Helping Students Through a Period of Grief

Educators often face challenges supporting students through loss and grief, in part because neither teachers nor principals are generally trained as grief counselors. Yet in the coming weeks and months, many students will experience losses of loved ones and of ways of life, and schools are in a unique position to collectively engage and support them with compassion in the grieving process.

Teachers can play a critical role in helping students understand their responses to these losses and move through the grieving process, which gets us in touch with our humanity and offers an opportunity to more fully experience our aliveness, and life itself.

Teaching Students to Acknowledge Feelings

Educators can encourage students to fully experience the feelings and physical sensations—tightness, tension, or numbness, for example—that come with loss. Healing occurs when a person accepts and moves through the emotions of fear, anger, and sadness to integrate a new reality, understanding what has been lost.

Do a needs assessment to find out what students are feeling and needing. Give them permission to express grief and space to process feelings. Listen patiently without judgment.

Children of all ages can be supported to express emotions—even anger and frustration—in healthy ways, developing a language to describe feelings and identifying physical sensations associated with them.

Facilitating Supportive Partnerships

Prioritizing activities that nurture connection and relationship-building increases the likelihood that students will not feel alone and will feel safe to grieve. Create simple ways of checking to find out how they’re doing. Use low-tech and high-tech options to ensure access—phone, video conferencing, emails.

Teachers can continue to foster peer connections using video conferencing. It may be best to allow students to choose not to use cameras—some are embarrassed about their noisy or crowded homes.

Creating New Rituals During Times of Grief

Many communal approaches to grief, like funerals and community gatherings, cannot occur during social distancing, but it’s still important to recognize loss and hold those who are grieving. Try to be aware of cultural differences in expressing grief and honoring the dead, and use input from students and their families to create community rituals to support those who’ve experienced a loss and to honor life. This might include writing letters to the family of the deceased, planting a tree, or making a piece of art to remember the person.

Excerpted from “Helping Students Through a Period of Grief” in Edutopia. Read the full article to learn more about how to implement each of the strategies above with older and younger students.

Source: Edutopia | Helping Students Through a Period of Grief, | © 2020 George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia, a program of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, is a trusted source shining a spotlight on what works in education.

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