This year I started at a new school. It’s been a while since I moved schools, so I had forgotten what a whirlwind it is. You are navigating your way around new procedures and learning hundreds of names all while trying to remember where the bathroom is. Then a week into school we lost a student in a car wreck. When a crisis such as the death of a student happens life speeds up when you really want it to slow down. You are managing strong reactions from some students and staff while trying to be mindful of those students who are not as affected. Unfortunately, as counselors, we will all face a loss at some point. Whether it be the loss of a student, parent, or staff member, and preparation is key. Here are 5 tips on preparing for a school crisis and tragedy.
Tip 1: Keep a copy of your school/county protocol at home.
Sadly, I received the news on a Saturday night. My principal and I were on the phone all weekend planning and preparing for Monday. Most counties and schools have a protocol for communication and action steps to be taken after for a loss. We have a specific procedure protocol and it was sitting on my desk! Crisis policies and procedures are invaluable when preparing for the next steps because they provide a clear direction. However, a procedure is no good when it’s at work and you’re at home. Keep a copy at home or in your Google Drive for access when you aren’t at school.
Tip 2: Prepare activities so they are ready to go at the beginning of the year.
When a crisis happens, the last place you want to be is at the copy machine. Prepare a stash of activities ahead of time. I went through dozens of Savvy School Counselor’s Grief Files and it was calming for students and me to have an activity that I could easily grab and go. Find time on an in-service day or in the summer to print, copy, and create activities you may use.
Tip 3: Make a travel bag.
Sometimes a tragedy will take place at your school and sometimes you may be called into a neighboring school for assistance. A travel bag is a wonderful resource if you are visiting classrooms or another school. Here’s what’s in my bag:
- tissues for tears
- fidget toys for relaxation
- paper and crayons for art therapy
- a feelings chart for check in’s
- handouts of local resources
- a book for bibliotherapy
- copies of grief activities
- mints – I once had a teacher tell me that you can’t cry and eat at the same time. I’ve found for my students that are sobbing and can’t seem to catch their breath a mint helps.
Tip 4: Backup the bookmarks of your favorite grief resources.
When I moved schools this year, I got a new computer. Sounds exciting, but what I had not counted on was losing all my files and internet bookmarks. When your computer crashes the last thing you want to hear is “did you back up?” I am normally the master of resources, but all of a sudden I couldn’t access them. How To Geek has this article on how to back up your browser bookmarks and you can read more about importing Chrome bookmarks here.
Here are some of my favorite resources for you to bookmark:
Check out 75 free counseling resources from Speckled Moose Counseling for more online resources.
Tip 5: Plan for follow up.
Our Crisis Team saw 26 students that Monday and I saw 67 that month. We saw students that had been close with the student we lost, some that were acquaintances, and several students that had a previous loss and this tragedy had brought it back to the surface. Make a plan for how you will follow up with the influx of referrals. Our Crisis Team provided me a helpful Follow Up Log that included the name of the student seen, who was the crisis team responder the student saw, a summary of concerns, and a spot for me to write notes about the follow-up.
Additionally, we referred several families to local agencies and the Katerpillar Kids Grief Camp, sent teachers and parents information on helping students with the grief via newsletters and e-mails, and created grief small groups. I have also provided individual counseling using Mental Fills When Tragedy Strikes- Helping Children Cope with a Trauma packet.
I also saw classes do a short activity and help them process their grief. First, we read The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr, then brainstormed words that described the student we lost, and lastly made cards for the family.
Keep in mind that follow-up doesn’t end immediately, so make a support plan for the rest of the year.
What resources or tips do you have for preparing for a tragedy? Share in the comments below.
Laura Filtness is the School Counselor in Knoxville, TN and was the 2017 TSCA Elementary School Counselor of the Year. You can visit her blog, Paws-itive School Counseling or follow her on Twitter @sassy_school. Laura creatively infuses her love of dogs into her counseling program. The best way to sum up Laura’s love of her dogs is that she proudly once won a crazy dog mom contest. Her dog, Boss, is a certified therapy dog with H.A.B.I.T. and loves helping kids read.