Photo depicts vintage, wooden chairs facing forward in an empty lecture hall. It is edited from a CC0 image courtesy of Wokandapix on Pixabay.

From Whence We Came

At some point, we realized that a classroom could be an interactive environment for learning, and that students should be more centered. We could still lay out our learning objectives and share from our content expertise, but the classroom itself would be their place to shine, not ours. Our time and efforts shifted from preparing our lectures to strategizing lesson plans that would engage students in working towards those learning outcomes. In a way, we were drawing the maps but they were driving the cars.

Photo of happy people sharing a high-five gesture. Image courtesy of Pexels, CC0.

The importance of this student-centered approach to teaching became more apparent with research on trauma and trauma-informed classrooms. We realized that trauma affected students’ brains and their very DNA. We needed to not further traumatize students who were taking our classes, and we needed to remove racial violence from our curriculum, an essential consideration beyond the scope of this piece but hopefully something you are already mindful of. 

For example, avoid teaching about race differences through a deficits-only model that makes students of color experience trauma so that white students can experience learning. One common case of this in the classroom is the so-called “privilege walk” exercise, which typically leaves students physically sorted, with those who have darker complexion literally at the back of the room when you are done. That exercise is likely traumatic to Black students and other students of color, who already know they will end up in the back, and do not appreciate their bodies being used to model that disadvantage yet again so that white students can learn something that day which they have lived their whole lives. There are other class exercises, beyond the scope of this article, that should be revised and reviewed. The bottom line on this? We must remove racial violence from the curriculum and minimize the extent to which we further traumatize our students.

Trauma-informed teaching places relationships at the center of our job as educators. There are several frameworks and sets of principles on how to do this.

The Multiplying Connections Model (Perry 2009; Walkley and Cox 2013) says that school has five tasks: stay “Calm,” be “Attuned” and “Present” while remaining “Predictable” as possible in an otherwise unpredictable world, and basically “Don’t let students’ emotions determine your own. Their acronym is CAPPD.

The Australian Childhood Foundation’s model (2010) has SPACE as an acronym, which summarizes their take on the five basic principles of trauma-informed classrooms. Their approach includes a lot of practical suggestions, such as, “Provide impromptu fun experiences which are not defined as a reward” because playfulness is a resource for students experiencing trauma.

The popular “Compassionate Teaching” model (Wolpow et al. 2009) offers thorough overviews on building trauma-informed learning environments.

Researchers at Boston University (Atallah et al 2019) have published findings that support the benefits of trauma-informed learning environments, welcoming and inclusive classroom environments, in which educators attend to students’ social and emotional needs, led to improved academic outcomes.

Where We Are Now

And now here we are in the present, and our classrooms have a decidedly uncertain future. Some faculty are going with face-to-face (F2F) instruction. Some are teaching synchronously online or asynchronously-only; others are trying to offer or a bit of each. Some educators are teaching “HyFlex” which means they are going to be doing every single option simultaneously.

And through whatever medium one is teaching, something essential might be lost. We are planning, and getting training on how to lecture in this time. In doing this we risk reverting to that era in which we would talk and they would write down what we say.

Take a step back outside of the classroom and scan the globe for a moment. Perhaps now more than ever, we recognize the presence of racial trauma, poverty trauma, and natural disaster (pandemic) trauma. Now, as much as ever, our classrooms must be trauma-informed spaces that are student-centered.

We do not need to reinvent this wheel. We just need to remember that it’s a really important wheel, and keep it in the forefront of our planning. Since we all have been traumatized to some extent by recent events, acknowledging that burdens are not equally shared in our society, our hearts should naturally go in this direction anyway, towards creating trauma-informed classrooms, wherever and whatever those classrooms may look like.

How to be trauma-informed

It is not a quick and easy thing to be trauma-informed. Trauma is an experience, which means that it is a response to a situation or event, not the situation or event itself. Not all students experience an event or situation the same, because students have different resources and baseline stressors to begin with, and therefore trauma differs among them. Having a trauma-informed classroom is thus about listening and centering the actual students you have in your classroom. It is about communication, trust, and relationships, which means you will have to build and maintain this as you go.

