1st Edition

Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice Lessons from a Corrections Classroom

By Em Daniels Copyright 2022
    156 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    156 Pages 5 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This timely manual presents a new perspective on teaching and learning focused on countering the impacts of trauma on adults’ ability to learn. Within its detailed and useful approaches, Daniels provides a road map for building a trauma-responsive teaching practice grounded in the principles of Trauma-Informed Care, and emphasizing the need for educators to develop a rigorous practice of self-care. 

    Prison classrooms, in particular, demonstrate the intersectional and overlapping nature of systemic, historical, and individual traumatic experience. People who rediscover themselves as learners while in corrections classrooms have a unique and powerful perspective to bring to the work of ending mass incarceration, and the role of education and learning in that ending.

    The concepts and framework presented in the text aim to expand how we define "working with trauma." Through this redefinition, we better align teaching and learning as counters to the impacts of trauma. As this alignment transforms educational philosophy and practice, we have an opportunity to repurpose the nature of education itself, and shift toward learning how to learn.

    Although this book contains content specific to corrections educators, or those aspiring to teach in prisons, its concepts and activities are applicable to any environment or situation in which adults need to learn. Adult educators, front-line personnel in any public service role, librarians, legal professionals, judges, lawyers—all can benefit from the expertise shared in this book.


    Chapter 1. Learning Our Context

    Basic Concepts
    Terms and Phrases
    The Language of Healing
    Urgent Considerations
    Setting Limits

    Chapter 2. Learning is the Human Condition 

    How We Know
    How We Relate
    How We Teach
    Where We Are

    Chapter 3. Learning and Trauma

    Intersecting Assumptions
    Assembling the Pieces
    Entering the Work
    Wounding the Open-Hearted
    Ability to Learn
    Demanding Resilience
    Reclamation and Rediscovery

    A Note on Chapter 4

    Chapter 4. Learning and Teaching in Harshly Controlled Environments

    Who Are Our Students?
    Carceral Spaces
    The Teaching Space
    Classroom Dynamics
    Moments of Choice

    Chapter 5. Learning to Expand

    Lightbulb Moments
    Trauma-Responsive Education
    The Framework
    Accountability and Generosity
    No, You Can’t Ask
    Asynchronous and Remote Learning
    The Most Radical Act

    Chapter 6. Learning, Growth, and Evolution

    Repurposing Education
    The Expansive Learning Model
    Shift and Rebalance

    Chapter 7. Learning Outward


    Em Daniels is a master educator and leading expert in the impacts of trauma and incarceration on adult learners, adult education inside prisons, jails, and on free campuses as people transition into education after returning to their communities. Daniels is a skilled facilitator and speaker, with an extensive and varied background in adult education, instructional design, curriculum building, and program development. They hold an M.S. degree in Teaching, General Arts, and Letters, from Portland State University and a B.A. in Communications from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

    "Effective prison teaching requires sensitivity to the carceral context. Em Daniels provides a great service to instructors by shedding light on the physical, social, and emotional contours of these spaces. The book will help thoughtful teachers navigate prisons and other harshly controlled environments more effectively, for the benefit of their students and of the education programs they work with."
    Rebecca Ginsburg, Director, Education Justice Project, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

    "This is a seminal work in the field of education [that] addresses two factors that are not understood and overlooked in the assessment and evaluation: trauma and epistemology. This book examines the most current constructs of intergenerational trauma from epigenetics and offers solutions...European culture takes pride in the formulation of its own epistemology starting at the cradle of Western Civilization…[but] Plato realized that there was more than one way to teach and learn. We should follow his guidance."
    Edwin J. Nichols, PhD., Clinical/Industrial Psychologist, Author of The Philosophical Aspects of Cultural Difference

    "Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice is a well-organized and comprehensive overview of how best to support adult students with trauma-informed approaches…What Em Daniels has done within this book has pulled together the many other ways in which trauma shows up — from the generational and systemic societal issues to the childhood traumas many people within U.S. society have. This book gives a solid introduction that is both accessible to an educated lay audience and an overview of the various types of trauma that humans experience. Em draws upon the brain science as well as the social science findings to synthesize otherwise disparate literatures that can be difficult to navigate and provided interpretation around how to apply these studies to our practices as educators.

    Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice is a huge contribution to the higher education literature around trauma and teaching that has, until very recently, been overlooked. Higher education practitioners will be well served by reading this book and changing up their pedagogy and practices to better serve the students they work with. I am so excited that this book exists and cannot wait to make good use of it on my campus, with the faculty and staff I serve."
    Xyanthe N. Neider, Ph.D., Director for Teaching and Learning, Whatcom Community College

    "Daniels is a scholar whose inquiry is deeply informed by decades long work as a practitioner. This book should be required reading for those hoping to enter the carceral space with the hope of doing good. Daniels approaches this work in the spirit of generosity-offering to those who will come after them-a beautiful and thoughtful roadmap."
    Jessica Katz, Founding Director of the Family Preservation Project

    "Em Daniels' Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice: Lessons from a Correction Classroom is a call to action to transform our education system into one that is rooted in compassion and joy. As an adult educator, I appreciate the in-depth research of the connection between trauma, the brain and learning while also providing practical tools to change the classroom environment so I can be part of a much needed change in our education system. The author writes from the heart and takes you into a journey that will change the way you see and practice teaching and learning."
    Caro Forero, Educator, Seattle Central College

