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Leveraging Canvas for Trauma-Informed Pedagogy

Person helping another person up a mountain

I recently had the pleasure of putting together a workshop on ways we can leverage Canvas to enact trauma-informed pedagogy. Trauma is define as:

An event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physi­cally or emotionally harmful or threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the in­dividual’s functioning and physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

As educators, we are likely serving students in our classes who are experiencing trauma or who have experienced trauma. Trauma is pervasive in our society. The National Center for PTSD notes that 5 out of 10 women and 6 out of 10 men experience a traumatic event in their lives. 

And trauma has profound impacts on our brain and how we can learn. This short five-minute video provides powerful insight into the difference between a brain experiencing trauma and a brain that is ready to learn. 

Learning Brain Vs. Survival Brain

Trauma-informed pedagogy provides a way for us to support students in our courses who have experienced trauma to be able to learn. The six principles of trauma-informed pedagogy draw from the CDC’s 6 Guiding Principles to a Trauma-Informed Approach. Canvas provides a tool in which we can enact these principles in our teaching. For tips on how we can leverage Canvas to enact each of the six trauma-informed approaches in our classes, read on!


We need to feel safe to learn (Hammond, 2015)

We can create a feeling of safety in our courses by minimizing uncertainty and creating a sense of consistency. To leverage Canvas to create a sense of safety we can: 

Trust and Transparency

We build trust through small gestures (Brown, 2015), but trust has a big impact on student learning (Cavanagh et al., 2018). We can build trust with students by exceeding expectations, creating a sense of consistency, and focusing on small moves like reminders or quick check-ins. To leverage Canvas to build trust we can: 

  • Create a Canvas page that has clear communication guidelines
  • Use a getting to know you survey
  • Use the “Message Students Who” feature in the Canvas Gradebook

Peer Support

We can support student learning by providing opportunities for meaningful student-student interactions (Cung et al., 2018). We can support peer learning by creating opportunities for peer feedback, facilitating collaborative activities, designing meaningful discussions, and allowing peer instruction. To leverage Canvas to create opportunities for peer support we can: 

Collaboration and Mutuality

We thrive when we’re part of a caring community. We can support collaboration in our classes by centering meaningful connections, integrating active learning, and using learner-centered approaches. To leverage Canvas to support collaboration, we can:  

  • Create a learning pact as a class
  • Ask students for feedback mid-semester with a Canvas survey

Empowerment (Voice) and Choice

We need to feel a sense of agency in our lives. To create a sense of empowerment in our classes, we can empower student voice and provide students choice. To leverage Canvas to empower voice and choice, we can: 

Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

We need to also build awareness of our students’ identities and the stresses students face. To develop an awareness of cultural, historical, and gender issues, we can center student identities and connect students to campus resources. To leverage Canvas to build and demonstrate awareness of cultural, historical, and gender issues, we can: 

For more ideas on how we can leverage Canvas for Trauma-Informed pedagogy, check out the toolkit which highlights faculty ideas from the workshop. 


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