Responding to Loss: Classroom Conversations

Section: Responding to Loss: Classroom Conversations

Section: Responding to Loss: Classroom Conversations
Signs of Stress
Click the graphic above for common signs of stress

The following strategies can be used to maintain a healthy and emotionally supportive classroom after tragedy.

It's important teachers and other staff familiarize themselves with Minneapolis Public Schools lock-down procedures and practice those procedures regularly when directed by a principal or school leader. 

Scheduling Your Day

  • Maintain a predictable and familiar schedule for all to provide a sense of control in the face of unanticipated events.
  • Allow time to talk and grieve, especially when you first gather for the day.
  • Remind students frequently about the usual routine and plans throughout the week in order to relieve some of the worry about the unknown.

Dealing with Student Reactions

  • Students will bring a wide range of information to class following loss, some of which will be different from what you know.  Others will have little information or even be unaware of what has happened.
  • Do not speculate or provide excessive information to the students about what has happened.  Generally, children are much more interested in being reassured than in getting all the facts.
  • If a student does want to ask or talk about more gruesome aspects of a death, ask them privately not to discuss this in class.  Offer them the chance to talk with someone outside of class.
  • Focus on the range of feelings the students may be experiencing, including how they would like to remember their friends who have been displaced, injured or have died.
  • Accept students’ moving from discussion of the current loss to discussion of bad things that have happened to them in the past.  Rather than pulling them back to the present situation or comparing the two situations, acknowledge the difficulty of their experiences and that we are all sad that these have happened. 
  • Refer students who need extra support to talk over fears and worries specific to the current incident or to past experiences to the school social worker, psychologist, counselor or nurse.

Teaching About Grief

  • Help your class understand that sadness looks different in different people. Some people are quiet; others cry; some get louder; others have a hard time paying attention in class. Emphasize that there is no right or wrong way to show sadness.  
  • Model and talk about the importance of being patient with one another and ourselves.  Grief comes and goes in waves; it doesn’t steadily lessen.  Even after a few weeks have gone by, take the time to ask students how they are doing today.  Help students learn how to ask that question of their friends, as well as how to help them if they are feeling sad.
  • Acknowledge that it is very hard to stay sad for a long time and it is normal to be sad for a while, then happy, and then sad again.  Do not let students blame themselves or each other for having fun.  Their friends certainly wouldn’t have wanted them to be miserable all the time.
  • Watch out for younger (chronologically or cognitively) students who may have some irrational ideas about what has happened.   For example, students may blame themselves for a friend’s death because they had an argument.