Dec 16

Responding to the Newtown Tragedy

Posted by Valentine Burr in Fair Is Not Equal on Dec 16, 2012

This post was co-written with Buffy Smith and Anne Santa, school psychologists at the Bank Street School for Children.

We are deeply saddened by what happened in Newtown, CT. The tragedy weighs heavily on all of us. For teachers the grief may be especially acute as you think of what happened in relationship to your students, your families, your colleagues and your schools.

Some of the students in your classrooms may be shielded from the news, but with the speed and ubiquity of a media saturated world, many children will have been exposed to everything from vague adult discussions to explicit video and images. As children talk in school, news will spread.

As teachers, you will need to listen to the concerns that come up, clarify when you can, allow for the expression of feeling, and then gently move on and get on with your programs. The most sensitive, vulnerable of your students may be the most affected by this, and you'll need to keep an eye on them. We all need to be calm and steadfast, and reassuring about the safety of our schools, and of our commitment to the safety and wellbeing of each of our students. You may need to find ways for older students to be actively helpful and supportive of the victims of this tragedy, by writing cards and letters to affected families, or by finding ways to contribute to their recoveries. We have to remind children of the rareness of an event like this, remind them of all the safety nets in their lives, including all the people who care for them and are committed to keeping them safe.

Reponses to children will vary depending on their age and the exposure they have had to the news. For younger children it is best to listen carefully and watch their play. Teachers can be responsive to comments and questions one-on-one, to address concerns and to provide comfort and reassurance. It’s a good idea to follow up with individual families later so that they know the kinds of questions and concerns their children have been raising.

Middle and high school students may want to discuss tragedy with their peers. At school, some discussion may emerge. Teachers should monitor those and listen both to the information that students share and for the feelings that may accompany them. Both warrant a response; see the additional strategies that we have listed below:

  • Increase availability for your more vulnerable students. Children are likely to be anxious and fearful if they know about this shooting. They may identify with the school children at the school in Newtown and they may need additional emotional support. Partner with internal school supports such as social workers, psychologists or school administrators to find out what adults might be available during the day should children need extra attention.
  • Don’t feel the pressure to answer all questions that children bring to you. You can let children know that this is a conversation that they should have at home with their families. If this happens, be sure to follow up with those families. It is better to respond to questions by saying I don't know than to oversimplify by saying the shooter was “mentally ill.” That can cause more fearfulness of others down the way.
  • Ask older students to be mindful of discussions that might be upsetting to younger students in the school, particularly in shared spaces like hallways and lunchrooms. Be aware that children listen to hushed voices and may overhear conversations between adults. Wait to discuss the implication for your own school after children have left the building.
  • If your students ask about their own safety at school, remind them of the ways your school keeps people safe, for example: security guards, ID cards, teachers, and families who know each other well.

Bank Street College has compiled a list of additional resources on helping children cope with tragedy.

Be well, and take care of yourself and others. Our hearts are all with the Sandy Hook community.

tagged crisis, newtown, resources, sandy hook, tragedy
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