Every school administrator hopes that they will never have to deal with a school tragedy such as the death of a student or teacher, school shooting, a student whose home burns down, etc. The sad reality is that with the recent upward trend of students committing suicides, more school administrators are dealing with such issues. No matter how much training you have, there is nothing that can fully prepare you when something tragic occurs. The following five suggestions provide you with a starting place should a tragedy occur. Unfortunately every situation is different and as such there is no perfect blue print that covers every situation that can arise.
Have a General Plan in Place Before Tragedy Strikes
Most districts these days have policies in place to deal with a tragic circumstance. However, many these policies are seldom reviewed and updated and many teachers and staff members are not familiar with them. School administrators should review these policies and conduct mock drills with their faculty/staff at least twice a year. Talking about different situations and conducting drills can make dealing with a difficult situation somewhat more familiar when an event actually happens.
Unfortunately tragedy is not something you can fully prepare for until it actually occurs. Every situation of this sort is unique and the policy simply cannot dictate how you should handle every situation. A plan can give you a starting place in case a tragic event does occur and sometimes a starting place is better than nothing at all. A good administrator has to be flexible and needs to be able to adapt to the situation and the people involved.
Be Prepared to Bring In Outside Counseling & Assistance
When a tragic event occurs schools need to have as many counselors available as possible. Many times other schools in the area are willing to send counselors to you to provide assistance especially early on in the crisis. Getting this extra assistance will take responsibility off your own faculty and staff who may be affected by the tragic event and unable to be fully effective with dealing with others. Networking can make this easier at the time. Establishing relationships with other administrators in your area can make this process simpler should the need arise to call upon them for help.
Take Care of Your Students Needs First
Your students should be your primary focus should tragedy hit. Knowing that every student is going to react differently is a key in dealing with them. The grief process in general is unpredictable. For this reason be prepared for an array of emotions including sadness, anger, and those who show absolutely no emotion. It is extremely important that you just let your students know that you are there for them. Some will want to talk, others will cry on your shoulder, and still others won’t say or do anything at all, but simply them knowing that there are people there for them during this time is helpful. The first twenty-four hours are going to be the most difficult and providing them with as much support as possible is a necessity.
Don’t Forget About Your Faculty & Staff
Just like the students, adults can be affected differently by tragedy. They will need your support throughout the process. Kids especially are resilient. More often than not they will bounce back quicker than what you think, but with a tragic situation the effects can be more lingering for adults. Recognizing which faculty/staff members are affected the most and offering counseling or time off is extremely important.
Within this realm it is also important to take care of yourself. Being the person in charge during a school tragedy can be very taxing and overwhelming. Be sure that you find someone to talk to during this time that isn’t directly involved with this tragedy. Your leadership during these difficult times is invaluable. If you don’t take care of yourself, then it will be difficult to provide the leadership necessary to move forward.
Resume Normal Activities As Soon As Possible
The time of the grieving and coping process will be different for each individual involved. It is important to get back into the daily routine of school as soon as possible. Providing normalcy aides in the healing process. You will find that the majority of students will be eager to dive back into their school work because it takes their mind off the tragedy.
Be sensitive to individual needs once you go back to your normal schedule. It may take days, weeks, or months for certain individuals to be able to move on without breaking down. Provide assistance as they need it and be sure everyone knows where they can go if they have a moment.