The Conscious Classroom

Grief & Loss: Supporting Students in the Post Pandemic Classroom

June 15, 2021 Episode 39
The Conscious Classroom
Grief & Loss: Supporting Students in the Post Pandemic Classroom
Show Notes Transcript

In this, our third and final episode of this mini-series The Post Pandemic Classroom, we are going to look at how to support students who are returning to school having lost someone during the pandemic. Students often try to hide their grief or don't know how to process emotions, and the school day marches on with little room for the holistic learning and care. Grieving is a tender and an instructive time, creating the space in a classroom for students to take their time to process will serve them their entire lives.

We will look at both loss and bearing witness to serious illness, as well as the rising tide of gun violence and the grief, fear, and anxiety it brings to whole school communities.

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Welcome to the conscious classroom podcast, where we're exploring tools and perspectives that support educators and anyone who works with teams to create more conscious, supportive, and enriching learning environments. 

I'm your host Amy Edelstein, and I'll be sharing transformative insights and easy-to-implement classroom supports that are all drawn from mindful awareness and systems thinking. The themes we'll discuss are designed to improve your own joy and fulfilment in your work and increase your impact on the world we share.

Let's get on with this next episode.

In this session, I want to focus on grief and loss. I want to focus on the experience of students and how to create a welcoming environment in the classroom and how to allow, regardless of what subject you teach, how to allow the whole person experience to be there as it is.

So many of our students may have lost a loved one, an immediate family member, a grandparent, aunt, uncle, neighbor, mentor, or they may have seen somebody close to them become very ill and maybe they've not fully recovered and there's fear around illness and the precariousness of life.

And another aspect of grief and loss has to do with the terrible score of gun violence. Because not only have we seen suffering from the pandemic over these last, you know 15 months, 16 months, we have also seen just an unconscionable increase in gun violence, injury and death. 

I teach and live in Philadelphia. I work with public school students in Philadelphia, high schools and in this city last year was the greatest number of incidents of gun violence, injury, and death that the city has seen in 30 years. This year in 2021, there's a 40% increase over last here. So when I say that this is scorch, that this is another pandemic.

We are seeing it in our schools. Once a school loses one student to gun violence, the entire school community suffers. The entire school community feels the loss or feels the precariousness of life.

This is something that going into the factors, prevalence is beyond the scope of this conversation. But certainly there are conditions that are causing the increase of violence and the ease with which young people can obtain a weapon. So in the past, students would get mad at each other. They might break it. They might punch each other. Somebody might get their arm broken or their nose was broken. Those things heal.

But when a firearm is involved, we're dealing with much more long-term consequences and so grief and loss and that the fear of the precariousness of life is something that our students are going to be carrying with them as they enter school in the fall. 

In order to make our classrooms and our schools, the vibrant learning communities that we want them to be. In order to make them places where the discovery of potential self-actualization, exceeding the limit, exceeding one's expectations of oneself, breaking limits, surpassing boundaries is going to take being us as educators.

Being willing to be with things as they are, being able to see the reality as it is, and then building structures in our classroom to help support students. If we're not paying attention to the issues at hand that are affecting our students.

If we're in denial if we're following instructions from our district. Where the learning packets are coming out and it feels like business as usual and academic milestones and measures, which of course are important, but they have to be taken in context. They have to be taken into context with the reality of life on the ground.

Of life in these students' houses, and then we'll be able to provide robust solutions. We'll be able to provide love. We'll be able to provide well-being. We'll be able to provide, structures that create stability when students are experiencing instability.

So the first thing I'd like to say about grief and loss is that. It may take time. We want to allow our students to go through a natural process where we're there and we're with them. We provide support. We provide alternatives. We provide outlets. We provide, guidance in. The process of grief and suffering.

