People in conversation

EP’s Dialogic Classroom and Trauma-Informed Teaching

Molly Zuker
Photo: Student in classroom

“I started to trust everyone in the class. I felt heard and I felt that people wanted to listen. As a result, I wasn’t afraid to let my past come out and let people learn from what I have been through.”

Undergraduate Student

Trauma, or Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), can interfere with a student’s ability to concentrate, cause behavioral and emotional dysregulation, and impact a child’s interest in, and ability to form meaningful connections and relationships. All of this can lead to significant cognitive deficits.

However, a trauma-informed school or classroom moderates the effects of trauma and helps students fulfill their educational potential.

Research shows that increasing a student’s connection to peers and teachers while fostering their sense of belonging, safety, and engagement builds resilience to counteract the effects of ACE.

In a trauma-informed educational context, students are provided the emotional tools they’ll need for healthier relationships, a stronger sense of security and belonging, deeper connections, and more focused learning.

In this practice, the question shifts from “what is wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”

Reflective Structured Dialogue and Trauma-Informed Classrooms

The five core values of trauma-informed care are safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment.

In a classroom setting, these translate to the creation of physical and emotional safe spaces, predictability, mutual trust, independent agency, opportunities for collaboration, and shared spaces that encourage belonging.

Although it was developed decades before the emergence of trauma-informed teaching, EP’s Reflective Structured Dialogue approach incorporates all of these elements into its framework.

The co-creation of agreements and intentions, for example, fosters a sense of safety, encourages collaboration, and gives students a certain amount of agency. The predictability of EP’s dialogue structure reinforces a sense of safety and empowerment.

This resource details the alignment between key elements of EP’s approach and the five core values of a trauma-informed classroom.

The Impact of Reflective Structured Dialogue

Mutual respect, understanding, curiosity, and empathy are measurable outcomes of EP’s core approach, Reflective Structured Dialogue. Students report feeling more trust and connection with each other, more empowered to engage in the space, and safe enough to be vulnerable.

“I started to trust everyone in the class,” said one undergraduate. “I felt heard and I felt that people wanted to listen. As a result, I wasn’t afraid to let my past come out and let people learn from what I have been through.”

Evaluations reveal that EP dialogue participants feel more fully understood after the program, even by those with different identities or beliefs. Students in particular report feeling more connected to their classmates and to the larger school community.

“We tackled really difficult topics and this helped everyone know each other and understand each person's individual perspective,” said another undergraduate. “Over the course of the semester, I became much more comfortable engaging with my classmates—specifically because of the peer dialogue groups.”

One teacher recalls feeling “as though the dialogue seemed to engage each participant, encouraging the mutual exchange of varied life experiences. These honest interactions and moments of vulnerability were the conduits to discover common ground.”

If you’re interested in learning more about how EP’s approach can be deployed in your classroom, contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.