Many people have heard the saying “it takes a village” when it comes to raising a family. For many families, that “village” provides support, guidance, resources, ideas, and respite, and can include anyone from neighbors, to relatives, to friends, and others whom they see fit for the job. Teachers play a large role in that supportive village since they are the ones who see the children for most of the child’s waking hours; which is why they play just as vital of a role post-disaster as other professionals in the disaster relief and mental health fields.
Last week was National Teacher Appreciation Week.
Please join us in sending all teachers a special “THANK YOU” for all they do, not only daily, but additionally in response to crises that occur in their students’ lives. Especially those grappling with the events in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
After any disaster, natural or man-made, children will generally return to their typical school routine and functions. Things about school may be different depending on the situation, the type of disaster, or if the school was damaged, but they will eventually return to some type of normalization and routine nonetheless. After returning to school, they receive specialized attention and support of the teachers and supportive staff.
One of the many important tasks teachers do post-disaster is to observe each child and assess for any changes with the child’s behavior or affect. As the one in contact with the child most, they relay these changes to the school social worker, school psychologist, principal, and the child’s family.
Another role teachers fill is to assist students in processing the various feelings they may be experiencing. For example, pre-school teachers may provide play-based activities to help this age express themselves since they do not have the verbal capacity yet to do so. Sculpting clay, painting, drawing, or dramatic/fantasy play can help with self-expression and to assist in processing their experiences and emotions. School-age teachers encourage their students to express their feelings through drawing, journaling, painting, or reading and talking about relevant stories that may be similar to their own. Adolescents, having stronger cognitive and abstract thinking capabilities, are led through group discussions with their peers. Trusted teachers allow for honest and open communication, reassuring that whatever they are feeling or experiencing in that moment, is okay. Teachers also help students discover relaxation techniques and practice coping skills such as deep breathing, listening to music, guided imagery, etc.
Prior to disasters occurring, teachers work to establish evacuation plans for fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and active shooters. Practicing these evacuations on a regular basis with students and having open communication about these processes and procedures are important so everyone feels prepared and understands what to do in the event of another disaster occurring.
Many schools have implemented Crisis Response Teams which is a collaborative effort by school staff to help support large groups of children that have been affected by an event such as a school shooting or suicide. The crisis response team might include individuals such as school administrators, psychologists, social workers, counselors, teachers, etc. Each discipline brings their specialized background to the team to make sure the children have the necessary emotional and physical support that is essential. The team is also responsible for communicating with parents and families about sensitive incidents that have occurred (i.e. a letter to parents about a student who has died). This letter may also include children’s typical responses to trauma, behaviors the parent should look out for, or how they can help their child at home.
One final and very important role teachers play, is being present, aware, and practicing understanding; understanding of the grief responses for children and adolescents and understanding the emotional needs these children may have. An honest, open, and caring mentality best supports children in a time when they need it the most.