OpenEd21 Opening Plenary: Dr. Mays Imad Trauma-Informed Pedagogy

7 min read

I am at OpenEd21 this week and am going to try my hand at going old skool and blog some of the sessions I am in instead of my usual tweeting, starting with the Monday plenary keynote Dr. Mays Imad. These may be rough notes as the intent is to try to follow the flow of the keynote and publish as soon as possible.

Dr. Imad bio

Mays Imad received her undergraduate training in Philosophy from the University of Michigan and her graduate training in Cellular & Clinical Neurobiology from Wayne State University-School of Medicine. After completing her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Arizona, she joined the department of life and physical science at Pima community college as a full-time faculty where she later founded their Teaching & Learning Center. Mays’s research focuses on stress, self-awareness, advocacy, and classroom community, and how these relate to cognition, metacognition, and, ultimately, student learning.

Session notes

Dr. Imad started by stating her intention to dig deeper into the word “open” and going back to her native language of Arabic where open has a meaning of generosity and spirit of heart.

Dr. Imad starts by posing the question “What does it mean to be a radical opener?” How can we include those who have traditionally been overshadowed with our open?

A challenge for participants: Dr. Imad has stated that she will add up the number of comments in the chat and then make a charitable donation based on a community consensus at the end of her talk.

Menti poll: Do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed? 247 Yes 20 No. (me: not surprising here. It’s a difficult time in the world)

We need to be intentional in making time for our own well-being.

What can we do to sustain the work we are doing? To honour our own self while caring for others?

Menti poll (asking us to dig deeper) with what we are struggling with. Answers include; balance, lack of control, work, deadlines, uncertainty, parenting, anxiety, isolation.

Dr. Imad says “Congratulations! Your nervous system is working as it should. Considering the circumstances we are in, we are supposed to be feeling this way.”

Quote from Dr. Adrienne Rich (American poet & feminist)

“When those who have the power to name and to socially construct reality choose not to see you or hear you...when someone with the authority of a teacher, say, describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked in the mirror and saw nothing. It takes some strength of soul--and not just individual strength, but collective understanding--to resist this void, this non-being, into which you are thrust, and to stand up, demanding to be seen and heard.”
― Adrienne Rich, Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose, 1979-1985

When we are under the influence of strong negative emotions, the brain tends to cave in and focus on those strong negative emotions and we often feel like we are the only one and we feel shame, guilt and loneliness.

What makes the brain feel overwhelmed? Brains are evolved to connect. We are social creatures. Some neuroscientists refer to the brain as “a social organ”.

Globally, why are we feeling overwhelmed? Research has shown us that there are 4 main reasons:

  1. Physiology – not meant to sit in front of a computer and just work work work. We need to be outside and we need to move. We are built to move.
  2. Isolation – we are not meant to be in isolation. Our surroundings help us make meaning of the world
  3. Uncertainty – Brain seeks information to make sense of the world or at least make us feel we are in control. When info is constantly changing, we cannot predict the future.
  4. Loss of Meaning – Does anything matter?

We also have a crisis of superiority as a species. Humans believe we are to be superior. This crisis of superiority also connects to racism and poverty. Contributing we also have imperialism and colonialism, a climate crisis. Not just personal trauma, we are dealing with collective trauma. We have a sense of loss of agency, which leads us into apathy.

Video from Bayo Akomolafe talking about intergenerational trauma and how traumas from hundreds of years ago echoes throughout the generations. (me: His example was slavery. A local Canadian context would be our legacy of colocalization, residential schools and reconciliation).

Desmond Tutu quote: We have hardships without being hard. We have heartbreak without breaking”

Dr. Imad talks about how we have agency in choosing how we respond to the challenges. We can either react by doing nothing or doing something. And if we choose to do something, we can go back to the some, or forge a new way. Dr. Imad urges us to dream of a new way.

This is not an “I” or “you” journey. This is an “us” journey.

Dr. Imad now hitting on themes of resilience and how we can make small changes within our own circles and how those changes can ripple out.

Now switching into Trauma-Informed Care – what does it mean to welcome my students and colleagues with a trauma-informed lens and how can I be prepared? Dr. Imad offers these suggestions.

  1. Learn about trauma, especially inter-generational trauma. The more you learn, the more you with have moments of self-assurance and learn about your own journey. Gabor Mate documentary
  2. Resist pathologizing or fixing the trauma. We are not counsellors. We don’t need to fix. But we need to acknowledge.
  3. Get to know individual people. Trauma and healing is relational and appears differently. Let people know you are being intentional in that you are getting to know them.
  4. Let people know you are on a journey with them. They are part of a community. Don’t assume that your students know that you care. Be explicit.
  5. When we are in a state of persistent uncertainty, it can be overwhelming and lonely. So when people say they don’t know what is going on with them, empower them through knwoledge, voice and choice. Validate their feelings of overwheleming.
  6. Priortiize mental health. Don’t wait for crisis to enact mental health checks. Be preemptive.
  7. Help facilitate meaning-making (withing your domain. Remember – you are not a counsellor, but as educators we have methods that can help with meaning-making).
  8. Bring people together intentionally and foster a sense of community. Help to alleviate the sense of lonliness. “It’s an us journey.”
  9. Bear witness to peoples struggles and strength.
  10. Advocate for transformative change. be part of building a better narrative. Ask daring and audacious questions. Ask who’s narrative is being overshadowed?

Ends with a poem from Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.

As you prepare your breakfast, think of others
   (do not forget the pigeon’s food).
As you conduct your wars, think of others
   (do not forget those who seek peace).
As you pay your water bill, think of others
   (those who are nursed by clouds).
As you return home, to your home, think of others
   (do not forget the people of the camps).
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others
   (those who have nowhere to sleep).
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others
   (those who have lost the right to speak).
As you think of others far away, think of yourself
   (say: “If only I were a candle in the dark”).

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) source https://www.palestineadvocacyproject.org/poetry-campaign/think-of-others/

Talk ends with a generous act with Dr. Imad doing a poll on which charity she should donate to based on the amount of chat activity. Looks like Dr. Without Borders and Planned Parenthood are pretty close.

My takeaway

Dr. Imad started the talk by collectively acknowledging that we are living in a time of incredible stress and that it is normal for us to feel isolated, lonely, and stressed. This is our bodies doing what they are supposed to do. But we have the power and autonomy to not only change our own narrative but to help to change the collective narrative through our intentional actions.

The phrase “crisis of superiority” will stick as the hubris of humanity is at the root of much of what is contributing to our collective stress & anxiety.

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