Trauma-Informed Care

This section of the Inclusive Virginia website provides information, instructional strategies,  and resources for adult education practitioners on supporting adult learners with differing abilities through trauma-informed care. 

Trauma-Informed Care (TIC) is an approach to service that shifts the focus from “What is wrong with you?” to “What has happened to you?”. It acknowledges the experiences that a person has encountered and how those experiences may have impacted an individual’s mindset, health, and abilities.

Some common characteristics of trauma-related behavior in the classroom include:

  • Difficulty concentrating, focusing, and transitioning from one activity to the next
  • Low self-confidence
  • Regular tardiness or absence from class
  • Perfectionistic, controlling, or anxious behavior
  • Forgetfulness
  • Strong emotions: irritability, anger, panic attacks, or crying
  • Physical and/or verbal aggression

Note: This is not a complete list. Trauma related-behavior looks differently for everyone.

Some common characteristics of trauma-informed care include:

  • Creating physically and psychologically safe environment for those who have experienced trauma
  • Making transparent decisions to build trust and relationships
  • Integrating individuals with shared experiences to support the delivery of services
  • Leveling power dynamics to create an environment for shared-decision making
  • Recognizing and addressing biases and stereotypes

Trauma-Informed Care Resources

Trauma-informed care practices in adult education should be considered at the program and classroom level. Adult education practitioners can use the following information to learn more about trauma-informed care and instruction.


Instructor Self-Care

Instructors can use self-care to help avoid burnout and secondary traumatic stress (see below). The definition of self-care is any action that you use to improve your health and well-being. According to the National Institute of Mental Illness (NAMI), there are six elements to self-care:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Professional

Mental Health America provides suggestions on how instructors can protect their mental health. Below are a few suggestions:

  • Set boundaries early on – and hold them
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Move your body
  • Stay in touch with friends and family 
  • Keep up with self-care
  • Maintain reasonable expectations
  • Check in on each other
  • Express gratitude 
  • Take time to laugh 

Secondary traumatic stress occurs when someone experiences indirect trauma as a result of hearing about others’ trauma; it is often seen in those who work with individuals who have experienced traumatic life events, such as educators, social workers, or health care workers. Instructors should be aware of its signs and tools for self-care. 

This video from the University of Kentucky explains secondary traumatic stress.