square bulletCreating a Trauma Informed Space in Online Platforms

May 18, 2020

Shilo George, MA (of Łush Kumtux Tumtum Consulting) and Christine Whitaker (TIO’s Train the Trainer participant) talk with Ana Hristić about ways to inform online learning spaces through the lens of trauma informed care. As many of our daily activities (including our team meetings, trainings, and case consults) are currently restricted to the online platform, this vlog explores ways to use the principles of trauma informed care to elevate safety, power, and value in the name of workforce wellness.

TIPS for virtual meetings:

  1. When you offer breaks, offer ways for people to take advantage of them. Examples may include participants moving their body, hydrating, reading a book, or drawing, to encourage restoration rather than multi-tasking on screen.
  2. Normalize the personal impacts of virtual learning/gathering, like fatigue.
  3. Use the chat to enhance connections, but have someone monitor and coordinate any chat-based discussion with facilitators.
  4. Invite people to change their names and add pronouns to their avatar image. Inviting, rather than requiring, gives the power (TIC value/principles) to the individual attendee.
  5. Continually reassess whether the virtual meeting is both necessary, and the best way to communicate for the cost. Acknowledge that there are costs.
  6. Affinity groups are a valuable tool, but they should be conducted more often so that relationships are still building effectively over time.

This video is 32:42 minutes.

Ana: So welcome. I’m excited to share space with you in this way. We’ll do some intros, but for context, for the listeners and viewers, we just came off of three-day online training that Shilo and I co-facilitated, and that Christine was one of the 32 participants of. And so, thought this would be a great opportunity with a fresh perspective to debrief how it went and what this whole online platform, Zoom or otherwise, could bring up for people. And what are some creative ways, both intrapersonally, interpersonally, and organizationally, that we could sort of uplift certain procedures and practices to maintain a trauma informed space for people? So welcome. Christine, do you want to just get us started with just giving any kind of introduction about yourself and what was the experience like for you?

Christine: My name is Christine and I will be graduating from PSUs MSW program next month actually, and I had been a three-year exclusively online student, which has helped my life at home. Very convenient. And it enabled me to pursue my degree, still take care of my two girls at home and be there for them. So, I work for DHS. I am the volunteer coordinator for district two, which is Multnomah County, and we serve both child welfare and self-sufficiency.

Ana: Thanks Christine. Do you want to tell us a little bit about how being a participant of the 2.5 days was for you and just begin to pull out anything?

Christine: Yeah, I’d love to. So, I thought it was one of the smoothest trainings that I have been, so I, that I’ve attended, or meeting. I’ve in my three years, I have gotten to know Google Hangouts and Zoom very well. You know, when I first started school, a lot of people would tell me, they would kind of like pooh-pooh the online platform. That’s not a real degree, that’s not a real education. But it has allowed so much engagement. I feel just as much as it would an on-campus program. So that myth that online trainings or education doesn’t allow for interaction and engagement is not true. Not only did we get together for class within the cohort and Zoom meetings that the instructor facilitated, but we got together outside of that big group and in our small little five group, five-member group. And so that’s what I got with this Zoom meeting. The breakout sessions, I love breakout sessions, because that’s where kind of like everything happens. That relationship building, that trust building, that’s where it all happens. And you come out feeling like you’ve gained more support, and you come out knowing that you’ve got these people kind of in your, on your side that you can reach out to, right?

I thought the managing of conversations within the big group was handled very professionally and very respectfully. And it was, it’s nice because we’re, we were in this training from 8:30 to 4:30 and that’s a long, long time. And as much as we want to share and hear each other’s story or what we have to say, you’ve got to have some real skill to be able to kind of, for lack of better words, cut someone off respectfully and maintain that respect to everyone else’s time in a training or a meeting. So, that went well. The smooth transitions from the big group to the breakout sessions, from the big group into the videos. I think videos are tricky because you’re always going to kind of run into something, right? And it’s not necessarily our fault. Technology is great when it works the way you want it to, right? But there was some choppiness to the YouTube videos, but it wasn’t so much to where we couldn’t understand what was being said.

So, I think only recommendation, if I can, the only recommendation I would look into is possibly making it half-day trainings. Only because it is a long time to be in front of a computer, and the information is so important. I mean, you could tell the passion, you felt that passion from every member through the screen. And we all wanted to be there, and we were so eager to learn. And it was like we were all sponges and we wanted to take it all in. And so, I just wonder if we risk losing people when it’s, you know, eight hours or whatever it is at a computer. So, it’s just a thought.

