4 Tips for Teaching Through a Crisis

By Kathy Reeves
27 July, 2016


 It was October 2005 and the first day back at school following Hurricane Rita, the strongest measured hurricane ever to enter the Gulf of Mexico. Rows of desks in my high school Biology classroom were empty as many students had not returned since evacuating. Their homes were unlivable. The damage across southeast Texas was massive, and I knew it was going to take some effort to bring a sense of normalcy to the school day.

This wasn't my first time to teach through a crisis. The deaths of classmates, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and other traumatic events had required me to provide support for grieving and stressed students. I was aware that we would need a period of transition following the hurricane and in preparation wrote a relevant activity that would take several days to complete. I was lucky enough to score a box of meals ready-to-eat from a disaster relief organization for my planned lab, an activity that would provide time for adjustment and an appropriate setting for teaching.

Rita - treehouse-KOGT

Hurricane Rita damage, photo credit KOGT

Here are 4 tips for teaching through a crisis:

1. Follow your normal routines.

The lab was consistent with ­­­­our normal routine, and routines provide a sense of safety.

2. Reduce academic demands.

Save the rigor for another day – this is a time for healing while moving forward. The lab activity maintained my teaching routine while keeping the level of difficulty to a minimum.

3. Allow your students time to talk, and REALLY listen to what they say.

Working in lab groups provided a safe environment for small group discussions. It also gave me the opportunity to move from group to group, asking questions about their hurricane experiences between conversations about the lab. It allowed me to be available to listen when students wanted to share. I was also able to watch for signs of behavior that could indicate a need for assistance from the school counselors.

4. Encourage discussions about what students can do to help those in need.

 Helping others during a time of crisis is empowering. Students have a sense of purpose when they collect supplies for families in need or volunteer at local shelters.  Just days after the hurricane, one of my sons and I volunteered to give out bags of ice at a FEMA distribution site. The short time I spent there lifted my spirits and gave me confidence that the community was rebounding. In my conversations with each lab group, I was able to listen for and encourage their discussions about helping others.

Here is a link to the lab I used following Hurricane Rita, Lab for Meals Ready-to-Eat. I hope you never need it, but if you do, I hope it helps you teach through the crisis.

What are your tips for teaching through a stressful event?

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