Why Teach about Grief and Loss?

For the Special Issues in Grieving and Loss class that I started last month, I was asked to write an informal paper and explain why I chose to enroll in this class, what outcomes I expected and what my goals were.

Three years ago, I enrolled in the M.S. in Guidance and Counseling program at STU after one of my students attempted suicide, and nothing had been done by support staff or administration who had been informed of his intentions, to prevent it. I’ve been wanting to take the training on grief and loss since the very beginning of the program, but I was working on my degree, so I could become a school counselor or a behavior specialist at Lanier-James Education Center, an alternative secondary school in Hallandale Beach, FL and that was my main focus.

Now that I’m on a personal leave and I do have an opportunity to take this class, even though it doesn’t count towards any degree or certificate, and FAFSA doesn’t provide funding for it, I’m glad to finally be able to learn everything that my professor, Dr. Hernandez (who has been highly spoken of by other students and faculty members) has to share with the class. I believe that every child should learn how to deal with grief and loss in school. It should be one of our main subjects. Along with Common Sense subject, Healthy Relationships, Self-Esteem and Self-Regulation, Empathy and Social Conscience, Parenting, Legal Rights, Business, Finances and Taxes, not to mention a class that would teach the history of violence and weapons and current trends in warfare… just to name a few.

Let’s face it: our school curriculum needs serious adjustments if we want to prepare our students for the REAL world. For these changes to occur, our leaders have to understand the needs of today’s students and current trends in society. Sadly, they don’t. Therefore, they either need to be retrained or replaced. I believe that leaders should be competent. Unfortunately, as practice and reality show, one is only required to have a background in education if one is going to work in a school setting. If you decide to become a leader on a larger scale, for example, district, state or federal level, educational background and experience are not mandatory. As a logical thinker, I’m puzzled by this paradox. As I was looking into doctoral programs in educational leadership across the country, I noticed that some of them required that you were already an active principal or had previous experience as a school administrator. How can one design new state and federal policies without having the knowledge of the system or the experience of working in it?

Currently, I’m a student in the Ed.D. program at STU. This summer I’m expected to start the first chapter of my dissertation. I’m interested in conducting research related to trauma and school safety. In the last school board meeting, Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie stated, that a third party was going to conduct a risk assessment in Broward School over the summer. They will start in June and will finish by the end of August. I would like to find out what measurement tools they are going to use and how these findings are going to be publicized. Also, how they are going to conduct surveys (that RR mentioned would be part of the assessment) while all students and teachers are on summer vacation. I would like to learn to conduct my own research using the Broward Schools data and top it with a survey. So, I suppose that would be considered mixed methods. The program I’m in though doesn’t offer a mixed methods class. Therefore, I have to find other ways to gain expertise in this area.

Dr. Hernandez asked the class to let him know what we’d be interested in learning more about. So, this is what I’d like to learn more about: risk assessments, mixed methods, SWOT analyses, trauma surveys. I’d like to learn how to analyze large amounts of data from an entire school district. For the Crisis Management class, I created a SWOT analysis based on my school data. I shared it with my principal to get his feedback, but in two months, he never found the time to read it and discuss it, as he had promised he would. I’d like to find someone who is experienced in creating risk assessments and can give me feedback, advice, and guide me through the dissertation research.

The last important thing I would like to figure out is how we can modify our school curriculum, so that all students could be taught about the purpose of life and death and how to deal with grief and loss. Our current curriculum does not have time for that. We spend thirteen years (K – 12) teaching equations and vocabulary, but end up with students who are not prepared for the real life’s challenges. How can we change that? Any ideas?..

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Thanks for posting.  You are spot on about children needing to be better prepared to understand grief and loss.  Actually adults need this too.  I used to do the Children's Talk in my previous church.  One Sunday, this was the topic and I had a small book to use for my object lesson.  (I never had anything "normal" like a children's book, so this lesson was unusual for that reason.)  The book "Water Bugs & Dragonflies" by Doris Stickney is an excellent way to start a conversation.

Your feelings about including this in school are understood, but some reasons why a school setting may find this topic difficult could be  1) Death is a difficult subject to broach even among adults - and raw emotion can be evoked unexpectedly in such a conversation making it even harder,  2) religious beliefs and practices surround our human experiences with "the purpose of life and death" and loss, 3) it's not a "one and done" lesson, requiring time for discussion and thoughtful responses to questions, and teachers tend to have a "full curriculum plate" and no direct training on this. 

The difficulty doesn't mean we should not find a way, but just that many adults are not equipped or feel comfortable.  The little book I mentioned has a section at the back for parents with a great way to help them understand a child's response and how to converse about the story with children.  The book is authored by and classified as a Christian book, it might be acceptable to other faiths, I don't know.

Thanks for posting your thoughts.  Best wishes in your studies.

Thank you for this post. 

Yes. We all need some guidance on dealing with grief and loss. Waiting until it happens is NOT the best approach!

This reminds me of the facts about healthcare in the documentary "Resilience." The US spends $3 trillion on healthcare and just  5% of that goes to prevention.  We spend 13 years of life in school to learn about some aspects of life most of us will never need. I would venture to say less than 5% of that time goest to practical teaching about the ups and downs life brings. Granted, literature and history teach about epic disappointments. AND I agree with you. Having a framework for knowing there will be loss and how to deal with it would be incredibly valuable, especially in this day and time.

Thank you,


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