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PEDAGOGY & LEARNING

A School Staff Guide for Supporting Students Impacted by the Crisis in Ukraine

By Ellen Mahoney
16-Mar-22
A School Staff Guide for Supporting Students Impacted by the Crisis in Ukraine


The following is a guide for International School educators working in schools in Ukraine, Russia, and other impacted communities. It is designed to help educators navigate through the coming weeks and beyond. In this guide you will find the following:

1. Our students’ needs
2. How to respond to our students’ behaviors and questions.
3. Helpful tools and resources you can use with students.
4. Emotional regulation activities for educators.

1. WHAT DO OUR STUDENTS NEED RIGHT NOW?

• To feel safe, seen, soothed and secure
• To have their physiological and safety needs prioritized
• To have structure and a sense of normalcy

Safe, seen, soothed and secure

Here is a helpful resource from Dr. Dan Siegel that explains these needs and provides actionable strategies that you can bring into both the classroom and in your parenting (for those of you who are parents).

Prioritizing physiological and safety needs

When anticipating our students’ needs, let’s keep in mind Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

(Photo Credit: J. Finkelstein via Wikimedia Commons)

In the Edutopia article Addressing Our Needs: Maslow Comes to Life for Educators and Students, the author breaks down what this actually means for our students in the classroom and how we can prepare to meet these needs. We can adapt these ideas for the virtual classroom as well. Keep in mind that it is very likely that many of our students are in Tiers One and Two (Physiological and Safety levels). 

Structure and a sense of normalcy

When our students are facing a crisis like this one, a common response from empathetic, caring adults is to take all academics off the table and spend the whole day or even the whole week talking about the crisis and the feelings associated with the crisis. This may be what adults need, but it isn’t exactly what most kids need. In fact, if we focus too long and with a lot of intensity on the crisis while it is still fresh on our minds, we run the risk of re-traumatizing our students. This is especially true for our elementary aged students.

What students really need is A LOT of structure so they know what to expect and can feel a sense of control during a time when they may feel they have very little. They also need a break from the worrying and pain around them. 

So what should you do? 

  • Use agendas. Tell students exactly what they are going to be doing during their time with you and remind them of the next item as you move through the agenda.
  • Pay attention to transitions. Have a clear beginning and end to your time with students. In SEL practice, we call these Check-ins and Optimistic Closures.  
  • Don’t avoid academics. Instead, lead students in academic activities in short, non-strenuous chunks. These activities can be things like reading – nothing strenuous but something familiar. The chunks could be about 15 to 30 minutes long, surrounded by times to check in and to play. Your students’ parents will also really appreciate this. 
  • Give them time and space to be kids. Recess, wiggle breaks, opportunities to play are good for their stress levels and will help them feel connected to each other and to you. Here are some examples of “developmental play” that can be used in virtual environments as well. 

2. HOW TO RESPOND TO OUR STUDENTS' BEHAVIORS AND QUESTIONS

We can expect a diversity of emotions among our students, but the most common ones will be these:

  • Mad
  • Sad
  • Silly
  • Scared
  • Numb

Here are just a few examples of what you might observe:

Young children

 

Early adolescence

 

Later adolescence

 

Young children in a crisis often share that they have stomach aches or other physical discomfort when they are experiencing sadness or fear or other big emotions. They may also seem to have low energy. We can respond by providing them breaks, acknowledging their discomfort and affirming their feelings.

 

In early adolescence, our students may express these feelings by expressing a wish for a violent end to an individual or group. Or they may share news which may be disinformation. You can respond by acknowledging the big feelings and desire for the source of trouble to go away. Steer students to more helpful expressions of emotions. You can say things like “I hear your anger…”. You can use this Breaking News Protocol with your students.

 

In later adolescence, you may have students who want to debate the facts, or who have strong, challenging opinions and may use up lots of airtime. If this is disruptive to the group, you can use time limits and establish ground rules for dialogue and remind all to respect those norms.

 

We highly recommend that you read this excellent resource which provides more examples of what to expect depending on the age and how to respond: Tips for Talking With and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event.

3. HELPFUL TOOLS & RESOURCES YOU CAN USE WITH YOUR STUDENTS

There is so much expertise and rich experience shared across the entire international school community. Especially after we have gone through the pandemic, most of us know about ways to practice self-care and to care for students. We have shared resources and tips below to remind you. 

The tips for teachers that the National Association of School Psychologists share are an excellent place to start. Read the article for more details.

All Adults Should:

Resource Guide

You are encouraged to read these two guides from Mentally Healthy Schools UK before you use any of these activities with students.

Resource

Explanation

How to Talk to Kids About Violence, Crime, and War.

All ages. Tips and conversation starters

Helping Students Cope with A Violent World

All ages. Edutopia article that includes historical perspective, risk assessment of students’ daily lives, writing to leaders, and reaching out to victims.

Tips for Talking to Your Kids About War

All ages. Tips for parents

Resilience in a Time of War

Primary years. Tips for teachers and parents 

Resilience in a Time of War

Middle years. Tips for teachers and parents 

Supporting Young children After Crisis Events

Early childhood. Insights on what young children experience during and after a crisis. Scroll to the bottom for conversation starters. 

Big Feelings Come and Go

Primary years (Although we could all use this story). A story book explaining how our bodies respond to stress (Freeze, Flight, Fight)

How to Support Teens’ Mental Health

Middle and Diploma years. Written for the Covid response but still helpful. Scroll down for actionable tips.

My Self Care Plan Activity

Middle and Diploma years. Self care planning activity

My Self Care Plan Activity

Primary years. Self care planning activity

Five Pathways to Family Calmness

For parents. Helpful tips to achieve a sense of calm

Calming Cards Activity

All ages. Activity that helps students develop and practice calming strategies

Worried About a Friend? Use Your E.D.G.E.

Middle and Diploma. A tool that teens can use to help friends who are struggling


4. EMOTIONAL REGULATION ACTIVITIES FOR EDUCATORS

If we learned anything in the last few years, we know that prioritizing taking care of ourselves so that we can care for others is so important. In the case of the current crisis and the week ahead, it will be very important for educators to practice emotional regulations so that we can be a calm and present force in young people’s lives. Here are some strategies to help you.

Resource

Explanation

Emotional Wellbeing and Coping During Crises

Coping with acute stress
Maintaining good sleep
Maintaining physical activity
Online stress reduction resources

Online Self-help Tool for School Staff

An action plan designed specifically for school staff

Body Scan for Sleep

A guided body scan meditation to help you prepare for sleep

How Would You Treat a Friend

An activity that helps to increase our compassion for ourselves when we are struggling

Staying Calm During a Crisis

Tips for practicing self-care

Remain Calm and Respond When a Student Challenges

Helpful language, body language, sentence starters teachers can use if a student is challenging.

TIPP: A Beginner’s Guide to Distress Tolerance

Very helpful guide to manage intense emotions using the TIPP framework

Created by Sea Change Mentoring. Thank you to Steven Karaiskos, Laura Anderson, Aleka Bilan, Sherri Spelic, Amber Godfrey, and Monica Clear for contributing to this resource. We also post additional resources on Twitter.

Orinially published on Sea Change Mentoring Blog.
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Ellen Mahoney, M.Ed., is an alumna of international schools and has worked in education and youth development as a teacher, counselor, and director since 1997. Her primary expertise is in youth mentoring and third culture kid development. She works through a transitions-informed lens and is an active advocate for comprehensive child-safeguarding. In 2018, she was selected to be a Council of International Schools (CIS) Affiliated Consultant.

Twitter: @seachangementor




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