And what we resist the temptation to do is we resist the temptation to try to hurry it along, to try to force students to come out of a process before their time. No one can judge or guide. Or put a label on the time it takes for one to the grave. It may be very intense. It may be very acute. It may vanish, it may reappear a year later or five years later,

we want to. Create a culture in our classroom where we're not afraid of death. We're not afraid of illness and we're not afraid to recognize the impact that, violence can have in our neighbourhood. And especially when we lose somebody close to us.

if you're in an, if you're a teacher of mindfulness or you work with students in advisory, I encourage you to. Take some time to allow students to honour someone they care about whether it's somebody they lost or who was ill or whether it's somebody they cherish. Creating that time to honour and appreciate them is so important.

Especially when, as a nation, we've dealt with, we've seen the precarious nature of life and death. One of the ways to do that is to first create some markers in the class. Maybe there's a section of your, wall or your bulletin board, where you post poetry or song lyrics or images, and you invite the students to add their images or songs or poems.

You switch them up to keep it fresh every month, every quarter.

And if you have the opportunity to do activities in advisory, have the students create memory books where they create a book in honour of an individual or several individuals. And if it's somebody they've lost. That book is where they write their memories of them. When they feel sad, they use that book to add another memory of the person or a letter to that person, keeping that individual who is past alive in not just our hearts, but also in our conscious minds.

What we think about and what we share, brings them into the present. It makes them here. And now, so if a student is telling you about their aunt who died from the Coronavirus, you're creating a memory of that person in the present. You're listening to a story and account of that, that person who's died in the present.

You're creating a connection around them that didn't exist before. So they're living in the present. And so often students feel that if someone's past, they can no longer speak about them. That they've almost been erased or vanished. And especially if it's a parent or a mental. So very important to allow their memory, to be a living blessing, and allow their memory to come into their present tense.

So you can make special time during advisory. And for those students who didn't suffer a loss, those memory books can be an acknowledgement of those people they care about. So they're deepening their relationship and their connection. That sense of love that sense of offence.

Writing stories, learning how to articulate and notice be observant, and be mindful of what it is about that person that makes them feel so special rather than just. Taking for granted allows that student to deepen their recognition, their awareness, and their mindfulness of what creates that sense of presence.

What creates that sense of connection, and what it is they love about that person. When we feel solid in our appreciation of. We carry them with us. We hold them in our hearts. So it feels less precarious. They feel more concrete for students who are experiencing a lot of turmoil due to the pandemic from both loss of illness, economic insecurity, and the sense that life, as we've known, could change so quickly.

This way, of enriching our felt experience through mindful awareness through contemplative practice, articulating, and noticing through feeling through embodying internalizing will help students feel a sense of strength as they deal with it. It will help students who are not dealing with grief, feel a sense of more stability and support, and it will make the classroom one that is more attentive, more appreciative, more touched by more loving.

gun violence. And the grief that it brings is, is even more complex. And students who suffer the loss of a classmate, a schoolmate, or a friend. During the pandemic and we're not able to grieve as a school together may feel the lack of resolution even more. And that might show up as a protective field around them, where they become an unreachable numb immune.

and that's a type of grief to be very sensitive about but to allow for expression. Remembering the student who passed, acknowledging their presence to a friend of mind, reminding the friend of what was unusual about them, missing them so that their presence is valued, that their life. Is valued, not just erased because the violence is so disturbing.

When doing love and kindness practice, you can invite students to do the loving-kindness meditation towards someone they may. Or towards milestones that they missed so that you're giving a formal space to allow them to acknowledge the love, lost the cherishing, the honouring

for what will be helpful to you. As a teacher am to also be a little bit more aware if possible of which students have lost somebody to illness or other circumstances during the year that, that we were not meeting in school personally.

And to see if there are. Day holidays can be honoured in the names of those who want to be. We want to remember

being conscious as a classroom of suffering. And sadness doesn't mean that the classroom devolves into that suffering inside us, we want to allow children to be children and to. Enjoy and learn and do silly things and laugh and have fun and support each other. We want to allow them to be carefree even when they have carers on their shoulders.

The mindfulness practices will help. So doing more practice, but with incidences of gun violence that have affected this school, be very cognizant of eyes closed, not necessarily inviting eyes closed. Some of you may have had a habit of dimming the light. You'll have to ask what the students want.

