The following steps help support the grieving students as well as prepare your class for making the grieving student feel comfortable and supported:
1. Talk with the bereaved student before they return.
Ask them what they want the class to know about the death, funeral arrangements, etc. If possible, call the family prior to the student’s return to school so that you can let them know you are thinking of them and want to help make their return to school as supportive as possible.
2. Talk to your class about how grief affects people and encourage them to share how they feel.
One way to do this is to discuss what other types of losses or deaths the students in your class have experienced, and what helped them cope.
3. Discuss how difficult it may be for their classmate to return to school, and how they may be of help.
You can ask your class for ideas about how they would like others to treat them if they were returning to school after a death, pointing out differences in preferences. Some students might like to be left alone; others want the circumstances discussed freely. Most grieving students say that they want everyone to treat them the same way that they treated them before. In general, they don’t like people being “extra nice.” While students usually say they don’t want to be in the spotlight, they also don’t want people acting like nothing happened.
4. Provide a way for your class to reach out to the grieving classmate and their family.
One of the ways that students can reach out is by sending cards or pictures to the child and family, letting them know the class is thinking of them. If students in your class knew the person who died, they could share memories of that person.
5. Provide flexibility and support to your grieving student upon their return to class.
Recognize that your student will have difficulty concentrating and focusing on school work. Allow the bereaved student to leave the class when they need some quiet or alone time. Make sure that the student has a person available to talk with, such as a school counselor.
As a teacher, you have the opportunity to touch children’s lives in a very special way. Your actions have a lifelong impact. When a death influences the lives of your students, you and your school, can make a life-long difference by creating an environment for healing and support.
The School Day
After a school community has received news of a death, what happens on that day and the next day? How are schedules affected? Here’s a general outline and some things to be aware of in the hours and early days after a death.
1. The staff briefing meeting
After the Crisis Response team has drafted their action plan, a briefing meeting with the staff should occur. It is important to have that meeting before the students return to school. All staff who are impacted by the crisis should be included in this meeting. Come to the meeting prepared to accomplish the following:
2. Student Issues
As principal, you will have many opportunities to impact your students after a death occurs. Along with the Crisis Response Team, you will set out guidelines for teachers to facilitate classroom discussion, and inform students of resources available to them. You will also have opportunities to connect with students during the days and weeks following the death. It may be speaking in an assembly, in your office or in passing in the hall. One of the best things you can do is be a model for grieving, by acknowledging your own feelings around the loss. This helps create a safe an open atmosphere for grief. You can also allow students to play a role in memorializing the person who died. Planning a memorial service or remembrance can be a good activity for those who want to participate. Your school should have a policy around memorial services or other commemorations so that you are prepared in advance. The policy should include the answers to these questions:
These lessons have been adapted from the books Helping the Grieving Student: A Guide for Teachers and When Death Impacts Your School: A Guide for School Administrators
For more information contact the Willow Center office 208.791.7192 or the Palouse Center 208.669.0730.