Saturday, December 15, 2012

Teaching Through Tragedy

I'm sure so many of you are trying to make sense of the Sandy Hook Elementary Tragedy. 

It hits close to home because, as teachers in elementary schools, it is far too easy to visualize.  Despite feeling like we work in safe environments we know deep down that we are never entirely safe anywhere and this makes that feeling all the more real.

While my heart breaks for that community, I also feel an overwhelming sense of pride in our colleagues at that school.

In regards to Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech each of the assailants were known individuals with a relation to the environment in which the tragedies occurred. Security measures (cameras, locked doors, id checks, etc) to keep outside intruders out of the building would not necessarily prevent the situations from occurring. From the limited information that has been released since yesterday it is easy to see that the faculty and staff at Sandy Hook had a crisis protocol in place, a lockdown procedure to follow, and a staff that was dedicated, brave and as prepared as they possibly could be. As horrific as the situation was, it appears that actions were taken that prevented it from possibly being much worse.

As I watched the news last night, I listened to a student speak about how bullets were firing around him and a teacher risked her own safety teacher to come out into the hall and pull him into her classroom.

I read about a teacher who locked herself and her class into a small bathroom or closet and refused to open the door for the police until they slid their badges under the door because she was afraid it was a gunman. 

Another teacher explained how she locked the door, pulled the shades and ushered her students to the furthest corner where she calmly read them a book and told them they were all together and they were safe.

Rockstars!  True heroes!

As teachers in classrooms around the country we will be feeling the aftermaths of this tragedy. If your school doesn't already have a lockdown procedure in place I'm sure it soon will. If it does, it will most likely be improved and tweaked.

Do you have ideas to improve the safety at your school? Share them with administration. Propose a plan in writing. Find a way to make a difference. 

We're also going to need to be sensitive to our own little ones when they arrive on Monday.

We have no way of knowing how much media coverage they will have been exposed to over the weekend.  

At home we are keeping the TV off and not talking about it in front of our 2nd grade son. I know that will not be the case in all homes which means he may get an earful when he arrives on the playground on Monday morning. For that reason, my husband and I are deciding what, if anything, we want to tell him ahead of time. Do we want to provide him with some facts so that he isn't overwhelmed by what he may hear from his peers and let him know that kids may be eager to talk about it without having the correct details? Do we want to just hope he'll be too busy playing innocently and won't catch wind of it?

That's unlikely.

A few years ago a trainer at Sea World was killed by "Shamu." I didn't even know about it. Yet, the next morning my class came into the room in a tizzy. Girls were crying. Boys were speaking "matter-of-factly" about the situation...except their "facts" were far from the truth. It came up again at lunch and that time Steve Irwin was brought into and then a new series of untrue "facts" were thrown around about him being eaten by an alligator (he was actually killed by a stingray). My point is that news often makes its way into the classroom and when it does it usually involves students who think they know the truth, students who drag everything related they can think of into the conversation and students who are wide-eyed, shocked and scared.

This matter is far more sensitive and "close to home" than Orcas and Alligators. We have lockdown drills at school. They know what it feels like to sit in a huddle in a silent, dark corner waiting to be told it is safe to turn the lights back on and resume a normal day. Like all of us, our students will be able to let their minds wander and picture themselves in a similar horrific situation. 

And our jobs on Monday morning will be to be prepared for dealing with it.

Personally, unless I am instructed otherwise, I do not intend to initiate a conversation with my class. But, I know it is naive to think it won't come up.

It will.

Most likely within the first 3 seconds of the day.

My suggestion would be to form a united front with the faculty and staff at your school. Send out an email over the weekend to administration and ask how they would like it handled. Decide as a team what, if anything, you will say to the children and how you will respond to their questions and side-conversations.  Encourage a staff meeting to be held prior to the start of the school day so that the entire faculty is on the same page.

Don't hesitate to contact parents during the day or immediately after school if you overhear a student saying something or if a child appears scared or concerned. Let the families know what you've observed so that they may support them at home.

Work as a staff to gather articles and resources to help parents cope with questions that may arise outside of school. Here are a few that may be helpful to you.

Please feel free to share any additional thoughts, ideas or resources that you feel would be helpful to other teachers in the comments here or on the Clutter-Free Classroom Facebook Page as a comment in the post related to this blog entry.

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