Saying Goodbye: Bereavement Support

Before I start, we are not mourning at either of our schools. No-one from our school community has died before people I know start reading this.

An old friend who teaches in Portugal, got in touch out of the blue this weekend to ask for support as a colleague has tragically and unexpectedly passed away over the Christmas break.

I turned to the hive mind that is Twitter and my PLN to ask them for support and advice to share with her as I have not been in this position as a Headteacher, as yet. In my 15 years of teaching we have lost 3 students, but the DHTs/ Heads of Faculty and Heads of Year always dealt with it.

Personally I have never been to a funeral, bizarre as I turn 40 this year I know. I have just been to one memorial, so I am not sharing experience nor expertise, just crowd sourced advice, support and guidance.

My tweet clearly hit a chord  as it received 58 replies offerings condolences but also practical, experience based advice:

“An old friend who teaches abroad needs my/ our help. A teacher at her school has died over the holidays. Any recommendations for bereavement support, advice, resources for the school community? It is the moment I dread as a Headteacher”.

I also had a flurry of DMs from people who led school communities through a loss and who shared their contact details for my friend to contact them for a chat. Moments like this are when Twitter is a source of positive support, is why I tweet! Thank you everyone who shared.

Silhouette of an anonymous man sitting on a bench alone

Below I have attempted to compile the suggestions:

Internal Considerations:

  • Tell the staff in an appropriately timed briefing – give them time to process
  • Tell the students in pastoral time/ tutor groups
  • Identify key members of staff for people to talk to
  • Write a letter home
  • PSHE/ Safeguarding lead to deliver an assembly – share input from different staff on how they cope with grief as we all grieve differently
  • Allow the students to arrange a memorial/ tribute/ceremony
  • Keep in contact with the family but streamline communications
  • Self-care for the staff managing the emotions of the community
  • Daily plans for adjustments to the routines
  • Daily debriefs for staff
  • Reflection time/ space – somewhere quiet for people to go and talk
  • Review cover and see how you can release/ cover those who want to attend the funeral/ memorial
  • Shut the school for the day – this one is to be carefully considered

External Support:

  • Bring in the school nurse for drop in sessions
  • Bring in a school counsellor
  • Bring in an Ed Psych to work with staff and students
  • Find your LA’s guidance on critical incidents and trauma
  • Draw on your LA’s funding from ‘critical incident’  funding pot
  • Supervision for the DSL/ Headteacher/ lead teacher

Memorial Ideas:

  • Plant a tree
  • Plant bulbs
  • Create a memory book/ condolence book
  • Create a memorial garden
  • Display a picture/ portrait
  • Install a climbing frame/ bench with a plaque
  • Sculpture/ art piece
  • Balloon release

“We had a memory tree where the girls wrote their memories on ballet shoes- one was our dance teacher, they were sent to her family. We had a remembrance event where family members were invited. Rose tree planted, rooms named. Counselling offered.”

“We created a reflection room where school comm can visit and pay respects – leaving a note, photos, tributes. They will be gathered for the family in a memory book. We are also planning a celebration gathering with a tree planting and some poems/songs from students and staff, and a tribute from a friend. Family, students, staff and parents will all be invited”.

“We bought bulbs, students planted one with a message on a lolly stick. When they flowered it was beautiful. Sts need to be shown how to grieve, I think it’s a hugely important life lesson so we felt quite a lot of pressure to do it right, so your friend will need support too”.

“Staff, parents & children had different needs, but all benefited from openness & honesty, led by family, with a small memorial garden planned/planted by the class”.

“Find a wall in a corridor that is blank. Put up fun pictures of staff member with students on school trips/activities. Then leave out sticky notes for kids/teachers/parents to write a note. These two things we have done at our school when a students or staff member passed”.

“Set up a table at school with origami paper and instructions for cranes. Have various teachers man the table during break times. Kids will silently remember, or need to talk, in the end many cranes can be made into cool hanging decoration on campus that sparks remembrance”.

Recommended Organisations:

Recommended Books/ Reading:

Recommended Resources:

Thank you to everyone who contributed and shared, my friend is very grateful. I think these two tweets of advice are what really stay with me about being mindful of the person’s family and ensuring that their wishes are respected.

“Keep in mind what the teacher’s family would want shared regarding information or memorials etc”.

“Please listen to the person’s family about what they want”.

bereavement 3

Hannah, The Hopeful Headteacher

Currently feeling hopeful about:

  • Supporting my friend through this loss

Currently reading and thinking about:

  • As and when I need to lead our school through a tragedy I am a bit more informed, not that you can ever really be prepared

Currently feeling grateful for:

  • The generosity of my PLN on Twitter

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