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.
No matter what school district you work in, there are going to be students who care about issues affecting the world. Student activism is becoming increasingly common, particularly on college campuses, but it’s also popular at the high school level. If you have students who are passionate about specific causes, support their interest and help them become more active in working to better these causes. Whether they’re passionate about the environment, civil rights, animal welfare, helping children, or something else, provide them with the knowledge and tools they need to make a difference.
Educate yourself & others
The first step high school students can take to becoming more involved in their chosen type of activism is by educating themselves and others. If they truly want to make a difference, taking the time to be informed on issues and understand the context is important. Read up on recent news and related websites or blogs in order to learn everything possible. Then, share this newfound knowledge with others through conversations or posts on social media. They could even start a blog and talk about the issues they care about.
Find local organizations
If you live in or near a city, there are bound to be many organizations focusing on a variety of issues. Most organizations allow teenagers to help out if they’re under 18, as long as they have parental permission. Teach your students about these resources and let them know that their time and help is valuable.
Start a fundraiser
If your students cannot give significant time to an organization or cause, starting a fundraiser at school and in the local community could be a good solution. Whether it’s a drive for needed items or just for funds, whatever is raised can then be sent to the organization or cause the students support.
Create a school club
If there isn’t currently an organization at your school that focuses on the student’s chosen issue, they can certainly start one. It’s common for specific causes to be represented at schools and then regular fundraisers and events are organized. For most districts, creating a club is fairly straightforward and encouraged by schools. It’s a fantastic way for your student to become more of an activist and raise awareness of an important issue.
Connect with people
A final step students can take to become a young activist is connecting with other people. Whether in the community, at school, or across the country, there are other people who share the student’s interest in a particular issue. Students can also attend events, such as larger fundraisers, protests, marches, or lectures on the issue. As they begin talking with others and forging new connections, writing a petition or contacting those holding public office is also a great option.
Bullying can happen at any time and in any place. Because it is something that could escalate into a very unfavorable situation, it shouldn’t be written off as simply childhood teasing. As educators, we need to take bullying seriously and take measures to prevent it. Bullying could be detrimental to one’s emotional health, mental health, and physical health. It could even threaten a life.
While no one can be around every student at every moment of the day, there are a few key things that can be done to better ensure that bullying is minimized in the classroom. Controlling bullying is as simple as knowing what it is, how it looks, and where it happens.
Know what bullying actually is
Bullying shouldn’t be written off as teasing. While teasing is done merely to irritate or annoy another individual, bullying is much different. According to Sweeting and West, bullying happens when there is an imbalance of power.
Bullying can be excessive teasing, threats, or name calling. It could also be anything that makes an individual feel uncomfortable going where he needs or wants to go. Bullying can be verbal, nonverbal, or physical. If a students seems hurt or uncomfortable with something another student student did or said, ask them about it. If the student is seriously upset and you feel the need to intervene, do so. However, it may be better to first address the situation with the upset student.
Know the warning signs
Children who are being bullied often show signs. While no child exhibits the exact same signs as another, educating oneself in the signs of a person who is being bullied could prevent further bullying. It is also helpful to know the common signs of an actual bully. Knowing what to look out for could prevent a child from being bullied or from bullying others.
Children who are being bullied often have random bruises. They could also have low-self esteem, a decreased interest in school, or could be getting their personal belongings damaged. Children who bully others often get into a great deal of fights or have friends who are bullies. There are lots of other warning signs to watch out for, so educate yourself.
Know where bullying happens
Statistics show that most bullying happens in areas where adults aren’t usually present, such as on the playground, on the school bus, and in hallways. Bullying can also occur when kids are walking to and from school, in the cafeteria, and online.
Staff should do their best to monitor these locations. However, since it is impossible to keep an eye on all students at all times, it is critical that it is communicated to students the importance of reaching out to an adult when he or she is being bullied or suspects bullying. Remember to educate your kids on the seriousness of bullying and where they can go for help if they’re a victim of bullying or witness it happening.
Dr. Robert Peters of Dallas, Texas brings an outstanding record of public school administration to his role, along with a history of innovation and transformation in all aspects of leadership. Dr. Robert Peters is committed to ensuring that each student receives the highest degree of academic opportunity, from kindergarten through senior year. Dr. Robert Peters is passionate about helping students reach their full potential and achieve their goals in education and beyond. He works consistently as an educator and has his entire life, aiming to improve the educational experience in any way possible.
In public education for nearly 20 years, Dr. Robert Peters previously served as principal of a middle and elementary school in Dallas, the latter of which rose from its 317th-place ranking to 7th place in the district. A former social studies teacher in San Antonio’s Northside ISD, Dr. Peters also ran the Gifted and Talented program at Stinson Middle School, winning a Sallie Mae First Year Teacher of the Year Award in 1996. He holds an EdD from the University of Texas at Austin (Cooperative Superintendency Program), MEd in educational administration from Our Lady of the Lake University, and BA in history and ethnic studies from Texas Tech University. He also has two children and currently resides in Dallas with his wife, Michelle.