing identity and beginning a practice of the removal or engraining of specific identities in teaching space; constant tending to the needs of an individuals coping methods; discussion style and pace which allows students to may come to their own insights; balance of negative, positive, and pivotal viewpoints and information that keeps an overbearing message away; respect and proper placement of self in the lives, events, and history of the audience."

"Within my classroom this month we are focused on Black History, which includes prevalence, struggle, separation, and growth. 1) I am implementing discussions with students on these topics because too often in schools students aren't given the opportunity to express how they feel and how the information they are obtaining has an effect on them. 2) Articles read by the students students as well as the Willie Lynch letter look to focus on the trauma that was created and still exists because of this text 3) Debates are also another classroom strategy for my students because sometimes there are different perspectives to how things are structured."

"Working in circles where "power" is shared - utilizing a group centered approach by developing lesson plans based off of the participants' experiences - asking open ended questions - reflecting after each activity - breaking bread together"

"Guided Reflection - A strategy that's a lot like guided meditation. Before we begin, I let the students know that they may experience strong emotions or memories while listening. If needed, they can go outside, walk around the classroom, or grab a tissue. I also let them know that if there are issues they want to discuss, they can talk to the school guidance councilor or myself. Students are asked to focus on a specific set of memories, or emotions, and are asked to recall certain details. They then are asked to free-write about these experiences. The hope is that students will be able to use writing as a means of personal reflection and processing, while at the same time encourage them to share their stories and see them as something that matters.

Talking Circles - When I was at Reilly, I participated in Peer Council. I hope to bring in Peace Circles at a later time, but for right now, talking circles help develop the classroom environment by encouraging us to share our thoughts, experiences, and feelings about our lives. On Mondays and Fridays, students are asked to either stand or sit in a circle, and answer questions pertaining to how their lives are going, what issues they would like to discuss, and the like.

Relevant Reading - Students are given a series of news articles that focus on current events, and through research, discussion, and reflection, examine how social issues manifest themselves in them. Stories about the armed occupation in Oregon, the water crisis in Flint, the Chicago Police Department "heat list' and shooting of Laquan McDonald, gerrymandering, affirmative action in the Supreme Court, and others are viewed through a critical lens and compared with our own experiences."

"Practice one: A daily check-in at the beginning of all classes. A space for students and teachers to talk about their day, to check-in about their mental/physical/emotional/spiritual state. A time for people to communicate needs related to those things. Practice two: Music during many portions of our class. The kind of music determined together through suggestions and creating playlists. Practice three: Food provided during class breaks. Fruits and proteins mostly. Practice four: Visible agenda built together. Practice five: Affirmations at the end of our class."

"This month I have tried to implement more trauma-informed practices in my classroom by using music in the space more, including analyzing songs about cities to open a unit in Geography in urban patterns. I have also tried new discussion strategies including a new way for students to create the questions and lead the discussion, Lastly, I have used acting and role playing with my 7th grade history class."

What is Trauma-Informed Critical Pedagogy?

Maria De La Paz

"Creating learning spaces that are opportunities for sharing, put the need of the learner at the core, utilize restorative and healing practices, and offer spaces for both self-reflection and critical analysis of larger structures that impact us down to the individual level."

"Being aware that students may have trauma histories, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other past event-related distress, student risk of re-traumatization and secondary traumatization should be decreased rather than increased. Understanding that a trauma-informed approach to pedagogy-one that recognizes these risks and prioritizes student emotional safety in learning-is essential, particularly in classes in which trauma theories or traumatic experiences are taught or disclosed or in urban poverty ridden settings."

"It means learning about trauma, acknowledging its existence, and responding to it in both action and curriculum."

"A student-lead teaching style that lends itself to reversing the trauma we face collectively by creating restorative practices while furthering participants learning."

"To me, trauma-informed critical pedagogy means acknowledging the role trauma has played in the lives of both students and teachers when creating curriculum. It means building educational spaces that center healing in a variety of ways. Healing through the understanding of each other's cultural backgrounds and experiences. Healing through the teaching of culturally relevant histories. It means using our educational spaces to interrogate systems of power that cause harm, and to work toward transforming those systems. And it means centering practices of compassion and love in everything we do."

"To me, trauma-informed critical pedagogy is choosing to teach culturally sensitive and relevant curriculum that places value on student voice and lived experience. Trauma-informed critical pedagogy is rooted in an understanding of how trauma affects brain development, which guides the teacher in implementing modifications that set students up for success."

