“In all the years I’ve been a teacher, I can’t specifically remember any training about dealing with loss and death. I think it’s something that we should be getting more training in.” (Teacher)
Many teachers and other school professionals feel unprepared and apprehensive about reaching out to grieving students. Some are afraid they will say or do the wrong thing and only make matters worse. Some worry that they will start a discussion they don’t know how to finish. This module acknowledges the general lack of professional preparation in bereavement among school professionals. It describes the value of providing training in this area, steps schools can take to help meet this gap in professional education, and the learning resources offered by the Coalition to Support Grieving Students.
Most school professionals have never had coursework or professional development opportunities addressing support for grieving students. In some schools, training addressing death and bereavement is hastily planned and delivered in a moment of crisis—a student or teacher has died, a critical incident involving a death has occurred on or near campus, or a tragedy has occurred in the community. It’s hard for educators to learn these skills when they themselves are grieving.
It is important to recognize that even before a crisis occurs, grieving students are present in nearly every classroom. By age 16, 1 in 20 students will experience the death of a parent. By high school graduation, 90% will have lost a family member or other significant person. These students typically face some learning and social challenges as a natural part of the grieving process. They will benefit from support that only school staff can offer. In addition, non-affected peers will benefit from education about death, grief, and ways to support a grieving classmate.
When schools provide staff trainings on children and grief, they:
- Emphasize that supporting grieving students is important
- Illustrate practical strategies that all staff can use to support grieving children and their families
- Show that these are valued skills for all school personnel
- Demonstrate that school administration is sensitive to teachers’ needs and committed to supporting them