Recently, it seems as though we’ve had our fair share of national tragedies. Whether it’s an intense hurricane or a horrible shooting, it’s impossible for your students to not be aware of what’s happening in the world around them. Some students are even very directly affected by these tragedies. It would be difficult to avoid mentioning these tragedies at all in the classroom and it’s important that students understand how to talk about these serious topics. Ignoring national tragedies doesn’t make them go away and can often lead to students repressing their thoughts and feelings. While it is an incredibly sensitive topic, here are some tips for educators when speaking to their students about national tragedies.
Acknowledge the event
Sometimes, students won’t know how to bring up a national event. In your role as an educator, it’s appropriate for you to acknowledge the event and see if students want to continue the discussion. If your students are very young or seem reluctant to talk about what happened, continue on with your lesson and consider approaching it at another time. However, many times students bring up the tragedy themselves, so be ready to discuss.
Gauge their thoughts
Before beginning the discussion, see how your students are feeling and what they’re thinking. You might feel a very different way from them and they could be concerned about something you haven’t even considered. Ask how they feel and what they’re concerned about and then let them talk so you have an idea of where they’re coming from.
Avoid personal politics
While it’s okay to share a general idea of your feelings, avoid getting too personal about your views on the tragedy or any extreme emotional reactions. Your students will have a variety of thoughts and feelings, so use this time to let them talk about how they feel and what their opinions are. Aggressively discussing your opinions could discourage students from speaking and it’s important to focus on them during this time.
During and after the conversation, encourage your students to share their thoughts and concerns. Let them ask questions and offer opinions and talk to one another. Then, let them know you’re there for them to speak with if they continue to feel concerned. Refer them to the school psychologist if you think it’s appropriate and would help them sort through their feelings.
Reinforce safety precautions
No matter what the tragedy was, reinforce the safety precautions in school for a similar situation. Make sure your students know what to do if there’s a school lockdown, where to go during a weather emergency, or who to contact if one of them experiences a medical emergency. Knowing what to do can make them feel safer and more comfortable. Reassure them that they are safe and measures are being taken to keep it that way. It may also be appropriate to discuss what to do outside of school if an emergency would occur.
Keep your routine
After you’ve talked to your students about the national tragedy, attempt to stick to your normal routine as much as possible. Familiar tasks and routines are important for healing from the tragedy and can make moving forward easier. Also make sure you’re taking care of yourself. While your focus is your students as an educator, it’s important to get the help you need in order to sort through your thoughts and emotions.