As teachers, we see students every day. We often are the front lines in dealing with crises. Everyday events like bullying, poverty or relationship issues may cause stress. Students may be experiencing fear from the recent election. Perhaps they have heard about clown sightings that are occurring on school grounds nationwide.
The recent election events have divided the nation. We cannot forget about our students. They feel the division. They see and hear how adults around them react. They often model their own behavior on what they see others doing.
As I write this I am struggling with my own feelings after seeing how the election has affected my students. One of my students attempted suicide last week. He came to my school after years of being bullied and now fears that the pattern will repeat. Several families fear that they will be caught by police and deported. One girl cannot focus on her schoolwork because she is so scared for her LGBQT friends.
As adults, it is our responsibility to step back from our own beliefs, worries and fears. We must provide neutral support for our students. Although this may be challenging it is a professional duty and what we must do as advocates for our students.
Any event that causes stress requires a knowledgeable and caring response. Here are some quick tips that you can put to use right away:
Monitor your own response.
You are the adult. Stay neutral about any controversial topics. Don’t judge anyone. Don’t cry. Don’t show anger or fear. You can say that you feel these things, in fact that may help your students understand that their feelings are acceptable. Keep in mind that if you lose your control, students will as well. This self survey from the National Association School Psychologists was designed for support personnel but was really helpful to gauge my own action steps for helping my students. I encourage you to pay special attention to the “Values and Attitudes” section.
Just-In-Time Teaching is a strategy designed to answer questions as students ask them. This strategy makes the age-old “teachable moment” come alive. In times of crisis, make the events, emotions, reactions and feelings into a lesson. In these times, we must remember that we teach more than a subject area, we teach children. What about the crisis or event might link to your content area or current lesson? What can be made into a life lesson?
Crisis response protocol is a set of defined and practiced steps in reaction to a major threat. Procedures like lock outs and lock downs keep you and your students safe. As required by law, practice these procedures and learn to stay calm. Model the attitude and actions you want your students to take. Basic response protocol steps are usually outlined per district or school building but it helps to know what individual classrooms and teachers can do to provide the support that students need.
This one is simple: ask students what they need. After 9/11 my students fell into distinct groups, those that could think of nothing else and those who wanted to not think about it. I offered options that tried to meet everyone’s needs. My teaching team partnered up and took groups of students. One classroom was for those who wanted to watch the event on live TV, another classroom who wanted silence another classroom for those who wanted to talk about what was happening.
This might not work if you are teaching early grades but it is a great strategy for older kids. While I don’t usually advocate for postponing curriculum, in times of crisis there is a real need to stop teaching our content and meet the needs of our students. The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University has more great tips for opening the lines of communication.
Ask For Support
Every school or district has support personnel to assist in times of crisis. School administration, counselors, social workers… they are there for a reason, to support you and your students. Ask for their help. Point students and parents to these resources, too. Whether in times of crisis or not, be aware of and watch for signs that counseling is needed.
I keep these strategies in mind as I cope with recent events and help my students to do the same. There is not a single answer. Every teacher, every student, every family and every classroom will need different strategies.
Realize that you are not alone. Tell your students that they are not alone. You are there for them.
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