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Teaching innovation rises out of trauma

woman sitting at desk
Victoria is the University of Southern Queensland’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Languages & Learning manager.

Tragedy is a source of human connection that crosses language, cultural and border barriers.

For University of Southern Queensland’s Victoria Wilson, connecting the dots between the twin traumas of her own experience and that of her students led her to pioneer a method of teaching that acknowledges the influence tragedy has on learning.

Her trauma-informed teaching method is now being recognised with a spot on the shortlist for the English Australia Innovation Award.

Victoria is the University of Southern Queensland’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Languages & Learning manager.

She has been teaching English to students from across the world, but particularly Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea and DRC since coming to the University after teaching English in Japan.

“I was living in Fukushima on the coast when the 2011 disasters happened,” she said.

“There were a lot of my students who lost their houses, a lot of people lost relatives and friends.

“It was a community in a constant state of post-traumatic stress.”

It was only after returning to Australia, eight months after the natural disaster, that Victoria recognised her own symptoms and was diagnosed with PTSD.

“So then I came to UniSQ and I was teaching students who had some very traumatic and difficult experiences.

“Then I realised, okay, we are in a similar boat.”

“I knew how I reacted when I was triggered. And it’s not a state that is conducive to learning.”

Victoria was determined to make the classroom a better learning environment to prevent triggering PTSD and improve learning outcomes for students from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The result is a PhD nearing completion and a method of teaching that promotes connection, equality and understanding between teacher and student.

“That power dynamic is really important,” Victoria said.

“Having that really close attentiveness to students means that teachers can anticipate and respond to the student’s needs, whether they are personal, academic and cultural.

“This gives the students a feeling of safety that allows them to be in a state where they can learn.”

The English Australia Innovation Award will be announced in a special award ceremony at the virtual English Australia Conference on September 14.

Victoria said she was honoured to see the method recognised nationally and hoped to see it adopted as best practice for all students, not just those with diagnosed with PTSD.

“These are human needs – the need to belong, the need to connect with others, the need to feel safe physically and emotionally, the need to have meaning and purpose, the need to feel valued.

“These are things that everybody can relate to, it’s just more acute if you have PTSD.”