Below is a letter that was recently shared on Twitter by Joe Mazza (@Joe_Mazza). It was shared with other administrators purposely and the author encourages you to tweak, cut-n-paste, or use all of it.
Dear [school name] Families:
I’m writing to you tonight to respond to the elementary school shooting that took place in Newtown, Connecticut earlier this morning. My wife and I are tearfully watching on as more horrific details come out over the local and national media on TV and on Twitter.
Our hearts go out to those students, teachers and principals who did not return home from school today and those families and friends related to the Newtown community. We’ve found no words to fully capture the emotions so many of us are feeling right now.
On Monday, parents everywhere will send their students to school. Teachers and principals around the world will return to school with the aim of “business as usual” to provide consistency for our children in a time of great tragedy. I am anticipating that much discussion will occur over the weekend in the homes of our families, but Monday may also bring some further questions and need for dialogue. In the interests of home-school transparency, below I will lay out our carefully carved out plans for Monday, December 17th at [name of] School.
Before School: I will host an all-staff meeting to offer dialogue amongst our teaching staff and review developmentally appropriate conversation structures for our children. We will also complete a full review of our school safety protocol in place. As a staff, we are fully invested in being comprehensive and thorough in our daily approach, and are always looking for new ways to be a better and safer elementary school for all.
During the School Day: Classrooms have the ability to hold “as needed” team meetings to allow students to talk about their feelings in a developmentally appropriate way. Our guidance counselor [name] and I will offer on-demand guidance appointments throughout the day to talk with students who may be having trouble processing information they may have learned at home. If your child is seen by [counselor name] or myself, we will personally call you (parents) to review our conversation in the best interests of our home-school partnership. *Please be advised that the details of the events in Newtown will not be discussed with any students at any time. Details of what students are aware of are solely at the discretion of each individual family.
After the School Day: Personally, today’s tragedy has my wife and I asking ourselves exactly “how safe” the schools are that we will be sending our own children to someday. In an effort to provide our families with as much information as possible on all the ways that students and staff stay safe at [school name], I am personally offering parent walk-in appointments from 12PM-6PM at [school name] on Monday, 12/17/12. At 6PM, I will offer a parents-only discussion forum in our Auditorium as well as a building walk to provide our families with the information needed to confirm our safety procedures and practices, while gathering further ideas on safety from our parent community. If these times do not work for your schedule, please give me a call and we will work out a better time for your family. The meeting is optional of course, but I feel the need to offer this opportunity to speak with you, understand and respond to the anxieties of school-aged parents you hold in the wake of this tragedy. We must work together in the best interests of our children. We are here for our families.
So I can plan for space, if you will join me at 6PM on Monday, please RSVP to [phone number] or [email]
[name and title]
Even in the wake of tragedy, schools continue to be one of the safest places for children to be on a daily basis. Below are some conversational tips from Dr. Michele Borba personally shared on her Twitterfeed today. I trust Michele with my own child’s well-being, and consider her a personal friend and colleague. I hope you find her thoughts helpful.
· Turn off the TV and media on the school shooting when kids are present. Image can negatively impact children regardless of your zip code.
· Talk to the kids tonight or as soon as you see them. Open with “What have you heard?” Kids need the right facts. YOU not their peers provide the best source.
· Kids need to know it’s OK to share their feelings. It’s normal to be upset. Be calm and give only age appropriate information.
· Don’t give more information than the kid is ready to hear. More importantly, let your child know you’re there to listen.
· Don’t expect to help alleviate your kid’s anxiety unless you keep your own in check. Kids are calmer if we are calmer.
· Please don’t think because the child isn’t talking about the events that he/she didn’t hear about it.
· Give the information in small doses. Listen. Watch their response. Kids need processing time. Kids don’t need to know all the details and numbers. End with “I’m here for any questions you may have at anytime.”
· Here’s a great way to curb anxieties: Find proactive ways to alleviate fears about the tragedy. Tonight, offer condolences, draw, write letters to victims as a family.
· Stick to family routines. This soothes the stress and helps kids know that despite tragedy, that the world goes on. The sun will come up tomorrow. Hug!
· Draw kids’ attention to heroism in the tragedy. Use police, teachers, doctors, etc so kids see the goodness in the heartbreak.
· Kids respond to tragic news differently. Let your child know their feelings are normal. Help he/she express them. Follow his/her lead.
· Tonight is the first talk. Keep ongoing dialogue. Don’t explain more than they are ready to hear. Kids process and will want more later.
o Talk to the kid about the tragedy in an age-appropriate way
o Assess kid coping skills
o Listen, give some information and listen some more
o Kindle hope that the world goes on
· Ask your teen: “What are your pals saying?” Don’t assume they are NOT affected. Ignite their social justice. “What could we do?”
· Plan what you’ll say to your kid about the tragedy to boost their confidence and calmness. It’s OK to say “I don’t know” or “Good question. Let me find out.”
For more information go to micheleborba.com