Ana: Yeah. Thanks for getting us started Christine. Shilo, come on in and tell us a little bit about yourself and it was such a pleasure to co-facilitate with you, so it will be fun to debrief what worked.

Shilo: Hi, yeah, so I have my own consulting firm, Łush Kumtux Tumtum Consulting, which means a great awakening of heart and spirit in Chinuk Wawa. And I think I went through the training cohort maybe three years ago, this training, and have been doing trauma informed practices for many years, being a social worker and working within non-profits, but taking the specific training through TIO has been really helpful. And I think I thought I knew a little bit more about trauma responses than I did when I first took the training from you all. It had to be like four years ago. And I was like, oh there’s a lot more here. So, it’s been great to take the different trainings and the Training of the Trainer. And most of the work that I do as a consultant and a trainer is trauma informed practices. If I’m really lucky, I get to worked with orgs who will allow me to do a long series. So, the training, the foundations training, I kind of embed in other types of trainings that I do. And I really try to look at the area of race and trauma and then also just justice and anti-oppression. And how do we do that work also with trauma informed care as a vehicle for it? I think it works really well.

So, this is the first time that I co-facilitated Training of the Trainer. And I was really excited to work with you on it. I think that it went really well. It was exhausting. I think it’s probably exhausting to facilitate it anyways, like in person. And I have seen you at the end of three days in the afternoon when there’s usually like a professional development peace, and you’re just, like you’re still wonderful and beautiful, but I could tell it takes a lot out of you. So, it is like pretty intensive. I know that we had a lot of conversations ahead of time of, you know, how do we do this in a Zoom platform and really give people lots of breaks. So, even though it was, you know, eight hours, there was a break typically every hour, and that still is exhausting for people. So yeah, I think that was really good to have those breaks. People were amazing. There was, you could see the connection happening. And it might have taken a little bit longer for that connection between people to happen, but I think Christine’s right, those breakout sessions really helped. I feel like people just really came into it with a really good attitude, and were prepared, and were like, this is what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it online. It’s going to be different than in person, and were just there for it. And yeah.

So, I think one of the things that was maybe a little bit difficult for me at the beginning, although I felt like I got better at it towards the end, was the chat space. Like I found it really difficult to listen or to talk, like if I’m presenting, and to watch the chat, like I just couldn’t do it. So, I had to tell everyone and then I was like chatting and sending it to the wrong person, and it felt just really clunky in that way. It was a little frustrating, especially when like there was an elder who was wanting to talk, and I was trying to be, like acknowledge that I saw that her hand was raised, but I was sending it to a private person who had just messaged me. So, that first day I was like ugh! So yeah, I think the chat, the chat thing I think is something that needs to, that we probably should talk about in this.

Ana: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So, let’s unpack that a little bit. Two things were brought up. One is just the fatigue of, not just the full day training, but let’s just even say an hour-long meeting. And the unique fatigue that’s happening when onscreen. And there are some articles that are coming out now around why that is, and what are some tools that we could put in place to give our, literally our minds, our eyes, but also our spirits, a bit of a break. And then talking about chat. So, in terms of the fatigue piece, yeah, offering as many breaks as possible. And I found that actually giving some instruction/suggestion of how to use those breaks may be a way to sort of get ahead of the human tendency to like to multitask during the break and stay on the screen in order to then check some emails or check the news. But really instructing and really suggesting to people to move their bodies as feels good to them, get some water, and maybe step outside or be outside for a minute. So, some way to quite literally suggest to people what restoration looks like, rather than just a kind of numbing. Any other suggestions for alleviating that fatigue, either interpersonally or intrapersonally, that you’ve used for yourselves?

Christine: Ana, I thought those were great reminders because I did find myself staying at the table and checking emails. And really, we want to kind of move our brain, if you will, and wake it up a little bit to come back and be ready for the next topic. The suggestions were great. I think it’s just a matter of making sure we do it, right?

Ana: Yeah. And Shilo, I know when you and I spoke about this a while back, the suggestions to folks to turn on their cameras or not may be another way to give some choice around that level of fatigue. Maybe not even, and just proactively speaking to you don’t have to look at the camera all the time. Your computer could be slightly off as a way to just literally give your eyes a bit of a rest. Any other thoughts around how to manage that fatigue?

