Leading through Grief
Our morning staff meeting came to a halt as a staff member shared that she visited Facebook on her phone and saw a memorial post on our counselor's Facebook wall. While our principal brought the meeting to a close, our office manager and I went to the office where I called the family. I made it about halfway through the conversation with family before starting to tear up. The family confirmed that our elementary counselor lost her multi-year battle with cancer that morning. Within an hour, the district had a counselor on campus who coordinated a crisis team that spent all week on campus supporting students and staff.
Below are some lessons I've learned so far about leading through grief.
Public displays of compassion. This goes for both staff and students.
-The crisis team taught me that, if people are interested, a staff tribute can be helpful in the grieving process. Our staff decided to invite the whole school to wear pink in honor of our counselor who passed away from cancer. Coincidentally, our monthly potluck was on the same day we wore pink. Beautiful stories of celebration and hope filled the staff room as everyone ate together and honored our counselor in pink.
-The Giving Tree was one of our counselor's favorite books so one classroom decided to create a giving tree where all students in the school could share what was on their heart.
Everyone brings their own experiences and feelings. It's important to acknowledge this as we all grieve in different ways.
-A student had his head down when I went into the lunchroom and I saw he was crying. As I walked the student to our library, where additional counselors were housed, the student shared his mom passed away from cancer two years ago. There are many stories like this, where students or staff experienced loss. These emotions can be stirred up in times of crisis, and it's important we provide avenues for sharing and support.
-Personally, the day before our counselor passed away, I found out a close relative was diagnosed with the same kind of cancer our counselor had. To take care of myself, I've taken longer walks with my dog and savored more time with family.
Find joy each day.
-I was on the playground as students exited from recess the other day. A classroom job is often "door holder". I noticed a kindergarten student going above and beyond his traditional door holder job to console his classmates. "Hug?" he asked each of his peers as they entered from recess. Most kids took him up on the offer. It's moments like this that provide me with joy each day.
My prioritization of tasks inside/outside of school is still shifting as the needs of our learning community fluctuate. I continue learning each day, and I use this learning to adjust my approach as I lead through grief.