A Letter to An Elementary School Faculty and Staff

Dear Colleagues,
As many of us prepare to end our final weekend before Winter Break and resume our work this week with our precious students, we are all likely thinking about the tragic events that unfolded in Connecticut on Friday. While we have had the weekend to process our own feelings about this event, parents have been managing their own feelings while attempting to oversee their children’s exposure and management of reactions. Many have said they are trying to shield their children from the details or from the event in its entirety and are hoping we can support that when the students return to school on Monday. This seems like a reasonable and prudent request that we should attempt to honor.

  • Let’s avoid bringing up the elementary school shooting this week.

Many of you are likely thinking that some students may bring this up themselves in class, whether or not they heard about it at home over the weekend. We need to be prepared to respond to this. It can be tricky to find the words to validate what they bring up without generating fear or excessive curiosity about the event. It will also be important to emphasize that this horrible event was exceptionally rare and that they are safe at our school.

  • If students bring this up, offer responses that acknowledge what happened, summarizes it for those who want to know and defer details to their parents.
  • “Yes, there was a very sad thing that happened in Connecticut last week. A man who was having trouble thinking clearly did a horrible thing. He went into a school and fired a gun at people and hurt some of them. Some of them even died.”
  • “We’re not going to talk about this in school right now for several reasons: we don’t know all of the details yet and this is the kind of thing that parents usually want to talk to their own children about.”
  • “While it can be scary to think about this, it’s good to know that this almost never happens. We are safe in our school and we practice how to stay safe.”
  • “If you find yourself thinking about this a lot, it would be good to talk with your parents about it. You can also talk with me privately or check in with our counselor about it. Let me know later if you’d like to talk more about this.”
  • Make sure to validate ANY of their feelings. Resist responding with simplistic statements such as, “You don’t need to worry about this because it could never happen here.” A more supportive statement would be something like, “Yes, hearing about this can make a person feel scared or worried, even though this hardly ever happens. This scared feeling will go away soon. Would you like to talk more about it or do something else with me to take your mind off of it?’

As caring adults in this community, many of us have been affected by this, as well. We need to make sure we take care of ourselves while trying to integrate this unimaginable event into our consciousness. Manage your own feelings about this tragic event in healthy ways.

  • Talk to other adults about your feelings.
  • Socialize with other people.
  • Avoid using alcohol or other drugs to suppress uncomfortable feelings about this.
  • We will be setting up some times for the adults to gather to talk about this at school over the next few days.

This last week before Winter Break is always a unique one. That will make it more difficult to tell if students’ behavior is due to excitement or lingering fears.

  • The best response to either is to maintain routines as best as possible
  • Continue to adhere to the same rules and boundaries as usual.
  • Refer struggling students to office administrators or to the school counselor.

Finally, reassure worried parents that their children are safe at our school.

  • Refer parents to the office administrators if they wish to discuss safety policies.
  • Refer them to the counselor if they are struggling with supporting their children or managing their own feelings.

We’re grateful to work together in a place that offers such support for our students, their parents and each other. Enjoy your students this week. Hug them. Smile at them. Remember that they look to you for confirmation that their world is safe. By doing that, we also help ourselves. That’s the best medicine for dealing with the aftermath of this horrible occurrence.

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December 18, 2012. Uncategorized.

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