Features Special Report

How to Help Students After a Disaster

  • Remain calm and reassuring: “We will be OK.”
  • Acknowledge and normalize their feelings. Use active listening. There are no wrong feelings.
  • Encourage students to use multiple forms to express their feelings about disaster-related events. Don’t force it. Follow their lead.
  • Promote positive coping and problem-solving skills. Review spaces and activities they can use when feeling upset. Be flexible and model the skills.
  • Emphasize their resilience and community resilience. Focus on what they have done before to feel better when upset. Identify the helpers.
  • Strengthen social bonds and peer supports. Assign collaborative group work. Encourage them to be kind to each other.
  • Take care of you.

Classroom Specifics

  • Maintain structure and routine.
  • Shorter lesson plans.
  • Slower pace.
  • More time for personal expression and discussion.
  • Plan hands-on activities.
  • Structured opportunities for positive social connections.
  • Expect an overall performance decline.
  • Model positive coping skills.
  • Stick to the facts.
  • Limit media exposure.

Classroom Activities

  • Elementary — Creative expressions, including drawing, writing and talking about memories, feelings and thoughts. Hands-on/active tasks, including organizing or building projects like scrapbooks or replicas, to give them a chance to organize chaotic or confusing events.
  • Secondary — Creative expression like art, music, poetry, or keeping a journal to describe their feelings and experiences. Active tasks, including developing a disaster plan for their home or school, or facilitating community involvement.

Special Report: Teaching Through Trauma

This is one of several stories that look at how educators are handling students with trauma. Read more:

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