The Issue

There is a level of discomfort with openly discussing issues of dying, death, grief and loss within school communities.

Studies show that the psychological impact of a death in the school community may lead to impairment of student academic performance, reduction of attention span, behaviour problems, and mental health crises such as depression. However, there is also a high level of discomfort with openly discussing issues of dying, death, loss, and grief within the school community, especially among younger children. Educators and other school personnel often acknowledge that they feel ill-equipped to address the emotional needs of bereaved students. One school social worker told us, “The bulk of my time with students is dealing with issues of loss and grief, and I have had no training or tools to help me with this.” The Compassionate City Charter identifies Schools as an essential part of our communities, connecting intergenerational families through their children’s daily education. By creating compassionate school communities, together we can more effectively support school children and others experiencing loss and grief, including their families.

Our Action

Together with the Ottawa School Boards we have developed tools to help initiate conversation within a school community.

Since the spring of 2019, Compassionate Ottawa has worked with all four school boards in Ottawa (two English and two French), as well as with an educational consultant, to create tools that help initiate conversations about dying, death, loss, and grief within a school community. These tools address the needs of four groups: Administrators, social workers, teachers and students. They are provided as Microsoft PowerPoint presentations in English and French. The presentations are intended to be used in interactive sessions and are complete with instructor notes. We have also been providing instruction on how to conduct the presentations using a “train-the-trainer” model, providing information to groups of school administrators and social workers. There have been seven such information sessions since the project’s launch, one in English and six in French. The project is supported by a grant from The Ottawa Community Foundation.

Our Impact

Feedback from seven initial workshops in English and French showed that the information was seen as being very helpful.

  • 94% said they had learned something new on the subject of dying, death, loss and grief.
  • 95% said they felt better equipped to initiate conversations on the subject with students and other members of their school community.
  • 95% said they would use the materials in their roles as school mentors and leaders.

 Comments included:

“Very interesting. It is a sensitive subject for which there are several elements to consider during an intervention. Very useful. Thank you.”

“Quality presentation. Well-known subject but the presentation was rich in concrete examples and excellent resources. Will be easy to adapt to our needs, the discussion session clarified important points.”

“Excellent content and relevant. The example of the use of language was most helpful.”


One of our volunteers recently talked to a social worker in a school board who said: “The bulk of my time with students is dealing with issues of loss and grief and I have had no training or tools to help me with this.”

A teacher at a primary school died suddenly, over the summer. When school began in September, there was no plan in place for the teachers to address the loss with students or their parents. The educators and administration had to help their community grieve without any training or guidance, which made grieving more difficult for everyone.

Get involved

Contact us to learn how to organize a virtual workshop for individual schools or related groups.

For more information

You can download a PDF with more information from Compassionate Ottawa about schools in our resources section.

Send us a message
Resource materials

Join our mailing list to stay up to date

By subscribing to this mailing list you agree to receive periodic updates about events and activities from Compassionate Ottawa.