Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 7 out of 10 teachers had a student in their classroom who was grieving. A recent study revealed that over 120,000 children in the United States have lost a parent or caregiver to the novel coronavirus, with BIPOC youth at a greater likelihood of bereavement due to systemic health inequities, which implies that the number of grieving students in classrooms has continued to ascend. Yet fewer than 1% of teachers receive training regarding grief support during their preservice education, and the topic can feel daunting to address with young people and parents alike.
A new educational approach, grief-responsive teaching, offers a solution.
Published in early November, 2021, Learning from Loss: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Supporting Grieving Students (Heinemann Publishing) offers a map for teachers, school counselors, and other adults working with youth who are wondering where to begin when supporting a student or school community impacted by loss, whether or not that loss is tied to a death (Note: young people experiencing homelessness, a change in housing or schooling, living in the foster care system, enduring caregivers’ divorce, etc, can all experience grief responses in their brains and bodies that are equally as valid as those tied to death-related losses).
Exploring the impact of grief on the brain, body, and behavior; best practices for cultivating physical, emotional, and cultural safety in the classroom; strategies for communicating with grieving students, family members, and colleagues; navigating discussions of mortality in curricula and classroom discussion; and offering a comprehensive look at vicarious trauma and how educators can protect their own wellbeing and emotional bandwidth in the face of grief, Learning from Loss offers multiple entry-points for navigating a challenging topic and experience in an approachable, wellness-centered way.
The publication of the book runs alongside the launch of a new organization founded by Learning from Loss author Brittany R. Collins, entitled Grief-Responsive Teaching. Grief-Responsive Teaching is a professional learning community and digital resource hub dedicated to supporting students’ and teachers’ wellbeing in times of loss, and offers a library of articles, podcasts, and downloadables for teachers and school districts; a digital journal to which teachers and counselors are invited to submit stories of their own work navigating loss in learning environments; and opportunities to connect with colleagues during professional development workshops and speaking events.
As young people approach the second year of life amid a global pandemic and teachers continue to adjust to new methods of practice, whether teaching remotely, hybrid, or navigating a return to in-person instruction, grief will necessarily shape the schooling environment, implicitly and explicitly. Engaging with resources like Learning from Loss and Grief-Responsive Teaching assures that educators can take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach and prepare for those moments with loss intersects with learning. Though teachers are not trained mental health professionals, and should not have the same role as counselors and clinicians in supporting grieving students, research shows that it only takes one person to change the life trajectory of a young person, and teachers are uniquely positioned to build positive, transformative relationships in ways that promote students’ resilience.
How to become that person?
Learning from Loss invites you to begin.
About The Author
Brittany R. Collins is an author, educator, and curriculum designer dedicated to supporting teachers’ and students’ social and emotional wellbeing, especially in times of adversity. Her work explores the impacts of grief, loss, and trauma in the school system, as well as how innovative pedagogies – from inquiry-based learning to identity development curricula – can create conditions supportive of all learners. She is the Founder of Grief-Responsive Teaching, a professional learning community and resource hub that supports students’ and teachers’ wellbeing in times of loss, as well as the author of Learning from Loss: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Supporting Grieving Students. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Education Week, Edutopia, Inside Higher Ed, Thrive Global, English Journal of NCTE, and Teachers’ and Writers’ Magazine, among other publications. Connect with Brittany on Instagram @griefresponsiveteaching, Twitter @brcollins27, or on her websites: www.brittanyrcollins.com and www.griefresponsiveteaching.com for more information.