Here are some broad, trauma-informed teaching strategies that should work across disciplines, drawn in part from the following references.

Strategy #1: Empower your students

Empowerment is an ongoing process through which those who do not have an equal allocation of resources gain increasing access to resources. In the classroom, you can offer choices to students about how they will participate and meet learning objectives. By handing over some controls, you can help students feel like not everything in their life is out of their control. This can be very motivating for students, helping them beyond your class.

Strategy #2: Check in with students

Make it a ground rule in your classroom that students’ emotional safety is important to you. And it should be, because it is necessary for learning. Pay attention to your students so that you will notice when something is different, and then reach out. You cannot know what is going on in any student’s mind or life, but you know what you observe, and so that is what you share. For example, you might say, “I noticed that you were late this week, and you are not usually late.” If that does not lead to an explanation, follow it with, “How are you?” This lets your students know that they are not invisible and that they matter, which can help them beyond your class.

Strategy #3: Avoid idealizing trauma in your content

Avoid idealizing trauma narratives in subject content. Make sure your lecture content does not romanticize trauma. What this does is that it skips the healing process, showing only the end points of the tragic event and the triumphant survivorship. This can serve to inhibit coping and healing for students, who need more freedom to express real lived experiences and pain, as appropriate and if it is related to your course content.

Strategy #4: Identify social supports

Make sure you are aware of institutional peer supports and mentor supports available to your students, and how to connect students to these resources. If possible, be a conduit of mentoring connections yourself. I keep in touch with former students for the sole purpose of connecting them with current students, a practice I highly recommend. Few things are as useful to a current student struggling as an outreach from a former student, now ten years out and living the dream the current student hopes to reach. I find that former students welcome the chance to support current students in this way, even during a pandemic. If you have never done this before, you could begin by reaching out to a few former students now and asking if they would be willing to communicate with a current student who has similar career aspirations. In my experience, I have never had one decline this invitation, and it can be a form of meaningful social support for your current students in need, a connection that, after you make it, does not involve you.

A young woman sits in a beanbag chair while participating in an online class on her laptop. Photo by pxfuel.

In this unprecedented time of suddenly teaching courses online that were designed to be taught on campus, and as we look ahead to the upcoming semester, we are now solidly in the realm of online teaching and learning. Neither you nor your students signed up for this. No matter what you chose to do early on in the response to COVID-19, what are you going to do looking ahead? What have you learned that can help you decide? Are you going to teach synchronously or asynchronously? What’s better for your students? What’s better for you? 

Teaching synchronously involves holding “live” sessions that generally allow interactions in real time. Teaching asynchronously means you are probably producing little movies of what you wish you could be teaching in the in-person classroom environment where we all thought our classes would be taking place, and you upload these little movies for students to view on their own schedule. Acknowledging that there are strongly-held beliefs about the superiority of the method on each side of this debate, let’s walk through the key strengths and drawbacks of each option.

What’s so great about teaching synchronously?

This category of online learning allows students to see and interact with one another and with you, to give and receive real-time feedback on their ideas, to brainstorm and collaborate with peers, to ask questions of you as a lesson is being shared, and to be reminded that we are community members, separated physically but not in spirit. With real solidarity, synchronous classes can remind all of us that we are not alone even as we negotiate our changed landscape amidst the novelty that is physical isolation.

You can be creative in nurturing a sense of community in your synchronous classroom. You are a team, on a shared mission. You are in this together. Making eye contact and having conversations at your regularly scheduled class times is priceless as a preventative measure for mental health outcomes, and for increasing engagement with the course materials. Whether students are in your class to complete requirements of a major, or to earn elective credits or specialty skills and knowledge, in the synchronous online classroom you can readily help students remember why they registered for your course to begin with, which can be very grounding. 

So the benefits of teaching “live” include improved communication efficiency and clarity, increased sense of community, fostering solidarity with and among your students who might deeply value the peer support and shared experience of being together for your class. 

