EFA Conference 2023: ‘Classrooms of Sanctuary and Struggle: Trauma-informed & Participatory ESOL’

In May 2021 and in July 2022, our participatory ESOL community of practice sessions focussed on trauma-informed ESOL with a view to incorporating these insights into our teaching practice and evaluating the extent to which participatory and trauma-informed practices complement each other.

This conference is an opportunity for practitioners from both fields to learn from each other, share and develop our practice, to open the discussion to more people, and identify areas for further research and future collaboration.

Interest in trauma-informed approaches is strong among participatory ESOL practitioners, conscious that many of our students live with traumatic biographies, and face hostile economic and political realities in the here and now. While we’re committed to shaping classrooms where these biographies are shared and valued, this can expose painful stories of violence and injustice, systemic discrimination and social stigma. A trauma-informed approach offers considerations and strategies to participatory practitioners to avoid the re-traumatisation of participants and to be more inclusive of those whose experiences make it harder to participate in activities that have the potential to trigger threat responses.

Some trauma-informed settings are adopting the Power, Threat, Meaning Framework (PTMF), which will likely appeal to participatory practitioners. Expressions of emotional distress are framed as meaningful, human responses to the kinds of threat posed by misuses of power; and in revealing these operations of power, practitioners can help people create more hopeful narratives about their lives and the challenges they have faced or are still facing.

Participatory ESOL practitioners, inspired by a Freirian vision of literacy as a tool for liberation, deploy a classroom repertoire that includes story-telling, translanguaging, image and theatre which could be compatible with this. We constantly witness the powerful communicative resources that people mobilise in the classroom and beyond to assert their humanity and their individual and collective rights.

The Power, Threat, Meaning Framework, developed in collaboration with people with experience of mental distress, foregrounds the social context of our personal struggles. Likewise, Participatory ESOL teachers develop tools and methods that frame social and systemic structures, supporting students to co-design individual and collective strategies that redress injustice and progress to social activism. A trauma-informed participatory ESOL would build learning communities characterised by acceptance, validation and solidarity.

We hope the conference will be participatory, inclusive, open-minded and critical. Drawing upon the lay-expertise in the room and accessible to all those wanting to learn more, we want this to be a process of collective meaning-making which energises us. We aim to be trauma-informed too, providing an experience of overall safety, hope, optimism, understanding and connection.

If you’d like to introduce yourself, and share ideas and resources in the run-up, please complete this form.

Organising Team: Laura (Crisis), Chas (Crisis), Robin (EFA), Tina (Liverpool Adult Education), Jeni (Cambridge Regional College), Sarah (The Reading, Writing and ESOL Project), Adela (EFA), Daniel (recently worked for Caras, Glasgow Uni), Fatime (EFA).

The event is finished.


May 20 2023


10:30 am - 5:00 pm




King's College London
Waterloo Bridge Wing, Franklin Wilkins Building Stamford Street London SE1 9NH
More Info + Reserve Tickets