If that makes them feel more comfortable or makes them feel more watchful, keep your eyes peeled for signs of hyperarousal or hyper arousal. So if you do a practice and a student seems very lifeless, flat sheen on the face doll. It's even a loss of muscle tone, just that flatness. Be sure to connect with them, and see how they're doing.

If you see signs of agitation for it, have eyes shaking of the hands or the knees. That's also a sign that they may be triggered, or they may be experiencing grief, or they may be experiencing.

At those times, you want to move a student out of the practice and find an activity that is easy for them to draw or listen to a song that is comforting for them or writing. In their memory book,

seek the counsellor, seek the mental health support team and stay in close communication with them. This is going to take a 360 whole school community. To move through some practices that I would encourage you to do with your students is first to create some shared agreements.

And in those shared agreements for the year, how you're going to be as a school community, you can raise the question. What are ways that we can show? Our support. If a student feels sad or has had an illness in the family or a death in the family, find out from them what they want and actively refer to them.

Those things.

If the school community has experienced gun violence,

Fi allows the students to be in small group discussions with peers of their choice. It's important to allow them to choose who they want to discuss with and make sure that that's a compatible grouping and say, what can we do as a school community to heal? What would you like to do? What would you like to talk about?

What signs would you like a Memorial? Would you like a memory wall? Would you like a spoken word event with you like to share solutions? Allow them to be solution makers. Of the situation. You can have a suggestion box. You can have a comment box. You can have a box on your desk where once every couple of weeks at a random time, you say you have two boxes, one for good, or one for bad, or you have two colours of index cards and you invite them to share one thing with you.

Is going well that uplifts their spirits that they're using for their own, self-care, their mental wellbeing, and one thing that's not going well and keep it anonymous, but keep asking, keep inviting, keep the communication lines gentle, but opening.

you can use the practices and adjust them to the situation.

So let's do a love and kindness practice. As we might in class where several students have experienced a recent death, the death over the past year,

come take your meditation posture. Allow yourself to be still.

Noticing your deep breath in noticing your deep breath out. Okay.

Take some breaths in your rhythm and time and allow the exhale to be long and full and relaxed.

Just like the tide moves out.

Let the tide of breath flow out of you and let the wave of fresh breath come into.

Let the tide of breath go out,

but the wave of rejuvenation comes in.

Yes. Put your attention on your heart area

and imagine that your heart is okay. His flowered and the most beautiful flower. You can imagine picture the colour,

picture the textures of the pedals. Are they many and abundant? Are they few and graceful?

is it an orchid or a Daisy, a sunflower or a dandy lion?

To leper rose picture the type of flower.

The richness of the colour of the pedals, the softness of the pedals.

and if your heart feels hurt or. Just imagine that the pedals of that flour wrap around your heart, like the softest blanket,

just resting that beautiful colour, that beautiful texture. That beautiful fragrance

and allow your heart to be held by that flower.

It's of that flower to catch any tears from your heart.

Okay. Allowing yourself to rest and be easy,

letting your heart be exactly as it is,

whether it feels open or closed, heavy or blank. Light and loving

or hurt or angry

or a mix of all those things.

Just like the flower, it's open to the sky. And every different kind of weather storms and lightening

sun or clouds night or day that flower in your heart is open to the moods of your heart. Whatever they may be.

And in these last moments of this mindful awareness practice,

let your whole body rest and the chair that you're on.

Peeling the support feeling, held,

feeling the strength of the chair,

feeling its solidity.

Take one last breath in

and allowing the tide of your breath to go out

and then to put your attention. On the objects in the room around you

letting yourself come out of the focus of the practice and be ready to move on to the next part of your day.

So you can, now I invite you to use that practice with your students. I invite you to allow them to have space, to process on their own, but in the community. So you don't need to process with them, but you're there. And their fellow students and classmates form support.

Thank you so much. Be well, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep allowing your heart to be with what is. Without any limitation on what's possible. Take care. Thank you for listening to the conscious classroom. I'm your host, Amy Edelstein. Please check out the show notes on inner strength, and for links and more information.

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