Principles for Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning

A trauma-informed approach to college teaching and learning refers to adopting a set of trauma-informed principles to inform educational policies and procedures. The principles must be specific enough to provide a useful framework but general enough to be adapted for and operationalized within a variety of settings.

The original trauma-informed principles (safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration, and empowerment) were developed by Roger Fallot and Maxine Harris, the pioneers of trauma-informed care. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) adapted the principles and added a sixth (cultural, historical, and gender issues).

I have further adapted the principles for use in college and university settings. The principles below can be operationalized at the classroom level as well as the department, program, school, or system levels. When I do trainings, I collaborate with educators to customize and operationalize the principles for their classroom, department, or program. A pdf version of these principles, which I am referring to as TITL General Principles, is also linked here and listed on the blog’s Resources page.


Efforts are made to create an atmosphere that is respectful of the need for safety, respect, and acceptance for all students, faculty, and staff in both individual and group interpersonal interactions, including feeling safe to make and learn from mistakes.


Trust and transparency are enhanced by making expectations clear, ensuring consistency in practice, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and minimizing disappointment.


Individuals and groups are connected with appropriate peer and professional resources to help them succeed academically, personally, and professionally.


Opportunities exist to provide input, share power, and make decisions. Individuals and groups act as allies rather than as adversaries to reach common goals. 


Individuals and groups are empowered to make choices and to develop confidence and competence.


Individuals and groups strive to be responsive to historical, cultural, and gender issues in order to respect one another’s diverse experiences and identities.


Strengths and resilience are emphasized over deficiencies and pathology. Feedback is provided to convey optimism and to facilitate growth and change.

A pdf version of Examples of TITL Principles in College Classrooms that I have customized for classroom use is also also linked here and available on the blog’s Resources page. This version provides examples of what each principle might look like in seated or virtual course settings.

For those interested in an explanation of why I adapted the principles in this way, I wrote a rationale as part of my comprehensive exams that is linked here and posted on the University at Buffalo School of Social Work website. My thinking has developed since then, and I have been tweaking things a bit, but the document provides more detailed reasoning. References for sources I consulted to help develop these principles are posted below.

I would love to hear about other policies and practices folks are using in their classrooms or in their departments or schools that are congruent with trauma-informed principles!

(This post was updated on 1.18.2021)


Carello, J., & Butler, L. D. (2015). Practicing what we teach: Trauma-informed educational practice. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 35(3), 262-278.

Cole, S.F., Eisner, A., Gregory, M., & Ristuccia, J. (2013). Helping traumatized children learn: Creating and advocating for trauma-sensitive schools. Massachusetts Advocates for Children Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative. Retrieved from

Elliot, D.M., Bjelac, P., Fallot, R.D., Markoff, L.S., & Reed, B.G. (2005). Trauma-informed or trauma-denied: Principles and implementation of trauma-informed services for women. Journal of Community Psychology, 33(4), 461–477.

Fallot, R.D., & Harris,M. (2006). Trauma-informed services: A self-assessment and planning protocol. Washington, DC: Community Connections. Retrieved from

St. Andrews, A. (2013). Trauma and resilience: An adolescent provider toolkit. San Francisco, CA: Adolescent Health Working Group. Retrieved from 

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2014). SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. Rockville, MD: Author. Retrieved from 


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