When the Unexpected Happens

In light of the attacks on Paris this past Friday, I thought it important to provide information on how to proceed in your classroom, whether you are the regular classroom teacher or a substitute teacher (NB: these are all based on the assumption that the school is in no danger itself. If it is, please follow the safety procedures put in place. Obviously):

  1. Continue with the original plan. Kids, be they 8 or 18, have an uncanny ability to figure out how things are their fault and how their world is about to be destroyed by what just happened. Their still-developing brains can catastrophise the smallest events. What we as teachers need to do is show them that school is still a safe place to be. Don’t hesitate to acknowledge what is going on, but then get on with the original plan. This normalcy is very calming for students and will help to diffuse any unnecessary tension in the school.
  2. Discourage students from going online. 24 hour news channels are great when you want to hear the news but you don’t want to wait till 6pm. 24 hours channels are awful when a disaster is unfolding and they will report something as fact instead of verifying the information coming in. We are all wired into a source of unending information, and in times of disaster, emotions sway journalists and vetting the facts takes a backseat to introducing breaking news. After the attack on Parliament Hill in 2014, I had to turn the radio off because two journalists were arguing on air about how many gunmen there were. The on-site reporter felt his first hand experience was more valuable than the off-site reporter’s unconfirmed police report. Turns out both were wrong, but they were presenting both pieces of contradicting information as fact for over an hour. Buzzfeed published a list of hoaxes not to believe about the attacks in Paris less than 24 hours after the attacks started. Most are inconsequential, but it goes to show how quickly false information spreads. There are only three things students will get by going online during a disaster situation: misinformation, fear, and slow service because the servers can’t handle the amount of traffic. Wait for official and verified reports to come in. In the meantime, stick to the lesson.
  3. Talk about it the next day. Whether you teach kindergarten or Grade 12, your students are going to want to talk about what happened. Be prepared to have a discussion, appropriate for the age of your students, where you can provide them with official information. Discourage ignorant comments and correct misinformation. Don’t speculate on things you don’t know. Just say “I don’t know” if a student asks something you can’t answer. Use the opportunity to do research as a class of reputable news sources (aka, not a link someone posted on Facebook).
  4. Be informed about what else is happening in the world. The attacks in Paris and the attention they garnered brought to our attention the suicide bombings in Beirut and Baghdad and earthquakes in Japan and Mexico that sadly did not get the media attention they deserve. Encourage students to be informed about everything that is happening, and what they can do to help.
  5. Pray. Whether you are a teacher in a faith-based school, or a teacher advisor of a faith group in a public school, students are going to need the chance for quiet reflection. If you are in a faith-based school, it is an opportunity to show that the faith is more than a required religion credit. Talk to your school’s chaplain or faith advisor to get ideas of how to incorporate prayer into your classroom. If you are involved in a faith group in a public school, those students are in that group because they want to be. Faith is already a part of their lives. Provide them the chance to pray and be together in a scary time.

The over-arching theme is safety. Make sure your students feel safe and that things will be okay.

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