Whether children are exposed to a singular loss of a family member, peer or teacher, or the entire school is witness to a national tragedy, schools are ideally positioned to partner with families and communities to support and promote healthy adaptation of children during these difficult times.
Schools as a Resource…Teachers and Schools: A First Line of Defense
Teachers can be among the strongest supporters and advocates for bereaved students and families. Schools can serve as a safe space for students. As the first line of defense, educators see children each day in a consistent and structured environment, the classroom. The involvement of teachers and schools can be a critical element facilitating healing from grief after a death. Ignoring the impact of loss or trauma in the classroom can only distance grieving students and families from their school systems. As with families the school community needs to find their footing after a tragic event. The opportunity to build resilience is just as important in the classroom as it is at home.
Perhaps a teacher’s greatest frustration and fear is not knowing what to do at times of loss and bereavement, often feeling as uncomfortable as the children in their classroom.
Faced with the conflicting goals of pursuing academics or giving children time to verbalize their feelings and concerns, the teacher may hasten to move through a grieving conversation too quickly. Students need time to adjust to a new climate in the classroom and accept unfamiliar feelings. Too little discussion and children might sense the teacher’s behavior as unfeeling or uncaring towards them and the person who has recently died. Some educators might plan for only one session to talk about concerns. They question the value of talking about the death on multiple occasions, fearing that students will become more upset. Teachers might also assume that after days or weeks have passed after a death, it’s too late to talk to the class. It is never too late, especially if a situation or discussion in the classroom triggers memories of the person who has died.
Guidelines for responding to the death of a student or school staff
How educators can help support grieving students over the holidays
How the National Association of School Nurses is preparing to care for grieving students this year
How Teachers and Schools Can Help When Bad Stuff Happens