Image shows grid view of 25 students in Erika Sanborne’s Social Research Methods discussion/lab section on March 18, our first suddenly-online synchronous gathering. We all wore University gear, to remind one another that we are in this together. Students gave expressed permission to share this class photo. Photo by Erika Sanborne.

What is good about teaching asynchronously?

The most popular reason for choosing this option for your teaching is flexibility regarding when work is done. You can make your little lecture movies whenever you have the time and space to do so, recognizing that your own obligations have likely increased for now as well, so this flexibility can be invaluable. Also, of course, your students can watch those recordings at their convenience. Students’ life circumstances have likely changed. They did not plan to be where they physically are right now while they are completing your course. They might be sharing technology and not have unlimited access to it. They might be across the globe in an incompatible time zone. They might not want to let you and their entire class into the space where they are living right now. This unprecedented social intimacy may have unknown effects on their emotional well-being, and an asynchronous class lets them receive lecture information without that intimate reciprocity of audio and/or video from the place that’s currently home to them.

Asynchronous classes have pedagogical benefits too. They allow students to literally “pause” your class when they are confused or need a break, something only possible in their dreams for in-person and synchronous online classes, which go at a pace not set by them at all. Also, the technology requirements to take in an asynchronous class are lower, and this is therefore more accessible to more students. Watching or downloading a video can happen on the most basic internet-capable devices. Asynchronous lectures can even be mailed on DVDs, or transcribed and printed out with captioned graphics as needed. They can also be closed captioned for accessibility. 

What have you learned so far teaching under these conditions?

You need to set up mental scales of your own, to weigh out and determine what really matters to you, and what is best for you and for your students. I’ve spoken with many individual faculty members at several universities while consulting on this topic, and in every conversation, we’ve decided the best option is to offer some combination of both synchronous and asynchronous offerings in a class. This is not necessarily ideal or superior. It’s just one way of trying to maximize the benefits of both options, while using each to cover the shortcomings in the other. Perhaps thinking through this example will help you refine your own plan as we look ahead to more of this sort of course design, of teaching classes online that were slated to have taken place in person.

An example of “doing both”

Suppose you were scheduled to teach your class twice a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:00 am – 11:15 am local time. For this example, you can now meet synchronously (live) Mondays and Wednesdays at 10 am local time, for about 30 minutes. Keep it briefer to minimize the fatigue that results from too much continuous video conferencing, for them and for you. After revisiting your course’s learning objectives and determining what’s most essential, cover the associated lecture topics live, interactively. Remain, or reclaim if you’ve steered apart, the community that you were before everything shifted online. Invite your students to your live classes assuring them of both your accompaniment and your realization that they likely have new burdens and expectations. Use some simple measure of classroom participation (i.e. three short questions that you introduce throughout the 30 minute class, and that can be answered typing on a smart phone); offer them some various live office hours each week, and teach your class. Give them whatever is most important for your course.

What about those students who cannot make it to the live classes? There are valid reasons. If at all possible, do not expect them to share the reason with you. Asking them to justify why they cannot attend your class online, when they had not planned to be an online student right now, is a bit unfair. Trust your students when they say they cannot make it to your synchronous class. Their reasons may include time zone difference, lack of technology, no free space in their home, no quiet space, less time to be a student because of shifted family responsibilities such as caregiving, etc. Some are working jobs to make up for parents’ lost wages now. Some are homeless because student housing was their solution for where to live right now. For students who have never had an online class before, they might have anxiety about how it all works. There are many reasons why one might not be present for synchronous classes.

The solution for them is simple. Record those 30 minute live classes, and make them available to those who cannot attend at the regularly scheduled class time. Make sure they can complete the same simple measure of classroom participation in a way that is no more or less taxing whether one is live or one is watching the video later. Make sure you follow FERPA regulations and basic copyright laws for recordings, and that you only make public your own face and your own thoughts. You can also restrict access to these videos with passwords, time-limits and other means depending on your platform. Check with your institution for these details. 

Which option is better for you and your students?

