Date of Submission


Document Type



Doctor of Education




academic support, trauma, servant leadership, sensemaking, community of practice, higher education


Higher education environments tend to sustain interpretations of student success that place the responsibility on students alone. This perspective, often described as deficit thinking, shapes educational responses into remedial ones. In this view, students who struggle do so because of poor study skills or habits. Academic support, then, fills the students with what they lack. This approach assumes that all students access learning in the same way, and that all students are equally able to make good academic choices. However, research on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) finds that many students bring with them a history of trauma, which changes the way they learn and respond to new stressors. A trauma-informed approach recognizes the institution’s responsibility to acknowledge the impact of trauma and to design support according to trauma-informed principles. This organizational improvement plan examines the institution’s role in academic support, with a change plan designed for one Canadian university. The discussion is rooted in interpretive organizational theory and social cognition as an approach to change, with specific attention on sensemaking. Using the change path model and a servant leadership orientation, I develop a three-loop plan that employs a community of practice (CoP) as the mechanism for change. I suggest the initiation of the CoP, strategies to mobilize change through social and institutional learning, mechanisms for monitoring the change path, and communication strategies to encourage second-order change. With a metaphor of hospitality, I consider how to open the educational space for all students to enter and thrive.

Keywords: academic support, trauma, servant leadership, interpretivism, sensemaking, community of practice, hospitality