By Brittany R. Collins, Education Week, November 12, 2020
Over the past few decades, trauma-informed teaching has gained ground in the United States, yet rarely is grief included in the conversation. In the midst of a global pandemic, with teachers and students confronting loss in and outside the classroom in new and myriad ways, it is more critical than ever to apply a grief-sensitive lens to our conversations about curricula and trauma in the school system. We are not the people we were a year ago. And understanding the ways in which grief and trauma intersect with teaching and learning allows us to better cater to students’ new needs while we recognize and honor our own.
Prior to the start of COVID-19, approximately 1 in 14 children lost a parent or sibling before his or her 18th birthday. For years, teachers have not felt equipped to support students through this widespread grief. According to one 2012 survey, fewer than 1 percent of teachers received training related to grief support during their preservice training, and only 3 percent of teachers reported access to grief-related professional development in their district.
If you’ve worked with students, you’ve likely confronted loss: A student’s parent or grandparent passes away, or a dog dies, or a neighborhood shooting occurs close to home, and a student enters the classroom with a disrupted worldview. Grief also intersects with inequity: Three million young people witness gun violence every year, according to an analysis by the gun-safety group Everytown. The highest exposure to that violence takes place in under-resourced communities where poverty, racism, and discrimination result in disproportionate exposure to adverse childhood events and the subsequent chance of developing later-life mental- and physical-health problems. We need to acknowledge the presence of grief in the learning environment before we can create a classroom community that buffers the long-term impacts of loss and related childhood adversity.