After a Tragedy

Vol. 11 No. 4


The shootings in Newtown, CT, have certainly shaken us all. Schools are taking a step back and wondering how they would react if such a tragedy affected their campus. On the ISM e-Lists, schools are chatting about crisis and evacuation plans, and how to communicate the events with students, while sending prayers and blessings to the victims.

The shooting has opened up several conversations revolving around stricter gun laws, mental illness records, and safety in schools. Government officials are promising to begin the new year with heavy discussions around existing gun laws and protocols for protecting citizens. President Obama declared on Wednesday, December 19, that he would make gun control a central issue as he begins a second term. He said, “I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. It won’t be easy, but that can’t be an excuse not to try.” He continued by saying, “We are going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to guns.”

Vice President Joe Biden has been appointed head of future efforts to reduce similar mass shootings and the increasing number of gun deaths that occur each year. The President said Mr. Biden’s group would propose new laws and actions in January. “This is not some Washington commission that will take six months and be shelved.”

In the meantime, as educators and administrators, we must face the concerns of students and families about their safety and school’s risk management practices. Sandy Hook Elementary School administrators and teachers carried out their plan as best as they could under the circumstances. As President Obama said, “There is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.” However, in this sensitive time, it’s important that you support your families as they process the tragic events in their own way.

Here are some tips that may assist you in communicating your school’s compassion and empathy.

Listen and observe. Make an effort to notice changes in behaviors and social interactions of students. Their actions and involvements demonstrate how concerned they are with recent events. If they’re not showing signs of being impacted or openly discussing their feelings, don’t dwell on the issue.

Emphasize the positive. Even from the ugliest, most evil of actions comes positive reactions. Highlight how your community is pulling together and coping. In age-appropriate terms, identify other crises from which people, communities, and countries have recovered.

Take action. Being part of the recovery is one of the easiest ways for students and families to feel in control and build a stronger sense of connection. Fund raisers, taking donations, or helping families directly affected can help in the recovery process.

Understand grief. Grief is a process, not an event. Each of us will be affected and heal in our own way and at their own pace. Be patient—especially with children. Children’s views on death are shaped by their perspectives of the world and experiences. Different developmental ages will have different perspectives. Ask that teachers be extra sensitive to how students are responding to the event(s). Tragic experiences can affect a student’s learning.

Take care of yourself. It’s easy sometimes to put off managing your own emotions when you’re helping others through a difficult time. Take the time to talk with friends, family, religious leaders, a counselor, or whomever you feel most comfortable with about how you’re managing the events that have impacted your life. Suppressed emotions can cause health-related issues—it’s best to work through events as they affect you.

For more tips on supporting children after a tragedy, visit NASP Resources.

Additional ISM resources of interest
ISM Monthly Update for Risk Managers Vol. 3 No. 1 Building a Risk Management Team (RMT)
Private School News Vol. 10 No. 7 School Shooting Lawsuit Raises Risk Management Concerns
ISM Monthly Update for Risk Managers Vol. 3 No. 3 Four-Team Approach for Creating and Maintaining a Crisis Plan

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members
I&P Vol. 35 No. 2 A Sample Strategic Plan (Including a Capital Campaign)

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