LEARNING CHALLENGES:
talking to students about war

Since world events appear to dominate the media these days, it would be preventative in nature for teachers to begin discussing current events on a daily basis. Teachers may already be doing some of this, but it would be important now to provide some structure. The key to all discussions is to create a supportive environment of calmness and security.

Considerations:

  1. Students can be informed that brief discussions of “current events” could occur daily in class for the next while.
  2. Discussions should be appropriate for the grade level. Language used should be simpler for earlier grades and discussions should contain less detail (e.g., avoid the use of military language in earlier grades).
  3. Discussions should best occur first thing in the morning, in most cases immediately following announcements. Principals are encouraged to continue praying for peace and for world leaders during announcements.
  4. Teachers should begin the discussion by briefly summarizing the latest news. It is important to emphasize that the news represents potential rather than real harm and that the occurrence of terrorist acts, although horrible, are very rare in North America. Some teachers may want to discuss the concept that news media sometimes make things seem worse than they actually are.
  5. Teachers can then allow students to react to the news, whether they want clarification of information or want to discuss their reaction or feelings to media reports of world events. This section should be structured so it does not go on too long. The goal is to give systematic information to students (even if it becomes a summary of last nights news for many) and allow a degree of reaction in a calm and controlled setting with adult supervision.
  6. For older students, the discussion may focus on political motives and alternate means of achieving peace, other than war and terrorism.
  7. It is important to recognize the value of all human life and encourage students not to become upset or target any particular individuals of ethnic origin.
  8. Teachers could end the session on a somewhat positive note by either reading a prayer or asking students to offer intentions for peace and gently shift to the day’s lessons.
  9. If particular students become overly upset or struggle in moving on with schoolwork, teachers could discuss this with the Principal at elementary or Administration team personnel (P, VP, pastoral care, guidance, special education) at secondary in order for staff to arrange possible support. Followup may involve simply chatting with students privately to ensure they are okay for the day or making appointments with supportive personnel like Behaviour Resource worker, Pastoral Care or even contacting parents in some cases. The key is to make sure that students are not left feeling vulnerable.
  10. It may be important for teachers to ensure that quiet or withdrawn students are not ignored or left alone with their thoughts or fears. They shouldn’t be put on the spot publically but teachers should check with them quietly to ensure they are okay and aware that support is available.
  11. If a heightened world event does occur during the school day (terrorist act, outbreak of war), it may be important to inform students in their classes before they leave for home. This is best done by the current teachers at the direction of the Principal. The Principal could make an announcement followed by brief discussions in the classes. If possible, it would be best to gradually return to lessons. The Board Office will likely provide further direction in this instance.

Useful Resources:

Canadian Psychological Association:
Responding to Stressful Events

National Center for Children Exposed to Violence

Contributed by Dr. George Dimitroff,
Peterborough, Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board