Shilo: I think making sure you’re drinking enough water or tea or whatever it is that hydrates you. And again, I think the reminders are important because, to do it throughout the training, or at the top of an hour-long meeting, and just letting people know and giving them that permission that like you don’t have to stare in a camera and all of that. I think we know that information or at least we’re starting to figure that out. But still having that permission is good, especially if it’s a workspace. And when I’ve done some training work very recently during this pandemic with some leadership in an organization, I was like, you know, make sure that you’re being very, very clear and communicating often about your expectations, because people may be assuming your expectations are similar to when, to pre-pandemic. And so, just being really clear with people and communicate, communicate, communicate. So, I think that works really well, for especially workspaces.

Christine: Yeah, and I think maybe notifying people ahead of time or letting them know, hey, set up your workspace, right? Bringing those fidgets or those snacks that you guys so generously, that was amazing. That was like a little surprise in the mail. The M&Ms and the popcorn. Like have what you need at your workspace. So, imagine that you are actually at that round table in the physical space, right? You’ve got that basket of fidgets, you’ve got your snacks, and you’ve got your coloring pencils, things like that. So, set it up to where you are comfortable and are able to maybe stand up if you need to and still be online, sit down if you want to. So, just kind of, and that’s on us as a participant, right? We can’t expect you guys to do everything for us but knowing what you need and having it there available for you.

Ana: Yeah, and then the power of the chat as one of the functions of these online platforms. Let’s talk a little bit more about that. And we can even scope it out even further around, just defining some of the features and putting some boundaries around how they’re used and how that’s actually trauma informed. Because certain needs will arise and where they’re expressed is really up to what kind of culture we set up. So yeah, the power of the chat box was interesting because it really was a whole other world, a whole other little subculture that could take off. And that kind of fragmenting for the purposes of our particular training of the cohort that we were trying to build was counterproductive. And yet, I could see how in certain meetings, the chat box could be useful in that way, that kind of quote-unquote fragmenting.

So, I think calling out slash naming what the purpose of the chat box is as early as possible so that there isn’t a need to kind of redirect, but we’re actually being transparent about it to support connection, to ask questions. But that as facilitators, for example, we may not attend to every single question in a verbal way. Feels important because we likely won’t. And if we do miss folks, that might be experienced as quite uncomfortable and alienating. And so, as much as we can proactively speaking to, you know, what factors of our human capacity may or may not be at play in the chat box. Any other thoughts about the chat box? And just about transparency around facilitator roles, and what we will or will not do?

Christine: Shilo, first of all, I think you should give yourself a little more credit because that’s a beast of its own, right? But I don’t know, maybe having someone who has been through Train the Trainer, manage it for you guys, who is able, who feels confident to redirect or answer questions. And then if they can’t, jump into the big group and be like, hey, we have a question off to the side. Here it is. What do you, what are your thoughts? So that, because I can see how it can take your attention away from what you’re talking about or what is being said. The way you guys co- facilitated was amazing. It was great having Shilo jump in here and there and add her little nuggets of information. And that was beautifully done, but I think it takes away from the facilitator. So, I would have someone kind of focus on the chat area alone. Just them. Yeah.

Shilo: So I think just like being clear, like Ana said, with what you, how you want things to work with the chat, where you would like to get feedback, and just being transparent about that piece is such a trauma informed practice that seems really small. But having that clear communication going into it, or if you’re finding in the middle of a training or a meeting that there’s an issue, just naming it right then, I think is super helpful for people.

Ana: Yeah. And, you know, part of the fatigue, I think is also has something to do with just the negotiating of different norms and different cues, you know, you’re in a space and you use all your senses, including your spidey-sense, and who’s who? And what part of you is going to show up? What’s the safety look like? Who are the allies? Even in the most, sort of, subliminal way of connecting with people. And now all of a sudden, we’re in this other space. And I think part of the fatigue is trying to actually negotiate it all. And so, I’m wondering if there’s some useful ways or tricks of the trade, both as a participant but also as a facilitator, that we could name and kind of celebrate to actually give some power back to the participants. That first of all, this is real. And second of all, here are some things we put in place to facilitate that connection. For example, just even the tool of encouraging people to change their names to what they’d like to be called, inviting folks to include their pronouns if they wish. I think that again, in the name of trauma informed care, we want to be inclusive and yet not require that because that also has actually historically been a kind of gender-based oppression. And so, even in the small group prompts of sharing things about one another, may be pinging some of those ways of, oh, that’s what you’re about. Okay. So that we can set up a platform for people to connect.

