Teaching Trauma Pt 7: Developing class lessons


Saturday morning of our Teaching Trauma workshop centered on how to actually prepare our students to cover trauma with exercises on how to introduce some of what we learned into the classroom.

Actually, most of the morning was dedicated to a review of good teaching practices and only the last hour or so was devoted to developing lessons. But we got the message.

I am reminded on one of the seven habits of highly successful people in what we were told to do: Begin with the end in mind. Know what it is you want to accomplish before you start developing a specific plan.

We were broken into small teams to determine three of the most important goals or concepts we had learned from the weekend and then choose one to develop a lesson plan for. I wa teamed with Contra Costa’s Paul DeBolt. (Skyline’s Nancy Kaplan-Biegel was a third California community college instructor in the workshop.)

Paul and I have been around a long time, both having started full-time community college teaching in 1980. We chose to develop a plan for teaching how to be prepared for a campus disaster and settled on a disaster we could easily predict that our students will one day have to cover: an earthquake.

This was especially interesting to us as we both were affected by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and both suffered our own form of trauma and saw our students do an outstanding job, despite having no clue about the sensitivities and realities we covered this weekend. Incidentally, we both count our students’ response during that crisis as among our proudest moments of teaching. Imagine how much better we’d feel today had we known more about how to cover trauma and passed on that lesson to our students.

Migael SchererPresenter Migael Scherer, consultant to the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, had coached us to start with the end in mind by 1) identifying the desired result, 2) identify evidence of learning, and 3) plan the learning activities. This is the opposite of how things will happen, but the best order in which to develop the lesson.

Paul and I decided that we wanted to teach students what they can expect or not expect in the early stages of an earthquake, or most any crisis for that matter. We went for the worst-case scenario: Damage on or near campus; injuries; chaos; loss of resources, such as telephone, cell phone and electricity; and even loss of a place to gather if campus was closed and evacuated. How would our students gather information? How would they report it? How would they take care of their own emotions and trauma? Matthew Stannard the day before had presented us with a realisitc lesson the day before (See Part 5) on covering fires and knowing procecures and contacts BEFORE disaster strikes.

Interestingly, Paul and I had similar but distinctly different stories to tell about our students’ work for the Loma Prieta quake. His students all went home and took care of family business and showed up the next day to work on the followup paper. With no electricty on campus, it was the right thing to do for that Friday’s publication. When campus re-opened on Friday morning the issue was on the stands.

My students, on the other hand, started filtering back in to campus about an hour after the earthquake and stayed at work throughout the night until booted from campus the next morning for safety reasons.We were fortunate to be sitting within an island of property still with working electricity. Our publication date was Thursday and students squirlled away a couple of computers from the journalism lab and finished the paper in a student’s garage. We, too, had the paper on the stands the next morning when campus re-opened.


Our expected outcome would be for students to be prepared to handle a major trauma story like an earthquake. We might even put together a disaster drill to make sure that a contingency plan is known by students and can work.


To put together an action plan for how to handle contingencies during a massive disaster such as an earthquake, perhaps even to put together a notebook with the policy that would include how to take care of your own needs. A side goal would be to have an infrastructure so that students hand down the policy, which would be designed by students, to future students.


Facilitate a discussion and process of developing a student-led contingency plan. We anticipate both a destruction and construction here. First you would have to prepare the students by destructing students’ expectations of what resources will be available. No phone, no electricty, no cell phone, even no newsroom. Fortunately, there are a lot of new storytelling tools available today than there were in 1989 –online publications hosted off site, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc.– but will they be available during a crisis?

Would students know how to gather material, where to gather, how to communicate, how to get beyond the resources they take for granted, know how to recgonize and deal with their own trauma.

We spent a lot of time talking about how much time it would take to complete this project. You could complete the destruction process within one class period, but the process of researching and organizing an action could take months. And then you need to facilitate an infrastructure for keeping the action plan alive.

By the way, a great starting point for research resources is the new Dart Center web site. And the center has a lot of great tools instructors can use. Three that we’re getting copies of to distribute to JACC faculty are booklets on Reporting War, Covering Children nd Trauma and Tragedies and Journalists.

Reporting War Covering Children and Trauma Tragedies and Journalists


In Part One of these reports I talked about the Act One, Act Two and Act Three of Trauma. It should be noted that our lesson attacks Act One, dealing with the original trauma, though we talked about making sure do more than deal with the crisis story. Act Two is about avoiding re-traumatizing and reporting the emotional results of trauma. Some of the tams in the workshop worked on lessons addressing Act Two. Act Three is addressing the long-term effects of trauma. None of us attacked that very difficult level.

NOTE: There were late Friday afternoon sessions I did not blog about. I may get to those later. The afternoon sessions went quickly and I was on such brain overload that my notes are sketchier. My apologies to those excellent session leaders. I don’t appreciate their contributions an less.


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