    "Em Daniels cracks open the gates of prison to give educators insight into best practices for teaching within correctional settings. Daniels offers up their experience and research in order to provide a guide in teaching students who are incarcerated. Readers are given an opportunity to consider a trauma-informed approach to education that will give students who are already resilient a chance to learn in the safety of the classroom you can create within the walls of a prison."
    Emily Dykstra-Jones, Education Navigator, Washington State

    "Em Daniels has written the first comprehensive body of work asking us to examine our lived experience and epistemology (of language and treatment) around trauma in higher education. This read is must for K-12 and post-secondary education. The new foundational perspective is a solid foundation to begin to comprehend historical spheres of influence, impacted by euro-centric values, within the work we do to support students' access, access+success, and success — as well as ways to mitigate and restore individual and community strength."
    Claudine Richardson Fraser, Ph.D., Director of Student Development, Diversity, and Equity at Spokane Falls Community College and Leadership and EDIB Consultant

    "Em Daniels' trauma-responsive educational space in the prison where we met is where I began to reclaim myself as a learner. If you are serious about helping people help themselves- BUY THIS BOOK! Em outlines specific strategies to help those closest to the problem survive AND grow, coming out the other side informed, empowered, and prepared to build a life worth living. Em leads by example in their work, and now in this book, I’m living proof."
    Nova Sweet, LCSW Family Preservation Project Community Lead Organizer

    "Em Daniels writes a compelling, informative, and ultimately hopeful text about teaching and learning in carceral spaces and beyond. Most educators espouse that education is transformative — learning promotes reflection, facilitates connections and leads to new possibilities for individuals. Many are proponents of providing educational opportunities for those who are imprisoned. However, little has been written or discussed about what this should look like to make the experience transformative. Context setting is the key and Daniels provides educators with an understanding of what it means to learn while imprisoned. Most importantly, Daniels highlights the role of trauma on the learning process and provides tangible strategies for supporting and enhancing learning for students who have or are experiencing trauma. Suffice to say, many of our students have or are experiencing trauma, so Daniels's ideas reach beyond carceral spaces. I look forward to applying much of what Daniels has written into my own college classroom. This book reminds me of why I choose teaching as a profession. Teaching and learning is about relationships and facilitating growth beyond textbook knowledge. Daniels provides a heartfelt, practical, and inspiring text to help us move education forward."
    Candyce Reynolds, Ph.D., Professor, Postsecondary, Adult and Continuing Education Chair, Educational Leadership and Policy Portland State University

    "If you are an educator, administrator, leader or facilitator looking to create learning experiences based on connection, expansion and even joy, read this book and apply the principles and practices Daniels so compassionately lays out. We have a duty to no longer perpetuate systems and spaces that re-traumatize participants — this book is our call to that duty."
    Erin Mauer, MATESL Faculty, Spokane Community College ESL for Immigrants and Refugees

    "In this book, Em combines passion for education and compassion for the students who are involved in our criminal justice system. Too often society views students, who are more likely to be Black and Brown, solely through their behaviors rather than full human beings whose bodies represent the confluence of historical trauma and racist policies. Em inspires possibilities for how educators can create learning spaces where healing can begin from the pain wrought by historical trauma."
    Rowena Pineda, Director of Community Collaborations and Equity Spokane County United Way

    "This book will open the gates to the dark world of mass incarceration, highlighting the forgotten voices of incarcerated students. Daniels words bring to life the prison classroom and academic environment. Building a Trauma-Responsive Educational Practice is a must read for anyone looking to explore the world of Corrections Education."
    Hanan Al-Zubaidy, Director of Corrections Education, Larch Corrections Center

    "This is the book I wish I had when I first started teaching in prison. It gives a helpful overview of the impacts of trauma on adult learning and an extremely useful overview of the mechanics of working in prison. The Trauma-Responsive Framework provides a succinct diagram of focus points for facilitators of adult learning; not just in carceral spaces, but as a universal approach to trauma-responsive teaching of adult learners."
    Tracy Schiffmann, Instructional Designer and Trainer, The Trauma-Informed Classroom, LLC

    "Though there is no shortage of books on trauma and Trauma Informed Care, Em Daniels has penned the first that examines the intersections among Trauma, Education, and the Corrections System. Daniels' thoughtful, human-based approach to adult learners in corrections institutions invites all educators to examine their own trauma as they redefine what it means to be "settled" versus "safe" in corrections settings. This book filled me with hope for how all educational spaces can be more humane, welcoming, and settling."
    Annie Marges, Alternative Education Program Advocate

    "To deeply acknowledge one’s personal trauma and connect the dots to how we can do the healing AND be part of closing disparities in our communities is what Em Daniels offers in this powerful book. Mass incarceration and systemic and historic are all cancers in our society. And yet, we accept a narrative that these cancers "have no cure" or it’s the fault of the individual. Daniels provides a comprehensive, compassionate roadmap that is both nuanced and direct, offering a spectrum of hope and practical applications in how we can change our broken systems and create more loving, equitable and resilient communities of care."

    Kristy LaFollette, Co-Founder, Health Equity Partners | Partnerships Lead, Center for Equity and Inclusion | Advisor, Right To Health