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[11.05.21] Children's Bereavement Month - School Crisis Recovery and Renewal Publication

by Brianna Young View on ConstantContact

Narratives and storytelling are universally a part of the healing process after a major loss or crisis. Children’s picture books serve a valuable purpose in giving voice to big things little ones may not be able to explain, validating their thoughts and reactions and equipping them with ideas to cope and move toward healing. We don’t have to underestimate the power of storytelling for older children (young people, students) as well - even junior high or high school students can see the poetry and narrative elements in books designed for young readers and use them as a mold or template to tell their own stories.

After you read, consider engaging in a discussion to process the story and make connections, opening the door to ongoing communication using the language and framing of the story. Specifically when stories use analogies or metaphors, it is helpful to make things concrete and clear for young people and adolescents alike.

A few questions that you can offer students to consider while reading together or when processing the story:

  • What did you connect with in this story?

  • How are you and the main character similar? Different?

  • Which part of the story felt like something you have felt recently?

  • What questions do you want to ask after reading this story?

  • How are you feeling after reading this story?

  • What are you learning about yourself from this story?

Here are a few recommended picture books.

The Rabbit Listened (Cori Doerrfeld, 2015)

The emotions and reactions children feel in sadness and loss vary and change. One book, The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld, follows Taylor, a young child processing the loss of something beautiful. Each animal comes to visit the child and offer advice or support in one specific way, until Rabbit comes along and let’s Taylor just sit, until Taylor is ready to feel what they need to feel. This book moves through a range of emotional responses to loss, from anger, revenge, sadness, remembering, and more. Order the book here, or watch a virtual read-aloud here.

One Wave at A Time (Holly Thompson, 2018)

Using an extended metaphor, the book One Wave at A Time by Holly Thompson explores the cycle of grief in a way accessible to young children by comparing it to a wave. Sometimes the water is flat and feels dull, other times it is turbulent and crashes, just like our feelings and energy relating to loss. While this book deals explicitly with Kai and the loss of Kai’s dad, the themes can transcend through experiences. Order the book here, and check out this classroom guide from the author.

A Land Called Grief (Maddie Janes, 2020)

This book tracks the journey of the stages of grief, and readers walk through each stage of emotion and response as the main character journeys through a new strange land. This story does not linger on grief, however, but opens the door to hope and possibility, even within and after something sad. The main character, Jack, tries to adapt and respond to this new land, and readers will be able to connect and relate to each of his actions and decisions. Click here to order the book and access a companion guide.

The Memory Tree (Britta Teckentrup, 2013)

The tree becomes a central figure in this story as a symbol for what can grow after a difficult loss. This story follows Fox, who becomes tired and falls into a forever sleep: death. His other animal friends begin to gather in his favorite spot, retelling memories and special stories of their friend Fox. As they share, the tree begins to grow bigger and fuller with each memory that is shared. This addresses themes of memorialization and remembering, and how something new can grow from sadness and loss. Click here to order the book, and view a video telling of the story here.

A Kid’s Book About Death (Taryn Schuelke, 2020)

This popular series of books covers a wide range of topics, and has been critically acclaimed. This iteration engages practically and carefully around the topic of death in clear and straightforward ways, and would make a great companion to read along with any of the books listed above. While many use analogy or metaphor, this book explains concepts in a nonfictional way, addressing emotions and facts clearly and sympathetically. Order your copy here.

Vacío (Anna Llenas Serra, 2015) en español

Vacio is a beautiful story narrating the process of grieving, connecting the emotional experience to a physical one. The main character has an unexpected loss, and feels a deep emptiness within herself, and she is unsure how to understand it. She experiences a range of emotions that cause her to search out possibilities to fill that emptiness, only to discover that she can learn to live with that emptiness, and complete herself in other beautiful ways. Order a copy of this book here.

La balada del Rey y la muerte (Various Authors, 2012) en español

Featuring short illustrated stories from a variety of authors, this book follows the journey of a king who is looking to understand death. His advisors can explain how, but not always what or why, so the king decides to try to catch death herself. He looks to defeat her, living on for ages and ages, only to realize that without death, life is not life. Order a copy here.

Native Stories on Grief and Loss (Various Authors)

Explore this book list from Strong Nations Publishing featuring books from Indigenous authors and storytellers around grieving and loss. Books offered range across ages and topics, offering beautiful storytelling, illustrations, and biographical stories.

Looking for more?

  • Here is a downloadable list of recommended books for a variety of ages from the National Association of School Psychologists.

  • The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has lesson plans, publications, and video resources to help open up discussions with students about death, dying, and grief by engaging their curiosity and creativity: Classroom Resources on Grief and Loss (Abdulhadi, 2021)

It’s never too young to talk to children about grief. These stories engage around grief and loss in a variety of ways, from analogy, storytelling, and nonfictional accounts. Coupling these texts with conversation is important to help young people process what they read, and we are encouraged to use direct and concrete language: “this person died; their body stopped working” versus “they are no longer here or with us” which can create confusion. Through storytelling, we build conversational bridges, finding ways to connect and create shared language.

[05.09.21] Partnering with Families

by Brianna Young Read the original post on Medium

Schools need to engage families. This work is hard and can be a challenging process, especially when you throw in cultural differences, work schedules, internalized beliefs about the community…these things can all feel like barriers. Yet, if we truly value the relationship with families, these barriers simply become a feature of the relationship we need to willingly navigate as we pursue connection and collaboration. Like any relationship, effort and intentionality are required to make it work.

Below are some book titles to get this conversation started with your staff, or even to begin reflecting on your personal approach to the role families play in your context, and how to improve your pursuit and partnership with them.

