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“Becoming trauma-informed is a journey”—Interview with Teaching Artist Mindy A. Early

In the fall of 2018, the Bartol Foundation will be piloting a new series of trauma-informed training workshops for teaching artists. Mindy A. Early is the lead designer and facilitator for this series. She is also Director for Education and Program Services at Philadelphia Young Playwrights, where she manages in-class residences, out-of-school programs and special projects, and productions.

To learn more about Bartol’s upcoming trauma workshops, read our Q&A with Mindy.

 

How did you become aware of the impact of trauma on the students you were working with?

There’s a twofold answer to that question. The first, which may be the more obvious one, is that my teaching artists and myself would go into classrooms and use playwriting and monologue writing as a vehicle to encourage students to use and express their voices. As an organization, Young Playwrights never censors students, so they are allowed to write about whatever they would like, from completely fictional all the way through biographical. So, as you can imagine, many of our students take that opportunity to write about things that touch their lives directly, and some of those topics suggested that they had intersected with some trauma in their lives.

The secondary reason is that, for a long time, my teaching artists and I have believed that some of the behaviors encountered in classrooms that would be labeled as “unwanted” or “challenging” aren’t coming from a place of the students rebelling against the artist who’s in the classroom. A lot of these responses are coming from a different place. We were looking towards trying to find a model that could reframe our views of that behavior, and also equip us better to meet students where they were and to help them rather than discipline them.

 

What does it mean for teaching artists to be trauma-informed, and how were you trained in these practices?

The majority of my training comes through the Lakeside Global Institute. They have a three-part, 72-hour training for people who work with potentially trauma-impacted populations. I took those three courses in addition to some other readings and professional development sessions that I’ve attended.

Being a trauma-informed teaching artist is a process. The first step is realizing what trauma is, its causes, and its effect on the brain, body, and behavior. And then what its potential impact is on a person’s ability to forge positive relationships, to trust, or to be able to comfortably learn because of where they’re at in their brain state.

The second part is being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma based on exhibited behaviors. This involves looking at how they interact, how they forge relationships, and how they’re responding physically, emotionally, and socially.

The final part is responding by fully applying knowledge about trauma into workshop practices and student encounters and, by so doing, seeking to actively resist re-traumatization. In other words, choosing responses that, rather than discipline or punish the individual, actually help to calm them and give them tools to heal, to build resiliency, and to learn how to develop positive relationships and other things that can help them through the impact of their trauma.

 

As the lead facilitator for the Bartol Foundation’s new training in trauma-informed practice for teaching artists, can you tell us about this training and what you hope it will achieve?

This training is interdisciplinary—artists of any art form can take this training and find the information valuable and directly applicable to their work.

The training will start in trauma theory—looking at what causes trauma and how it affects the brain, behavior, and ability to learn. You can’t talk about trauma without talking about the theories and getting a little scientific, so you really understand what it’s doing to the brain and body.

The training will then segue into how we can shift our practices as teaching artists. So, looking at what the considerations are as we plan our lessons, give directions, facilitate the classroom and transitions, and give students assignments and guideposts. As we’re teaching this portion of the workshop, we’re also teaching class facilitation practices—how to deal with students one-on-one and as a group.

We’re hoping to close out the sessions by looking at vicarious trauma and how to integrate self-care even in your busiest moments. Teaching artists who are working with trauma-impacted students on a daily basis are having a lot of heavy conversations, which can be a lot to take on. This has been coming up frequently as I’m in trauma-informed spaces as a teaching artist.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

The act of becoming trauma-informed is definitely a journey and a process. In order to be truly trauma-informed, you have to be willing to dig into a lot of theory and reading. And then as you apply it to your practices, you have to be willing to dig into yourself—your biases, habits,strengths, and weaknesses—and really commit yourself to a bit of a paradigm shift and maybe letting some things go that have been part of your practice for many years. So, it is hard work and rigorous work, but it’s really important work. And it’s really rewarding when you have a workshop or a one-on-one interaction when you see that these principles make a huge difference and impact.

 

Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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