Schools are key community institutions and were identified in the Compassionate City Charter UK as enablers to make compassionate communities stronger. Compassionate Ottawa is working with the school community as well as with other community partners to support conversations on the topic of dying, death, loss and grief.
In partnership with the two French school boards, a project entitled Dying, death, loss and grief: Building a shared language in the school community, was carried out in 2018/2019 which resulted in the development of tools to help the initiation of conversations with various groups within the school community. These tools are now serving school communities in their efforts to increase awareness and bring everyone to a base level of understanding on the topics of dying, death, loss and grief. Knowing about the terms and what to do generally in situations involving these topics will make the entire school community feel empowered and confident to talk about this.
This initiative was made possible as a result of funding received from the Ottawa Community Foundation, the Arbor Foundation and other donors. A special thanks to the donors.
Why is it so important to do something at schools?
It is well described in the literature that the impact of loss or death on a student is important as it may lead to*:
- Impairment of academic performance;
- Reduction of the student’s attention span;
- Behaviour problems such as attention-seeking, acting-out, aggressive or withdrawn behaviour;
- Apathy, depression;
- Complaints of illness or pain lacking any physical cause
*Source: Loss, Grief and Growth, Education Project Incorporated
It is also reported in the Literature Review conducted as part of the project that school personnel often acknowledge to feel ill-prepared to address the unmet emotional needs of bereaved students.
Some other interesting findings from the Literature Review 2018 are:
- A broad consensus exists among educators and among other school personnel that school communities need:
- to take a pro-active stance in order to more effectively support schoolchildren experiencing loss and separation as a result of a death of a family member, loved one or friend;
- to work with school personnel in developing the necessary skills and resources to better equip them in providing emotional and practical support
- Communication is perhaps the most common barrier to be overcome;
- Needs may be different when supporting students living with a life-limiting or life-threatening illness, and also those with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
There is not a lot of Canadian data available, however, the Children and Youth Grief Network recently used data from Statistics Canada 2016 (Census of Canada and Mortality Data) to estimate the number of grieving children in Canada, Ontario and some regions of Ontario. This information can be viewed by clicking here.
Compassionate Ottawa led with its partners, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est and the Conseil des écoles publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario, along with other organizations and experts, the development of French and English tools in the form of presentation materials to help with the dissemination of basic information on the topics of dying, death, loss and grief to the school community. A literature review on these topics was also conducted to support the development of the content of the materials.
Four audiences within the school community were identified as the first groups to be approached as part of the project. These groups are the school administrators, teachers, social workers (psychologists and other related groups) and students. A train-the-trainers approach was retained by school boards as the approach to use for the dissemination of knowledge to these groups. The social workers group is the group of individuals who will gradually act as the trainers within the school community.
Everyone believes that the transfer of knowledge across groups within the school community has the potential for being transformative in terms of community development, not only in the catchment areas of the two French school boards, but in the wider community. Members of the school community who are going through the materials will have the potential of spreading the importance of compassionate communities to their own networks, be it workplaces, faith groups, ethnic groups, neighborhoods or other communities. Feedback received following the first sessions held with school board personnel is very positive and confirms that the content of the presentation materials is helpful and needed. There is expectation that this type of feedback will continue to be received as sessions continue to be held within the French and English school boards in Ottawa.
If you are interested in reading more about the topics of dying, death, loss and grief in schools, please consult the Literature Review 2018, which was conducted to support the development of the presentation materials for school boards.
You may also wish to consult the Children and Youth Grief Network website as they have recently conducted literature reviews on similar topics.
For More Information
If you would like to obtain more information on the presentation materials developed for school boards or consider using a similar approach for schools please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition to these practical tools produced as a result of the work on Dying, death, loss and grief: Building a shared language in the school community, Compassionate Ottawa wishes to continue its work with the community on this topic. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you are interested in this topic or would like to share any ideas you may have regarding other initiatives that could be considered with schools.
Please find below a series of Canadian and international website addresses on the topics of dying, death, loss and grief that could be of interest. These addresses are provided for information only and do not imply a recommendation by Compassionate Ottawa.
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