That is the question we have answered on the fly, and may be reconsidering as we look ahead to plan future semesters, and only you can answer. I am in favor of the “doing both” option as in the example above. I have had the most success with, as have faculty I’ve helped figure some things out. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. No matter the option you go with, do your best to be truly present with your students, and to let them see that, either as they make eye contact with you themselves, or otherwise when they see you offering your accompaniment as they view the recording later. If you are choosing to go strictly asynchronous, do what you can to connect with your students and to allow them to share the experience of your class with one another. One pro tip: Talk to the camera, not to your screen, to convey eye contact. It is worth practicing this skill.

You are probably doing great. If possible, consider synchronous classes such as in the example, with a recording offering a comparable experience for the students who cannot get to the live class. If you offer no synchronous classes, try to have some optional synchronous time in general, whether that’s office hours or something else. You’re reaching out through the physical distance between us, to show them that you care about their learning and their struggles. 

If you are personally juggling too many unforeseeable stressors, or you need to do exclusively asynchronous instruction for whatever other personal reasons, that is valid, My hope is that you find nothing but institutional support for you doing the best that you can. If you are struggling with the fatigue that comes from too many video conferences, all while trying to hold your concerns about the world and your loved ones in check, please hang in there and be kind to yourself. You are not alone either.

Here is a list of miscellaneous teaching resources that the graduate students at the University of Minnesota have compiled.  We hope it’s helpful!

SOCNET: Sociology Courses and Curricular Resources Online – This website has links to all kinds of sociology courses, activities, syllabi, and other curricula online.

ASA Online Bookstore – Includes resources on teaching techniques, ASA Syllabi Sets, research briefs and volumes, social policy volumes, reference materials, national department information and management resources, and special journal issues and indexes (all for sale as hardcopies).

Reaching the Second Tier: Learning and Teaching Styles in College Science Education, by Richard Felder – This is an article about learning styles and how to teach students with different ways of understanding information.

Good Teaching: The Top Ten Requirements, Richard Leblanc – An article with tips for effective teaching.

Good Teaching Practices, Barbara Gross Davis – A compendium of classroom-tested strategies and suggestions designed to improve the teaching practices of all college instructors, including beginning, mid-career, and senior faculty members. The book describes 49 teaching tools that cover both traditional practical tasks–writing a course syllabus, delivering an effective lecture–as well as newer, broader concerns such as responding to diversity on campus and coping with budget constraints.

Teaching Effectiveness Program, University of Oregon – The Teaching Effectiveness Program provides a wide range and variety of valuable resources for instructors. Among the materials included in this section are general classroom resources, information focusing on diversity, articles about featured University of Oregon teachers, library listings, and web links.

Good Teaching Ideas from the University of Oregon – This site is from the University of Oregon’s Teaching Effectiveness Program. It has links and ideas for group learning, teaching large classes, service learning, and creating a teaching portfolio.

Teaching through Distance Education: An article from Cause/Effect teaching journal – This article, “An Emerging Set of Guiding Principles and Practices for the Design and Development of Distance Education Combining Good Teaching with Good Technology”, is an excellent resource for faculty and instructors considering this option and/or using WebCT.

The Nine and a Half Commandments of Good Teaching – In addition to the nine and a half commandments of good teaching, this site has articles and advice on lectures, teaching methods, and classroom management.

Working Conceptualization of ‘Good Teaching’ Introduction – This article is an attempt to define good teaching. It focuses on beliefs and dispositions, the importance of professional and political knowledge, and good teaching practices and skills.

Inside the Mystery of Good Teaching – This article also focuses on good teaching and closing the performance gap, and the resources available to teachers in their path to good teaching.

WebCT Tools and the Good Teaching Principles They Support – This site outlines the tools available through WebCT and the learning and interaction goals they help students and instructors meet.

Teaching Tips Index – This useful index includes information and articles about learning styles, motivating students, course design, dealing with difficult students and behavior, the first day of class, assessment techniques, lesson plans, syllabus design, and much more.


