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Thursday, June 1, 2017

Explaining the Unexplainable to Kids

How do we approach a topic that exposes the evil within mankind?

September 11, 2001, teachers across the nation had to deal with the worst terrorist attack on American soil. District and campus administrators had the unconscionable responsibility of communicating to teachers the events as they unfolded during that horrific day.

There were no cell phones or desk top computers in classrooms, so word was spread mouth to mouth all the while shielding our students from information that was difficult for adults to digest.

I remember being in a classroom and trying to wrap my head around an act so deplorable. I found myself second guessing what our campus administrator was telling us. After hearing the news of an airplane hitting the Pentagon, I secretly filed it away in what would now be considered "Fake News."

911 is years behind us, but every teacher, every administrator, every parent remembers the helplessness and disbelief that something so evil could happen in the U.S.A,. It was unfathomable. Years after the fact, I still feel a sickness in the pit of my stomach when I remember that fateful day. One of my favorite country artists, Alan Jackson, penned the song Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning." The song captured the immense grief and heartache we felt.

May 22, 2017, childrens' innocence was stripped away because of the evil acts of terrorism that took place at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England. Unlike the events of 911, smart phones have changed the culture on how we relay information. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have opened the floodgates to a world of information that can be accessed by any child with access to a smart phone.

I can promise you our children are far more worldly than we want to imagine. Children are Internet savvy. It would be naive to believe that we have control over what our children see. Like many of you, I believe that parents have the responsibility of talking with their children about this event, however, there are instances when the lines between parent and teacher become cloudy.

If a student wants to talk about this tragedy, how do we go about explaining the unexplainable?

1) Look for the helpers.

Mr. Rogers explains how when he was a little boy, when there was a catastrophe on the air, his mother would say, "always look for the helpers." Direct children's attention to the Good Samaritans, the hospital workers, ambulance drivers, organizations such as the Red Cross, and others who are giving support and healing to families effected by this tragedy.

2) Flood social media with positive messages.

Author Peter Reynolds @peterhreynolds tweeted out, "We can make more light-together" #manchester #UK  If you have an individual or school Twitter account, retweet positive messages that are uplifting. If you are a teacher or administrator, you could post social media posts.  J.K Rowing @jk_rowling is an outstanding role model for shifting the focus from terror to positivity.

3) Be honest.
As much as we want to reassure our students that nothing bad will ever happen to them, that simply isn't true. There is a way to share honestly, without sensationalizing stories that instill fear in all of us. Seek out professionals in your district to get support on how to communicate in ways that are appropriate depending on the age and maturity of the child. 

In the words of children's author, Peter Reynolds, "There is more good than bad in the world. More light than darkness..." Pass the word along.

Confession Reflection
  • Why is it important for district leaders to consider district wide professional development to help educators respond to events such as 911 and May 22nd terrorist act? How would professional development benefit teachers? i.e. create a common language, learn age-appropriate responses, digital footprint awareness
  • What are ways educators can acknowledge acts of terrorism in terms that would not sensationalize or invoke fear in our students? 
  • How can teachers and administrators partner with parents and community outreach programs during times of crisis?

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