"What Trauma-informed critical pedagogy means to me is being able to introduce deeper almost invisible barriers that exist within our own society. I teach 'at risk' youths, why do we call them that, why are they given that title? Trauma-informed pedagogy shines a light on these issues that affect these children and give them solace from institutional letdowns and stereotypes."

"Trauma-informed pedagogy is a teaching practice that is rooted in understanding how individuals are impacted by a personal and generational history of harm in order to build awareness and promote healing."

“Trauma-informed critical pedagogy means means being aware that learning happens through experiences. It means trying to create safe, engaging, healing experiences in the classroom and recognizing that the work of creating those spaces is never done but we're lucky because the experts to lead the process are the young people in the room.”

"As I believe that all forms of oppression are united through the shared traumatic experience of being oppressed, I see Trauma-informed critical pedagogy as a means of teaching with strong considerations to the effects of that trauma on the participants, as well specific attention to not re-traumatizing the participants and dismantling/reducing the effects of the trauma on the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, body."

"Trauma-informed pedagogy means that we create a classroom environment that is founded on healing practices and validates student's lived experiences. Trauma affects us all. Yet, the ways in which the behavior of others, as well as our own, are shaped by trauma are easy to miss. Often, trauma is perceived as an effect of a catastrophic events - physical violence, horrific accidents - which perpetrates the idea that trauma is something that only occurs rarely. Students already face the challenges that come with these kinds of perceptions, they can't possibly be having anxiety issues because they "have nothing to worry about." Trauma-informed pedagogy breaks away from this narrative by focusing on validating students as individuals capable of experiencing trauma. It also activates their agency, by showing them the ways in which they can process these experiences in a positive manner, and then asks them to use critical thinking skill to observe the society they live in."

"To me, trauma-informed pedagogy means a learning environment that meets the holistic needs of the learners, while centering the experiences of those in the space and being mindful of how those experiences could show up in the space. Trauma-informed means to address the traumas that the learners may carry and not ignore it."

"Trauma-informed critical pedagogy means taking the time and care to incorporate the myriad of cultures and experiences of your students into your classroom and to create a safe space for learning and healing to occur."

"A trauma informed critical pedagogy Realizes: - people of any age may have experienced trauma - trauma takes many forms - problematic behavior often begins as an understandable attempt to cope with trauma Recognizes: - different types of trauma that may be experienced, lived or even transferred through DNA - the signs and symptoms of trauma - educators and other adults also have trauma that may affect our behavior and responses, mindfulness is necessary Responds - by maximizing student choice - teaches and integrates tools and knowledge to aid in healing and empowerment - with tools and knowledge that is RELEVANT both culturally and personally. - in ways that RESIST re-traumatizing - to build RESILIENCY in students so they can grow and thrive."

"I'm still developing a sense of what it means and how to better enact said pedagogy in my work, but it does mean that I pay close attention to the ways in which I care for the folks in the space, in many different ways, not least by validating them and their histories, and making space for their feelings and ideas."

"In our communities and schools, we need to recognize the lived traumas of our youth; and, how the systems youth interact with also impact and contribute to the traumas they experience. Trauma-informed pedagogy considers the needs of young people when developing communities of education: It is a practice of critical pedagogy infused with social and emotional learning at the core. Educators, community stakeholders, and leaders need to help empower youth with how to lead a movement toward trauma-informed practices. Along with adult allies, young people need to be trained in trauma-informed pedagogy and be invited to the develop trauma-informed practices."

"Trauma informed pedagogy is an important component to any anti-violence based work. It becomes integral within your approach to teaching subjects that may trigger harm that a person has experienced. Understanding this means that you need to look at what you are teaching on a daily basis and recognize where people might be triggered. This is one approach to using this pedagogy because you cannot always know what might come up for a student. So while I do my own personal work around what I am teaching to identify what might come up for people I also need to create group agreements that will also recognize the trauma that someone might experience. These group agreements will work towards trying to create a safer space for young people to share their stories but to also help support each other if something comes up. I will actively practice making sure I ask my students for their opinions and not just telling them how they are supposed to feel. My understanding of this pedagogy is forever growing and changing to better support the young people I work with."

"Trauma-informed critical pedagogy means creating spaces in my classroom in which issues, events and ideas surrounding trauma can be discussed and used to facilitate healing and change within our communities, specifically, through visual arts."

"Trauma-informed pedagogy is related to the lived experiences of community members who experienced the effects of oppression, intergenerational trauma and other traumatic experiences related to healing those who have and are actively experiencing violence."

"I believe that trauma-informed critical pedagogy is the practice of extensively analyzing and searching for methods of teaching a trauma-related subject in a space with an trauma-related audience."