Grief in the Classroom

Most of the time, for both teachers and students, we are fortunate to enjoy both positive and happy ESL classrooms. But occasionally we might have a student who is experiencing the loss of a loved one. As caring adults, it’s probably not often that we make the situation worse.  But, sometimes we are at a loss ourselves about how best to handle these feelings in the classroom. I discovered a wonderful resource on the NPR Education blog that offers insight and guidance for educators about how to handle a grieving student. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use this information for a student, however, most of the information on this site is relevant for people of all ages and stations in life. Take a look. Let me know what you think.

Organization:  Coalition to Support Grieving Students


Materials:  Video and Downloadable Grief Support Modules for School Personnel.  You can watch a video and discussion, or skip to the downloadable materials, which include very specific tips and ideas about what to say and what to do.

Some key points to keep in mind when dealing with a grieving student:

  • Avoid minimizing the student’s grief. Don’t say “At least _______.”
  • Avoid comparisons, ie, “My father died last year, and he was really sick too.”
  • Listen more, talk less. Accept displays of emotion. Don’t ask the student to “buck up”, “get it together”, or deny their feelings.
  • Be empathetic.
  • Adapt assignments to student’s ability to focus.
  • Think about adjusting the student’s work requirements.
  • Have cultural sensitivity. Different cultures recognize death in different ways. Ask the student about how to best help him or her. Be sensitive, authentic, and patient. Watch out for making assumptions.

And remember to take care of yourself too. Supporting a grieving student can trigger a range of reactions in adults. Examples of situations where adults may experience triggers include:

  • A past personal experience with grief.
  • Coping with serious illness.
  • Having a friend or family member who is ill.
  • New concerns about loved ones.

And to add to our understanding of death and dying in other cultures, take a look at this video.

The blog that inspired this post?-

NPR Blog:

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