Learning Neighbourhood 2011

Just had to repost this for those who may not follow all the other great stuff on The Society Pages.

Check out Office Hours’ conversation with Nathan Palmer about creating an online community of free teaching content.

Then, download his Soc 101 Class Pack for free!




Next week we’ll share the final post from our guest blogger, Nathan Palmer.  In the meantime, if you have a activity or an assignment that you would like to share with our community of teachers, please send it to us!  We welcome any activity that is paired with Contexts articles or used generally to teach about the social world.  We would love to showcase your work!!

Email Hollie at  or Kia at

write or be written off
At Contexts and, we spend a lot of time thinking and expounding about how, for social science to be effective outside the academy, it simply has to be accessible. That means writing rigorous science in an approachable way and allowing for skillful editing to help make our points clear and concise for all readers. Doug Hartmann and Chris Uggen have been addressing these issues recently, both in their Letter from the Editors column in each quarterly issue of Contexts and in their Editors’ Desk posts here on They’ve written about science-in-the-vernacular and the art of being edited, along with the nuances of presenting scientific knowledge when, well, “It’s Complicated.” What we haven’t talked about is how good writers become good writers.

Sure, a few excellent authors were born that way. Silver-tongued and fleet-fingered, these stars of social science naturally present the insights of the ivory tower in the language of the people. Show-offs.

But, as a recent essay submitted by one sociology student points out, the rest of us need a little help. Kate Parker says, “For many undergraduate students, the writing life of a professor is pure mystery,” and pleads, “Teach students about the process of writing… Better yet, tell them about your writing process.” Below, her essay in its entirety and, in the comments (with any luck) you can share your suggestions on making writing itself a key pedagogical function.

“Out of My Shell,” Kate Parker

I used to be notorious for refusing to let anyone but professors read papers I had written.  My mother?  Nope.  My partner?  Not likely.  My fellow sociology students?  No way.  Each time I turned a paper in, I was convinced it was awful.  My writing process involved a steady flow of anxiety, punctuated with moments of pure panic.  I paced around the room, consumed sweets as though they were pure intellectual fuel, and stayed up all hours of the night.  In the end, I was sure that I had missed something critical.  I was certain that my thought process was not sophisticated enough or that my writing style was average at best.  So when a professor suggested I take her class on writing for sociology students, I nervously jumped at the chance.

On the first day of class, I took a look at the requirements for the course and came across one of my biggest fears: peer reviews.  Not only did I cringe at the thought of my fellow students quietly laughing at my writing, I felt extremely uncomfortable with the idea of criticizing their work.  Who was I to judge someone else’s writing?  We started reading Howard Becker’s book Writing for Social Scientists and discussed our fears in class.  Our professor explained that graduate students and professional sociologists depend on their peers for feedback.

After realizing that everyone else was as nervous as I was, my fears started to lessen.  We reviewed each other’s work several times throughout the semester and I began to (brace yourself) enjoy them.  Reading my classmates’ work exposed me to new styles of writing.  Finding both effective and ineffective aspects of their work helped me focus on what was effective and ineffective in my own.  They gave me fantastic suggestions and helped me work through specific areas I was struggling in.  I even found myself continuing to discuss assignments with other students after class.  Most importantly, I realized that letting others read and comment on my writing made me a better writer and this skill will be extremely useful when I graduate.

Peer reviews were not my only fear, however.  We were also expected to write multiple drafts of each assignment.  Like many undergraduate students, my idea of paper writing consisted of sitting down at 10pm the night before an assignment was due and writing the entire piece at once.  No drafts, minimal revisions.  I thought writing and revising multiple drafts were irritatingly tedious.  Now, in hindsight, it’s very easy to see why I was so anxious about my papers.  I felt that I had to have it perfect the first time.  And by waiting until 10pm the night before, I sort of did.  As I wrote and rewrote drafts for my writing class, I enjoyed how it managed to quell a great deal of the anxiety I felt during the writing process.  I stopped pacing around my room and eating a steady stream of sweets all night.  Realizing I didn’t have to create perfection the first time around was a huge relief, and I have taken that knowledge to other parts of my life.  I used to avoid risk in any situation, fearing humiliation if I didn’t do something correctly.  Now, I am comfortable with the fact that nothing is perfect the first time and sometimes I need to just go for it.  This has led me to start running again with the goal of finishing a half-marathon within a year, regardless of the fact that some people may think the term “running” is a bit of an exaggeration due to my tortoise-like pace.

