All school personnel must discuss effective strategies for communicating with students who are experiencing the loss of a family member, a teacher, or a close friend; or who have experienced or may be experiencing trauma or an event causing disillusionment or depression. In short, how do we communicate with students who may not be communicating effectively with us? Do you have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to be successful? This activity is designed to introduce the administrative team and the school staff to effective strategies that can support students who are grieving and disconnecting from their school community. Remember, the best time to locate resources, identify supportive staff members, find district support personnel, and build capacity on your faculty is before the crisis or event occurs.
Station I: Readings
- “Communicating About Death to Students,” Principal Leadership, November 2015, pp. 10–11.
- “How to Support Grieving Students,” Principal Leadership, January 2015, pp. 32–34.
Station II: Videos from webinars and blog posts from www.nassp.org
- “Supporting Students & Schools in the Aftermath of Crisis.” Webinar. NASSP, Reston, VA, March, 19, 2015.
- “Teen Suicide and the Leader’s Role,” Webinar. NASSP, Reston, VA, February 26, 2015.
- School of Thought, “Grief Over the Holidays: Educators Can Help Students Cope,” December, 11, 2015.
- School of Thought, “Support for Grieving Students: A Team Makes It Happen,” December 1, 2015.
- School of Thought, “How Educators Can Support Grieving Students Through Learning,” February 25, 2015.
Station III: Website
Select teacher training module, “What Not to Say.” View the video and download the module summary. As a team, select two to three additional training modules whose topics are germane to your teachers and students. View the videos and download the summaries.
The readings, webinars, and website provided here will give you a perspective for beginning effective communication and continuing support to grieving students. The leadership team, counselors, and faculty can use these resources to improve their skills, plan professional development with faculty on this topic, and craft protocols for students affected by trauma and loss. While everyone may not be comfortable enough to be a member of the grief team at your school, every staff member should review and study these resources. In many cases, review of these resources may put all staff more at ease when communicating with other staff, students, and families experiencing traumatic events.
Presentation Preparations with Administrative Team
- Set up three stations: Station I should have copies of the readings, station II should be set up with a computer and internet connection so participants can view the webinars, and station III should have another internet-enabled computer for visiting the websites. If the group is large, include a projector and screen. Separate the stations to minimize noise from the group discussion.
- Convene the school leadership team. Divide the team into three groups, one group at each station. Each group should read or view the resources and a recorder should be selected to summarize the information at each station.
- Allow 40 minutes to review the resources: read the articles, review the webinars, and visit the websites.
- Each group’s assignment is to become an “expert” on the resources assigned at the station.
- Utilize the remaining 20 minutes for discussion. The following Discussion Prompts will begin the conversation:
- Your discussions should include practices in place at your school and ones that you would like to see.
- Reconvene the leadership team.
- Have each group summarize the resources and the discussion with implications for practices at your school to support students in the midst or aftermath of loss and trauma.
- Finalize each group conversation by asking: What strategies from this station do we think could be replicated effectively at our school?
- Select a representative(s) from each group for a Homework Assignment.
Presentation to the full faculty (this activity may be accomplished in more than one meeting)
- Reconvene the leadership team to begin a conversation that includes developing a strategy to replicate the process used by the leadership team for presentation to the entire staff. Leadership team members will facilitate the faculty discussion at each station.
- Changes from the leadership team process: plan to have each of the faculty groups visit all three stations.
- Members of each leadership team group should select “highly effective” resources so that information at each station can be reviewed in 25 minutes, followed by a 20-minute discussion. (One 2.5- to 3-hour professional development session is needed to accommodate the lesson. If single session time is limited, plan three separate 1-hour professional development sessions.)
- If the three faculty groups are too large for effective discussions, set up multiples of each station, reducing the number of staff assigned at each.
- Set up the stations as you did with the leadership team, but with the resources selected by each group.
- Ask the participants to read or view their section—highlighting, annotating, and noting important points. The facilitator from the leadership team should give directions and circulate.
- Ask faculty members to ignore their assumptions and to use specific reading selection examples and webinar or website references to support their comments during group discussions. Use the Discussion Prompts and add discussion questions to continue the conversation in a way that is most relevant to your school.
- After completing review and discussion at each station, use the chart paper to summarize what was learned about communicating with and supporting students. Write what strategies and initiatives would be effective at your school.
- After three rotations, reconvene the staff.
- Ask discussion team leaders to post discussion summaries and strategies for the faculty as a whole.
- Lead a faculty discussion about the strategies and initiatives that might be effective at your school.
- Ask the “homework leadership team” to identify district protocols, resources, and personnel available to support grieving students at your school and the school protocol for requesting these services.
Extend and Apply
Ask for volunteers to comprise a grieving student’s support team. Encourage and select members from multiple grade levels, departments, and all facets of the school community. Utilize the data captured on chart paper from the faculty discussions and the district resources found by the “homework” group. Use the Discussion Guide Planning Templates and personnel assignment tools, to craft procedures and protocols for administrators, teachers, and counselors to follow while communicating with grieving students, family, and members of the community. Summarize the objectives and goals of the grieving students support team. Make an inclusive summary of district and community resources and identify the local school support team staff member who is or will be the point of contact to acquire these resources for students who have been referred by staff. In your parent and community meetings, highlight online and community resources available to help them support grieving students.