Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Supporting Students through World Events

School counselors are responding to the news of the death of Osama Bin Laden with a wide variety of programs for their students.  While the Sunday night event caught many counselors off guard for managing and supporting student response for Monday, many forums and discussion opportunities are planned or underway at this point, all designed to help students make sense of this event and what it may mean to the daily lives of students, both today and in the future.

If you’re in the process of creating a program for your school, consider these key elements that have helped other 
counselors meet the needs of their buildings in the past:

Don’t do this alone.  School principals are certainly wise to include school counselors in the creation of a building response to unexpected events, but the best constructed plan is one that’s team-based.  Not everyone considers this issue to be a crisis, but it’s a good idea to look at your building crisis plan for guidance here—bring your crisis team together, determine who else may have important expertise to add to the team (like Social Studies teachers familiar with the situation), and plan as a group. If you don’t have a building crisis plan, pull your principal, social worker, and two teachers you respect into your office, and start from there—and make sure constructing a crisis plan is on next fall’s “to do” list.

Think back on what’s worked before.  A good way to brainstorm possible approaches to working with students through this issue is to consider how the school addressed a previous high profile issue.  It’s been almost ten years since 9/11, yet every teacher can remember where they were, what they were doing, and how they helped students through that time of crisis (if in fact they were teachers at that time.)  This event has its own dynamics, but approaches that were successful then could be a place to begin here.

Consider your audience.  It’s clear that strategies to help elementary school students work through these issues will be different than the approaches used with middle schools or high schools, but it’s important to go deeper than that.  Does your community have a number of families with members on active duty?  Are there political or religious divisions in your community that need to be considered in developing a response?  Are there community resources in mental health facilities or places of worship that should be included in building a plan of support for your community?  These issues are important to consider when deciding how—or even if--  a response program is necessary.

How will you spread the word?  Once you have a plan, it’s important to make sure everyone knows what it is—students, teachers, parents, administrators, and community members at large.  It may be that the best plan for your school is to offer an after-school discussion group, or to invite those with questions and concerns to come see you—but they won’t come if the invitation isn’t extended.  This is especially true if you’re planning to hold a larger event; if the turnout is small, or if people don’t know why they’re coming, they are less likely to prepare or participate, and the event’s potential goes unrealized.  Letting people know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what the event hopes to achieve is key to a successful event.

People turn to the helpers in times of crisis, and this week is no different.  Plan your work, work your plan, keep the best interests of 

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