Helping our Students Through Tragedy

Helping our Students Through Tragedy

Helping our Students Through Tragedy

Many students will have questions about the recent tragedies. It's normal to feel anxious and concerned after high-profile public tragedies, especially in this time of fast-paced, unvetted information. Minneapolis Public Schools does everything it can to keep our schools safe and secure. All Minneapolis Public Schools have emergency response plans. Recent events remind us of the keep these plans current and to regularly review them with staff and students.

We also want to help students cope in the aftermath of events like yesterday. Here are some tips to help families and teachers minimize stress and grief. Click here for tips about responding to loss in the classroom.

Listening and Talking When People Are Sad

What helps people of any age manage grief?

  • Accepting what happened and what they lost
  • Understanding, naming and expressing their feelings
  • Regaining a sense of mastery and control over their lives.

How can we help our students do that?

  • Help them feel safe by meeting physical needs (meals, snacks, nap/rest time, clean clothes)
  • Join student conversations, combat rumors and interrupt if they are sharing rumors
  • Say things like, “We still don’t know that. We will let you know when there is more information. In the meantime, here is something else we can talk about.” (Bring up positive memories or plans at that point.)
  • It’s okay to say things like “I don’t know but I might be able to help you find out,” and “I’m not sure what to do, but I will be happy to help you find someone who does.”
  • Provide routine and warn about changes
  • Compartmentalize school from home and community. Use rituals (e.g., morning meeting, review of class schedule) to mark how different school is from home.

Help them feel positively empowered at school:

  • Point out the things they are good at and find tasks for them to help with. Display their good work. 
  • Promote resilience: The ability to accommodate and bounce back after a setback, disappointment, crisis, or major distress. Talk about what you do to “bounce back," and display books on resilience and recovery

Listen to your students and to each other:

  • Most often, what people want most is someone to talk to about their experience: someone to care, someone to really listen, someone to lean on or cry with

How to let people know you are listening

  • Turn your body and face toward the speaker, make eye contact, and try to have a warm facial expression
  • Listen more, talk less
  • Your compassionate presence is more important than your words. Even though it’s hard, silence can be golden, and a  few “uh-huhs” go a long way.
  • Try not to interrupt until their story has ended.
  • When you do speak, do it in a calm, warm tone
  • Label, summarize and mirror the feelings the other person is expressing.
  • Ask questions to clarify.
  • Occasionally restate a part of the story in your own words to make sure you understand.
  • Establish a sequence of events.

Things NOT to say:

  • I know how you feel.
  • Let’s talk about something else.
  • You should work toward getting over this.
  • You are strong enough to deal with this.
  • You’ll feel better soon.
  • You did everything you could.
  • You need to relax.
  • It’s good that you are alive.
  • Also, don’t judge.  Questions like “Why?” and “Why not?” and evaluating the worth of what someone else did or didn’t do don’t help

DO say things like "I feel sad too." DO use "I statements."

Take care of each other and yourself:

  • Talk to your professional support staff if someone (student or staff) seems out of control, significantly (and unusually) withdrawn or confused, unable to care for him or herself (not eating), or expressing wishes to harm themselves or other

Take care of yourself:

  • Focus beyond short-term
  • Know your unique stressors and Red Flags for further assistance
  • Understand and accept common reactions to sadness and stress
  • Monitor and manage your stress
  • Make a list – mental or on paper – of things you can do to cope with stress
  • Choose one or several and practice them regularly.