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom

How we connect with and communicate with families is a necessary part of helping our learners thrive. This book, republished in 2006, explores power imbalances in our society, how it fuels miscommunication and misconceptions, and how schools can and should be the ones to break those barriers.

Partnering with Parents to Ask the Right Questions: A Powerful Strategy for Strengthening School-Family Partnerships

Authors Luz Santana, Dan Rothstein, and Agnes Bain share a surprisingly simple strategy to increase and improve family advocacy for their kids in a way that will empower families and schools to effectively partner together.

School, Family, and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools

This book is based on the original research of the author, and offers insights into how to effectively coach teachers and schools to successful partnerships with families, giving them the tools to “ think about, talk about, and then act to develop comprehensive programs of school, family, and community partnerships.” It outline’s the author’s theory of “overlapping spheres of influence” and her own framework.

Just Schools: Building Equitable Collaborations with Families and Communities

From the publisher: “The text explores how equitable collaboration entails ongoing processes that begin with families and communities, transform power, build reciprocity and agency, and foster collective capacity through collective inquiry.” This text dives into system-wide and school-based approaches for building partnerships, not just systems of communication.

The list could go on and on — use these books as a starting point to grow your understanding of how to partner effectively with families. For further study or support, connect with us at and let us support your journey toward bridging the gap between your school and your community.

View the links to all the books on Medium

[05.07.21] The Media Cycle and Your Students’ Emotions — Tips for Talking about Current Events in the Classroom

by Brianna Young Read the post on Medium

Today’s media cycle is trauma.

We are under no shortage of significant national events — from the coronavirus pandemic, movements for justice, strange and severe weather — all of which are draining, confusing, and demanding. I find myself constantly frustrated, even angry, hopeless, and helpless, and needing to take a break from social media and the news to reset myself mentally.

Our students feel this too.

But here is the thing: I am an adult with the tools to self-regulate. I am aware of how these events impact me and I can adjust my consumption accordingly. This is not true of everyone (I am certain your social media timeline reveals that), and it is especially not true of students in our classrooms.

Our kids might not have that luxury of tuning out. Not only are they hearing about the same events we are, they also have less autonomy to filter out other people’s interpretations of them. They are getting input from news, social media, their parents — all before walking through the classroom door.

Allow me to draw a parallel to the most traumatic current event from my childhood: September 11, 2001. I was in fifth grade. I did not know anything about New York City except that it was far away. I did not know where the Twin Towers were, much less their role or importance. I did not know what Al Qaeda was, and nobody taught me about the experiences and varying perspectives of people living in middle eastern countries. None of that situation seemed real. But one thing was real to me — my confusion, that turned into fear, that manifested in anger. I felt constantly overwhelmed and confused, curious, yet concerned. I heard so much about the event through the specific channels my family watched, their perspective on the issue, and the preferred pundits and radio hosts shouting at me whenever we were in the car. I felt the stress of it all, without the skills to advocate for what I needed or to express how I really felt.

Now think again about the constant media experience we have today — constant news, often bad, from police shootings to a deadly pandemic. Our students are living through so much, either through passive consumption or personal experience, and many do not have the skills to process these things in a way that is healthy. Students may shut down (freeze), elope (flight), push back verbally or physically (fight), or be exceptionally agreeable to anything (fawn) — all could potentially indicate their internal struggle with current events.

With all of this in mind, how can our traditional learning environments support students and teach them how to express themselves effectively during this time?

Create space to discuss student emotions. When it comes to discussing issues in the classroom, we cannot neglect that student decisions are linked to their emotional state and can influence their ability to think and reason. Allow students to name their feelings, discuss and engage with them, and consider how to do that in a developmentally appropriate way. One easily adjustable strategy is a mood measuring check-in. This strategy allows students to learn emotional intelligence and relate it to their feelings in the moment or in response to a current event. These conversations can be scaled to suit the rapport and comfort you have with your class and the needs of your students. From class community circle discussions to a quick paper/digital exit or entrance ticket only you can see, any form of check-in is valuable. Here are some examples:

Younger kids: Emoji Emotions

Teens: “The Mood Meter” from Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett

Understand your own biases and emotions before digging in. We all bring experiences and biases into the classroom with us daily. These shape our views, responses, and approaches to teaching and classroom management. Before engaging with students, take time to slow down. Look into varying viewpoints on the issue. Weigh the experiences that are shaping your own perspectives before discussing with your students. Prepare also for things students may say or do in discussing this issue that might trigger an emotional response in you, and have a plan to de-escalate yourself should you need it.

Be willing to learn with your kids. While I know teachers are the most brilliant bunch around, we do not know everything. You may have just learned about something on NPR as you were commuting into work, and now you have 27 eager faces ready to discuss it with you. You may not be emotionally or educationally prepared to discuss it, but it may be necessary to do so. Search and display a news article from a center-leaning source (use the All Sides Media Bias Chart to help select sources), read an article together, do a mood check-in (above), and discuss following your pre-set classroom norms (ideas here and here if you do not already have some established). Serve as a facilitator in the dialogue, leveraging the brilliance and natural curiosity of your students as you share in the learning and discussion, allowing for lament, confusion, wonder, and problem-solving to move throughout the conversation.

Balance vulnerability with neutrality. Students need to see emotional regulation modeled for them. They also need to trust in your stability as a safe place for them. This is a balancing act, especially in these situations. It is healthy for students to see you worry, be sad, or frustrated, and then speak with them about how you’re feeling and how you are dealing with it. Just like you walk them through a science demo, model your internal narrative for them. Talk about how this makes you feel, how you process those feelings and regulate, then invite them into that practice with you (check these strategies from Berkeley). As stated above, once emotions have been named and given a space in the discussion, facts and logic can have their turn.

To close, here is a helpful resource from TedED looking at tips for discussing current events in the classroom.