Dealing with grief in schools is tough. Very tough. Some schools are out already; some are just wrapping up, but regardless — questions will be had. Below is a simple letter I sent to my staff and included some resources to help your students deal with tragedy.
It is with great sadness that I find myself writing another email addressing gun violence and terrorism. With the shooting of a pop star that grew up down the road, and the deadliest mass shooting in American history taking place last evening, we are all in a state of pondering how such senseless acts could take place.
With seven school days left, we are still charged with the well-being and educating our students. While I know you will be teaching, packing, and partaking in end of year activities, I am assuming that at some point that questions will be had by students. I know that you are the professionals who will address any issues appropriately and accordingly.
School Counselors and social workers will clear their schedules to be available tomorrow; if anyone is in need of additional resources, please contact your supervisor and we will get them to you.
Below are some links and resources you can use if you need them. A kind reminder that if you do address Orlando, please use your discretion when sharing any images or any news clips.
Sesame Street and dealing with grief: http://www.sesamestreet.org/parents/topicsandactivities/topics/grief
Edutopia – Dealing with Grief in schools: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/tips-grief-at-school-2-chris-park
Talking to students about tragedy: http://www.fosterparents.com/articles/borba3.htm
Jerry Blumengarten’s grief webpage: http://cybraryman.com/guidance.html
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 Twitter feed 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 when kids are present. Image can negatively impact children regardless of your zip code.
· Talk to the kids if they have questions. 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 students know you’re there to listen.
· Don’t expect to help alleviate a student’s anxiety unless you keep your own in check. Kids are calmer if we are calmer.
· Please don’t think because a student 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.
· Stick to classroom routines. This soothes the stress and helps kids know that despite tragedy, that the world goes on. The sun will come up tomorrow.
· Draw kids’ attention to heroism in the tragedy. Use police, doctors, etc so kids see the goodness in the heartbreak.
· Kids respond to tragic news differently. Let your students know their feelings are normal. Help he/she express them. Follow his/her lead.
· 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
· Plan what you’ll say to your students 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.”