Christine: And in doing that, you gave us the power, right? Like a lot of times our Zoom meetings or trainings are very structural, and this is what you need to do, this is step A, step B. But you gave us power. You gave us control over what we could have control and power. And that was very refreshing.

Shilo: Yeah, I mean, you know, I’m an empathic person and I read the room when I do training. And so, I’ve been trying to figure out if that’s possible by looking at people’s faces. Like I can read sometimes a little bit from that, but it’s just, it’s kind of hard. And so, I’ve been trying to get to that. I think that, you know, we used the chat a couple of times for questions, prompt questions, and then people could add their answer to the chat. And I wasn’t sure how that was really going to go in terms of creating community, but I personally thought that that was really helpful. It was a way, because there were so many people in the training, you couldn’t really go around and have people do an introduction. Or I mean, we kind of did one at the end of the first day where people said like a minute, but it can go on fortwo or three minutes and then it was like 45 minutes. And I think all of us at the end of a long day, were just like, I want to hear this, but I’m also like so tired, I just want to get off the computer. So, the next day, I think we split it, didn’t we? In half.

Christine: That was great.

Shilo: I think that worked a lot better.

Christine: Yeah.

Shilo: Where Ana, you were in one room, I was in another. But I think also using the chat function too was great, where people could just put their answers in the chat. We could all read it. And they were still like, kind of fun. It was really interesting also to see how similar, you know, multiple people had a similar answer, or I don’t know, like it was just kind of fun. And I didn’t expect that I would feel connection with people or like, oh, you know, I didn’t even think about that, through a chat, so yeah, I liked that.

Ana: Yeah. And so, if there are other things that are coming up that you wanted to share, but I think for closing, it would be helpful to me to bring this to the sort of organizational level around what are some things that we want to consider as we seek to be a trauma informed organization, or as we seek to maintain connection and some level of ritual during a pandemic? And so, we are looking to use this platform. You know, one thing, for example that comes up for me is just being super diligent about asking the question of is it actually necessary? Is it, is this a topic, is this a platform that we need to use in this way? For example, using a Google Share document could be another way of incorporating people’s voice and not having them be on video in real time. So, continuing organizationally to ask, is it actually necessary for us to meet via this platform? And being honest about that because the cost is actually potentially great. And so not making it the new normal slash the new way of meeting, but actually being diligent about asking, is it necessary? Are there any other sort of organizational or like organizational culture considerations that you want to bring in?

Shilo: Yeah, I have a couple of things actually. I think that, you know, a little bit of, kind of what, kind of going a little bit with what you were just saying Ana, I think also asking is this a conversation we can have over the phone potentially? As opposed to a Zoom, or platform, or, you know, video chat. And so, that’s often, I’ve been trying when I’ve been talking with clients and things like that is, can we have a phone call? If I already have two Zoom chats that day, you know, and I’ve noticed that people have been pretty flexible about that because I just don’t want to stare at a screen anymore. I think that one thing structurally, I do think that it’s important to consider emotions and people’s mental health with this. And I know, I’ve had a couple conversations with people about staring at ourselves and it bringing up like dysmorphia, body dysmorphia for people. So, you know, that’s a thing to think about as well of what that can do to our mental health to see our faces all the time right in front of us. And it can be fascinating, it can also be really disturbing. And so again, being very careful about allowing people to shut their cameras off. That could be, and it’s not like calling people out for that. But like just considering that there may be some other mental health situations going on with that.

I did want to bring up the affinity space because I think that’s unique to this training. I bring it to a lot of the trainings that I do. And I think it’s a really beautiful supportive piece, especially doing this training. And so, we had BIPOC, Black, Indigenous, People of Color affinity space that was scheduled at the end of the last day. And I co-facilitated that with Charlie. And then you co-facilitated the affinity space for White folks. And we had two different agendas for that. But, and then, you know, I really, Ana I thought you did a really great job acknowledging like there’s lots of different affinity spaces we could have around identities, and yet we’re going to focus on race, and really trying to help people understand why we’re focusing on race first, right? And doing that, I think was really helpful. I think it’s always really amazing to hear feedback from those affinity spaces. Obviously, I’m going to keep confidential what was said in that space, but there was a couple of pieces of feedback that I wanted to share that I thought was really great. One of them was to have affinity space throughout the training.

