Published on 27 September 2023

MESH Out and About at Lunchtime Showcase on Trauma Informed ESOL Teaching

As part of the Migration Yorkshire Integration Festival Fringe Events, MESH co hosted our third lunchtime showcase online on Tuesday 26th September. I found the event both practically helpful and moving. 

Amelia Scalan from Solace started the presentations with a whistle stop introduction to trauma – what it is, what it looks like and how we can support those living with it. Lora Agbaso, an ESOL tutor with professional and lived experience of trauma and research assistant at the Mental Health Foundation then shared some of her experiences and insights. Addressing the question ‘we are ESOL teachers, not therapists – how involved should we get in a persons trauma?’ she said, ‘we are not botanists but we can support a bulb as it turns into a flower’. Aleks Palanak, of the Sanctuary Seekers Department at the University of Leicester said that we are involved in our students trauma by default. We don’t seek it out, it comes to us as our students come to us.

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I found it particularly helpful to hear all three presenters talk about creating a safe space for students, not just physically by thinking about things like lighting and access, but also by having clear structure to sessions, starting and finishing each session in the same way so that students know what to expect, and giving permission to opt out of difficult questions or topics. Lora uses a verbal ‘skip’ button in her lessons. Learners just say ‘skip’ if they don’t want to engage in a particular topic. 

Finally, it was helpful to hear the presenters encourage teachers to be aware of their own mental health too - they talked about vicarious trauma - and the benefits for all of breathing exercises, sensory experiences - green plants, stroking a dog or cat or as Amelia so delightfully put it - having a five minute ‘sprucy goosey’ round the house. 

By Clare Jackson and Safina Arif

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