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Dedicated to Teachers

When World, Community, or School News is Upsetting

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Excerpted from The Curious Classroom by Harvey “Smokey” Daniels


When you live with thirty other human beings for 180 days in a row, sad things and bad things can happen. Individual children or the whole group will encounter struggles, worries, losses, changes, or emergencies. It’s not whether, but when.

Many of these happenings are predictable and expectable. A class pet dies. Then someone breaks a bone. Someone moves away. Someone has a sick parent or grandparent. Someone’s family is in a car crash. There’s a bullying incident on the playground. A big storm rages through town. There’s scary news on TV and adults are agitated about it.

Here are some ways to support students when dealing with these crises in your classroom:

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If there is any time before you see the kids, connect with colleagues, friends, or any experts you may know. Text, call, Google. Confirm the facts as best you can. Then, when students arrive:

  • Let kids know they are safe here with you, right now. Give pats and hugs as needed.
  • Let children talk without interrupting. Invite everyone to speak.
  • Listen carefully; be ready to hear multiple layers of concern.
  • Be a calm and trustworthy adult, but not the expert with all the answers.
  • Be genuine about your own feelings without telling kids how they should feel.
  • Let kids know that many adults are working to help people, to fix the problem, to right the injustice, or to provide aid.
  • Keep the classroom a safe space. Maintain comforting routines, return to favorite activities, revisit group friendship norms and rituals.
  • Limit kids’ media intake at school. Some graphic photos and videos can simply be too much for children—or for us.
  • Keep your eye out for students who do not gradually bounce back, or who show significant changes in behavior, attitudes, or feelings. Promptly seek help for such children from the school psychologist, social worker, nurse, or other expert.
  • Take care of yourself. You may need time, solitude, adult conversation, or just a break from the double task of managing your own emotions and supporting your students.


If an inquiry into the event seems appropriate

Now you will have at least a little prep time. First, talk with colleagues about what they are doing and collaborate to leverage the effort. Anticipating kids’ wonderings, you can collect books, bookmark web pages, and gather other resources. If a story, image, poem, artifact, or literary selection will help advance kids’ investigation, get it ready to use. For example, if the crisis involves street violence, you might want to read aloud Smoky Night by Eve Bunting. If immigration is the issue, grab The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. Fit these in after you’ve heard what kids want to know.

  • Ask kids what they are wondering about. Jot down their questions on a public chart or let them make their own list in personal learning journals. Feel free to add items of your own or ones you hear below the surface, things kids are hesitant to express.
  • As ideas are listed, confirm facts that you know; gently question rumors and misconceptions. Unless an immediate correction is required, don’t say “that’s wrong,” but flag dubious information for double-checking later.
  • If additional information or research is called for, ask: “How could we find out more about this?” Help kids develop a list of possible sources, then pursue the topic as a whole class, or subdivide the research among small groups. After a specified time, return as a whole group to share findings, and match them to the question chart made earlier.
  • If kids want to take action, ask: “What are some ways we could reach out, help, or assist?” Develop a list of possible actions along a continuum of spreading awareness, taking up advocacy, or offering aid. Either as a whole class or in small teams, investigate these action options and report back to one another. When students choose an option, support them to take the necessary steps during their investigation. At this stage, finding an appropriate public outlet for students’ work is one of our main roles.
  • Follow up over time. Without extending the grief or upset, have check-ins where you ask, “How are we doing on __________? Anything new or old we should be talking about?” If some kids decide they want to pursue the topic longer than others, that should be OK. You just have to stay on top of their motivations and feelings, in case they become obsessive or anxious.

Sources: American Psychological Association, American School Counselors Association, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Red Cross.

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To learn more about The Curious Classroom, and to download a sample chapter, visit Heinemann.com.

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photo credit: Rhendi Rukmana

Topics: Education, Education Policy, Reading, The Curious Classroom, Writing, Administration, Adult, Collaboration, Elementary, Harvey "Smokey" Daniels, High School, Inquiry, Literacy, Middle School, Nonfiction, Social Studies, Student-Centered, Student-Directed Inquiry

Date Published: 08/18/17

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