So, at the end of the day when you have breakout rooms to kind of go over how the session was for you, to make those affinity spaces for BIPOC folks to get to meet each other a little bit quicker and have that supportive space throughout the training. And it is a really, really supportive space for most BIPOC people. I’ve never heard someone be like, I don’t like this. It could happen, but I’ve never heard it. And I think just considering when you’re talking about topics that involve race or any kind of structural dynamics, that you think people need to kind of be separated to have certain conversations. Maybe it’s between frontline staff and management, right? There’s times that I’ve split up those power dynamics in conversations, and it has really helped whatever we’re trying to discuss. And it also helps me, as the trainer, get an idea of maybe potentially what’s going on in a space where people feel like they can’t talk. They can talk in that affinity space. As far as organizations doing affinity spaces there, it can be kind of fraught, especially for talking around race. Like if I’m just being really blunt, like White folks can often have a really hard time with affinity space and not understanding why people are being separated. Why are they not allowed to hear that conversation? I think there can be kind of a misnomer that like that, it’s a bad thing that, that lacked indigenous and people of color have their own space. And that it’s kind of like we’re going backwards in terms of, of looking at race and those dynamics.

So, I think being very clear and there’s articles about out there about affinity spaces. So, if you’re wanting to do that in your org, there’s some great articles. You can always, I think, Contact Us. I will tell you that one of my clients is a large government organization. And when I started this training series, there was one training that I wanted to be BIPAP only. We had two different sessions, one for anybody and then one for BIPAP only folks. And at first the organization said No, because it goes against retitled one agency and it goes against our non-discriminant, non-discriminatory policy. And what they ended up doing is making it an ERG session, so an employee resource group session. And that worked out great because they already had the wording for that. It was already an institutional practice and it was fine. So just if you’re out there, you maybe want to do an affinity space and you’re not sure how to make that happen. Those are some ways to sort of get around like Title one requirements and things like that. Because those affinity spaces are really important. And you can see when we’re trying to do trauma-informed practices or, you know, racial justice practices. How are policies that are supposed to protect people can actually kind of create barriers to doing, moving the work forward. So, there are always, usually work arounds, you just have to be super creative.

Christine: And I liked the suggestion of having the affinity group throughout the training. I think not only because, and you can tell I’m such a relational person, not only because it builds that relationship, but we talked about how fatigued we are at the end of the training and we just want to get off the computer. So, starting that connection earlier and having it throughout is great. I’m off. So, I appreciate the fact, Shiloh, that you brought up ERG because although I never heard the term affinity space, I have heard ERG and I didn’t know that they were the same. And it’s unfortunate that the white community may feel whether it’s left out or that there’s a separation, because honestly, I really look at it as Gathering with people of like mind or of your same culture, right? My Middle Eastern family, we could get together and we could throw jokes or talk about a situation and we understand each other. Whether that’s different than if I were to get together with other friends of mine, of other races that wouldn’t understand the story of being a refugee or, you know, that struggle or the jokes that we make that only my family would understand. So, thanks. It’s just, I wish there was a little more understanding around why we get together with our people, if you will, and how it’s beneficial to each race and ethnicity.

Ana: Yeah, thank you both for that. And thanks for bringing all that feedback as well. It seems like, you know, one of the ways to go about this, is to use the six principles as we’re considering whether or not to use an online platform to gather. And then if we use it, how we could inform some of the practices through safety, through trustworthiness and transparency, through peer support and mutual self-help and how we support that, and collaboration, and mutuality, and voice and choice are super important at this time. Especially when we feel like this is the only way to meet, and I’m actually not being offered a choice around how to show up. Because, you know, in a physical space, I can actually, you know, take off and rearrange my living room in my mind and you wouldn’t know it. But on Zoom, it may be a little more obvious as my face kind of goes blank.

And then most importantly, really, the sixth principle under SAMHSA (Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration) is the cultural, historical, and gender considerations, which is really a sort of ironic catch-all as Shilo and I like to laugh about. And ultimately, that’s the, that’s the work with inclusion and accessibility. We didn’t touch too much on the importance of accessibility at a time like this where captions are not actually Zoom’s immediate way of doing business. There are actually secondary things you have to do in order to even get a transcript of the meeting. But even just the physical accessibility, the online accessibility. Not all of us have particular kinds of online resource in order to have this meeting be available to us. So, that six principle feels especially important. If we should continue to meet over Zoom. So, thank you. Thank you both so much and thanks for debriefing this for the benefit and hopefully learning of everybody.

Christine: Thank you.