In the aftermath of the horrific attacks that took place on Tuesday, everyone involved in education faces a great challenge: helping our children to feel safe and secure.
There are children whose lives have been directly affected by the terrorist attacks and will never be the same. Most of our children have seen terrifying images of destruction on television and the Internet. They are reading newspapers and they have heard stories on the radio about the huge loss of life.
If you are an educator, whether your school is a public, private, parochial, charter or home school, you must offer your students your undivided attention and unequivocal support.
If you are a principal, here are some things to consider doing at your school:
Evaluate the counseling resources you have on campus and consider what services and assistance may be available in your community. If you need help with counseling your students, faith-based and community organizations can help.
Meet with the faculty of your school as a group and individually. Many of your teachers and staff are feeling stress and anxiety, and your leadership can help to comfort them and build a strong sense of camaraderie that will assist them in meeting the needs of their students.
When you meet with teachers, encourage them to listen to the questions and concerns of their students, and to answer their questions honestly with age-appropriate facts. Remind them that we can overwhelm young children with too much information.
Share suggestions with your faculty about how to discuss the terrorist attacks with the students in their classrooms, and how to look for signs of distress or special needs among their students so they know where to direct extra help.
Spend time walking through your building and visiting classrooms. This leadership activity strongly reduces anxiety of both your teachers and students.
Teachers may want to consider the following suggestions:
Listen to your students and watch their behavior. Sometimes the quietest child may be the most frightened. Some children may daydream or have trouble concentrating on their schoolwork. Some may act out. Others may be just fine.
Take the time to reassure your students that their homes and schools are likely to be safe places. Show them that their school is functioning normally, and tell them that their government is working and that it will continue to protect them.
Help students discuss the known facts and separate fact from rumor. Avoid speculating or exaggerating graphic details. Try not to be alarmist.
Incidents have occurred since the tragedy where children of Middle Eastern descent have been threatened or taunted. This is an excellent opportunity to help children understand that most individuals who are from other countries are fine and good people who live in and love the United States as much as they do and that one should make judgments on an individual basis.
Maintain structure and stability through the daily schedule and engage in classroom activities that do not focus on the recent attacks. Children are comforted by their normal routine, and "back-to-normal" activities will help them.
Remember that the images on television are frightening, even to adults. Reduce or eliminate the presence of television in the classroom.
Remind your students about the value of living in a country that respects individual liberty and the rule of law. Talk about the principles that led to the independence of our country, and why they are still important today.
Engage in patriotic activities to give your students comfort. Say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing patriotic songs, or read books about courage.
Encourage your students to participate in constructive activities relative to the tragedy. They can write notes to those in mourning or write about acts of courage or bravery. Give them the opportunity to come up with ideas about how they can help those in need.
Teachers can also take care of themselves and their colleagues. Though some will show it more than others, teachers are feeling the effects of the terrorist attacks just as their students are.