More than two years after Russia’s invasion in 2022, the educational situation in Ukraine remains fractured. One month after the invasion, more than half of the country’s children were displaced and by January 2023, 5.3 million Ukrainian children were struggling to access education. Children who can access schooling are often struggling with mental health issues due to the trauma of the war and displacement. 

By the 2023 school year, however, more than 1,000 educators in Ukraine and Poland were prepared to support children experiencing trauma thanks to the hard work of TC alumni at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness (NCDP) at Columbia University who created a web-based, interactive course on trauma and its impact on a child’s learning. 

The Impact of Trauma and How It Affects Behavior and Learning: What Teachers Should Know” was developed over the course of 18 months by project directors Joshua DeVincenzo (Ed.D. ’23) and Thomas Chandler (Ph.D. ’09; M.A. ’00), supported by instructional designers Linfan Gan (M.A. ’21), Alex Yixuan Xu (M.A. ’23), Xiaoyan Qin (M.A. ’22), and Jingjing Bao (M.A. ’23) — graduates from the Instructional Technology and Media and Communications, Media and Learning Technologies Design programs  — and Lauren Esposito, Senior Project Manager at the NCDP.

Collage of Tom Chandler, Josh DeVincenzo, and Lauren Esposito

From left to right: Thomas Chandler, Joshua DeVincenzo and Lauren Esposito

The project originated with Dr. Irwin and Karen Redlener, director and co-director of the Ukrainian Children’s Action Project (UCAP), who recognized an immediate need for a trauma-informed curriculum and sought out the NCDP for the team’s extensive experience in disaster-related curriculum development

“It was a new project for us about a theme our center has been involved with in the past,” says Chandler, director of NCDP and Adjunct Associate Professor at TC, and a graduate of TC’s Social Studies Education program. “In the middle of a war zone, there is an enormous need amongst educators to better understand the themes of trauma and it was awe-inspiring to see the level of commitment that so many educators had in terms of supporting the program and seeing it to completion.” 

The course introduces the concept of trauma, behavioral symptoms of traumatized children, how educators can support those children, and how trauma-informed practices and policies can be incorporated into schools more broadly. Additionally, because it covers grades K-12, the course outlines the long-lasting impact trauma has on childhood development, making a strong argument for early intervention.

Embed from Getty Images

The development of the course proved incredibly complex, requiring translation into two languages, buy-in from teachers and administrators, and review by several psychological associations. “Without our team and our close collaboration over the years with Teachers College, I don't know if we would have been able to pull everything together," says DeVincenzo, Assistant Director for Education and Training at NCDP, and a graduate of the Adult Education and Leadership program. “We have, at Teachers College, some of the most pioneering instructional designers that are up for these types of challenges.”

Utilizing the latest research on trauma-informed education alongside recommendations from the American Federation of Teachers and clinical psychologists, it was essential that the material was presented in a way that was useful for educators. The leaders of the NCDP design team made multiple visits to Warsaw, Poland, and sought input from in-service teachers and administrators who would be completing the course. One particularly instrumental Ukrainian collaborator, who will remain unnamed for their safety, interfaced directly with teachers in both countries while grappling with power and internet outages, lack of heat, and constant bomb sirens urging people to seek shelter.

Embed from Getty Images

Witnessing the challenges educators and students face gave NCDP staff better context for the educational situation, ultimately “feeding into our design and education approach,” says DeVincenzo, whose instructional design track record includes contributions to sustainability education. “To [give] guidance for families, caretakers, and teachers of these students, we have to understand the level of scarcity of these resources."

Ultimately, project directors and instructional designers drew upon their TC expertise and produced a course that went above and beyond expectations. “The quality of what the instructional design team put together was so high, when we went over to Poland and were debuting and showcasing the course to the local leaders, they immediately bought in because it was designed and packaged so well,” explains DeVincenzo

Looking to the future, UCAP plans to continue expanding on the course with the goal of investing in “Ukrainian children and their long-term well-being,” according to DeVincenzo. Meanwhile, the team at NCDP is using this project as a springboard to provide similar support in other languages. “There's a strong drive for educators to learn more about this important theme …[and] instill in their students action steps they can take to address issues in relation to the trauma that they've been experiencing,” says Chandler.