Finally, I had to deal with my worst nightmare.  Even the mention of public speaking was enough to send my heart racing and make my palms sweaty, and now I had to endure this horrible process twice.  The first would be a practice presentation of our final research paper in front of the class.  The second was far worse: presenting at an undergraduate research conference.  I had grudgingly participated in the conference last year, and it was not an enjoyable experience due to the feeling of my nerves being wrapped around my stomach.  A class I had taken in public speaking ended in disaster after disaster.  Why would this be any different?  Luckily, I felt very comfortable with my classmates by this point in the semester, so I did not feel overly anxious during the practice session.  The conference presentation loomed in the back of my mind, but I began to notice that I wasn’t feeling the deep, overwhelming sense of dread I had previously experienced.  This, however, made me nervous.  There was no logical reason for me to feel this calm.  Surely a massive panic attack was just lurking under the surface, waiting until I made my way in front of a room filled with people.  But then this fear of my lack of fear suddenly disappeared as I made my way to the podium.  I presented my research loudly and clearly, without my face turning the unnatural shade of burgundy that had accompanied all of my previous public speaking experiences.  The confidence that had been built in my class transferred to my presentation, and if I had not been forced into the experience I would still be terrified of talking in front of people.  As a committee member for a local charity event, this confidence in front of a crowd was a great asset when I had to address volunteers, and I’m extremely grateful that I have this skill for my future career.

I’d like to finish with a little advice for Sociology professors: please teach your students how to write.   I’m not just talking about how to write a great topic sentence or how to use correct punctuation.  Teach students about the process of writing, that it’s ok to ask for help, that you don’t have to get it perfect the first time.  Better yet, tell them about your writing process and the anxieties you have experienced.  For many undergraduate students, the writing life of a professor is pure mystery.  It seems intimidating, foreign, out of reach.  Your students may have made it halfway through college, but it is very likely that no one has truly challenged them to face their biggest fears associated with writing.  If you give them this challenge, they will be much more confident and prepared for graduate school and professional life.

Kate Parker graduated from Indiana University of South Bend in 2010. She wrote this essay for Dr. Gail McGuire’s course “The Social Practice of Writing.” Parker can be reached at kate[dot]parker4[at]gmail[dot]com.

The most recent episode of the Contexts Podcast features an interview with Walt Jacobs about teaching race through comedy. Check it out.

Paper Chain MenHave you ever wondered if there was an online community of sociologists sharing ideas and resources in a single place? It turns out, Danish sociologist Lars Damgaard has started just such a community —

About, Damgaard writes:

The vision of is to connect the globalized world of sociologists, sociology students or any other form of sociological allies who share the interest in the subject of sociology.

I am convinced that this vision a good idea, if you agree, please don’t hesitate to inform your colleauges, friends, co-students about the existence of As more and more people interested in sociology join the website the quality of the content of the site will improve.

Like most sites, the content is organized by ‘tags,’ see below for the topics covered on this unique site.

Most popular tags

recognition jazz critical sociologycapitalism max weber sociology of emotions Hegel social stratificationmaster-slave dialectic critique social spacedialectics hegemony sociological imagination Bourdieu feeling rulesoutsiders spirit deviance Gesellschaftpierre bourdieu The Philosophy of Moneyrationality panopticon The Metropolis and Mental Life sociology organismsurvival of the fittest choice philosophyQuantitative methods powerFoucault class analysis marx social action emotions Frankfurt schoolnew features agil philosophy of science marxism Critical theoryparsons Gemeinschaft The Strangerevolution chicago

There is so much to explore! Join the site and expand the community of sociologists.