GUIDELINES FOR SCHOOL STAFF
A GUIDE FOR SCHOOLS
The Traumatic Loss Coalitions for
The focus of this videotape is to assist teachers
and staff as they deal with the one-year milestone following the
terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The emphasis is not on
how to plan or commemorate the day but to describe what can be
expected among students and members of the school community. There
will also be discussion of personal responses. This brief 25-minute
videotape (see ordering information below) accompanies the guide
already posted on this website. The videotape begins with an introduction
by Christopher Kosseff, the President and CEO of University Behavioral
Health Care at UMDNJ and the actress Mariette Hartley, who is
also an advocate for bereaved families. Donna Gaffney, DNSc; Mary
Ann Cernak, PhD and Steve Crimando, MS will discuss the salient
points regarding responses to commemorations of traumatic events
and loss, common and expected personal reactions and how to effectively
anticipate and prepare for the experience. Finally, Mary Ellen
Salamone, Chairperson of the Children of September 11,
will offer a message for school staff from the Families of September
11th. The following written materials will expand on
the video content and include references and a resource list.
For more information or to get in touch with the Traumatic Loss
Coalition Coordinator in your county, call 732-235-2810.
TO ORDER THE VIDEOTAPE
A Guide for Schools
Box 300, Summit, NJ 07901
The cost of the videotape
and mailing is $10.00
The focus of this guide is to assist teachers and staff as they
approach one year since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We will
focus on the many possible responses/reactions of students, parents
and all members of the school community and suggest some interventions.
- Normal reactions to stressful events:
- No reaction - not everyone will react at the one-year mark.
- Not all reactions will be the same.
- Children may seem alone and isolated.
- May appear sad or angry.
- May be angry or aggressive and start fights or arguments.
- Older teens may sense a loss of meaning in life and/or feelings
- Some more normal but intense common reactions to trauma that
children may experience might include:
- PHYSICAL - Sleep difficulties, stomach upset, racing heart
and muscle tension.
- EMOTIONAL - Fear, worry, helplessness and sadness.
- COGNITIVE - They may lose the ability to focus and have difficulty
concentrating. Thus school difficulties may occur.
Adolescents may question the causes and meaning of the terrorist
attacks, sometimes in philosophical debate and other times with
anger and fear.
GUIDELINES FOR MANAGING
RESPONSES/REACTIONS OF STUDENTS
- The families of 9/11 have asked that we not use the word "ANNIVERSARY"
(Since this is most often associated with a happy occasion,
i.e., marriage). Alternative suggestions:
- One-year mark
- Day of remembering
- Keep the classroom a safe and comfortable place, i.e., a sanctuary.
- Use normal autumn and back to school
decorations on bulletin boards.
- Place 9/11 poems or stories in one corner of the classroom,
i.e., a place of honor.
- Provide opportunities for students to do something "positive,"
i.e., a school or community project.
- Engage in creative activities that encourage and support.
- If students react, normalize the experience for them, i.e.,
we are all remembering things that happened last year and sometimes
remembering makes us feel sad and angry but that's OK.
PROLONGED INTENSE STRESS
It is not unusual for some children and teens to experience up
to several of these reactions for a short time after a traumatic
event. However, other youth who may have been more significantly
impacted by the traumatic event or may have been more vulnerable
for other reasons-may have trouble with day-to-day functioning.
These children may experience behaviors in which:
The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced through:
- Repetitive play acting out the terrorist attacks or falling
- Daydreaming about the attacks
- Intense emotional distress with mention of the terrorist attacks
- Intense reactions to reminders that symbolize or resemble
There is persistent avoidance of the trauma:
- Inability to enjoy or feel happiness with peers or in the
- Deliberate efforts to avoid any discussion or thinking about
- Withdrawing from their usual group of friends
- Refusing to talk about their feelings
- Not caring about the future, because "it doesnt
There are signs of increased stimulation or arousal:
- Acting out and getting into trouble
- Taking excessive risks or engaging in dangerous activities
- Confrontations and arguments at school
- Always talking about or looking out for danger (attacks)
- Exaggerated reactions to loud noises
Parents, teachers, and counselors are important monitors of children's
coping and healing. However, children may not readily share how
they are handling things with adults.
By encouraging talking you keep the lines of communication open
- Available and accessible
- Supportive and non-judgmental
As keen observers of children's behaviors, we are able to recognize
children in the greatest need.
In situations where problems are more severe or they persist
past several months, it is important that the youth be referred
for an evaluation to determine if this is a case of Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder. We can then provide more intensive interventions
and services that will help them recover, integrating the trauma
and loss into their lives in a growth promoting way.
In order to help our students, we must help ourselves first.
We can learn to take care of ourselves and prevent Compassion
Fatigue, i.e., the "cost of caring too much." It is
something that happens within us. It is our reaction to the sometimes
very sad, graphic or disturbing thoughts and feelings (emotional
material) others share with us: in our roles as teachers, school
administrators, counselors, and in general, as caregivers.
Compassion Fatigue is also known as "Secondary Traumatic
Stress". Just like "second-hand smoke" we can get
sick being in the smoky environment.
In the case of Secondary Traumatic Stress:
- You are not the traumatized individual.
- But by intense exposure to the traumatic stories others share
- You may be at risk of a traumatic stress reaction yourself.
If you (listen to or even learn about) or (put yourself emotionally
in touch with) the pain and horror others have experienced, it
is not unlikely to have a reaction to those experiences yourself.
Teachers, counselors, teacher aides, school nurses and others
who provide support for students can be at risk for Compassion
- Tension and preoccupation with the individual or cumulative
trauma of the students or clients they assist. This can be experienced
in one or more ways:
- Re-experiencing the traumatic event as related by the student.
- Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event.
- Persistent arousal and anxiety thinking about the traumatic
Like those traumatized, you may feel the same kind of powerful,
but normal reactions. These reactions can get in the way of really
being able to effectively help your students.
For those of us living in the New York metropolitan area, we
also have to cope with our own traumatic experiences in addition
to those of our students and colleagues. In fact, we can be both
victim and caregiver.
Several steps can be taken to reduce the risk
of Compassion Fatigue. For example:
- Never work alone.
Make sure you talk about your work with students
who have experienced a traumatic event with colleagues, supervisors
or crisis team members.
- Get together soon after an event or intervention with students
to process what has happened.
- Make sure everyone, as well as the students, has a chance
to ventilate their feelings and thoughts, and receive support
- And learn to recognize the warning signs of Compassion Fatigue
in yourself and your colleagues.
- If these warning signs are present, it is important to disengage,
and not to expose yourself to any more traumatic material until
your own reaction subsides.
If you find that you, or a colleague, are already suffering from
the effects of Compassion Fatigue, some intensified self-care
is usually the best course of action.
- It is a time to shift your focus away from what is best for
the students, to what is best for you.
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get enough sleep
- And practice some serious relaxation
And not just "crashing" on the couch!
Serious deep relaxation is:
- Deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation and other means
of calming and centering yourself before moving back into the
Compassion Fatigue is not a disease, but it can
disable us. Students and their families have benefited greatly
from the caring and compassion you offered after September 11.
But to best help others, sometimes we must fight our own intuition
and take care of ourselves first. Take the time now, as we approach
the one-year milestone. Think about how you will take care of
yourself, and help others to do the same.
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