Instruction & Curriculum

Gun Violence in America: 4 Ways To Talk About the Elephant in the Room

I woke up Monday morning to the horrific news of yet another mass shooting in America, this time in Las Vegas, where 59 people tragically lost their lives and more than 500 people were injured in an act of senseless gun violence. When I sat down to write today, I was hoping to come up with something else. Just last week, I was thinking about an article on fall activities for your classroom, but in the wake of what’s happened, I found it difficult not to discuss this tragedy.
The scenes from both the news and from social media contained upsetting and graphic images of death and destruction. Our students likely have seen these images and may find themselves scared, hurt and wondering why. I’m sure that many of us in the classroom during the coming weeks will experience moments where students feel the need to discuss this terrible tragedy. While I am by no means an expert, I have compiled a list of ideas below on how to deal in the classroom.
Discuss Safety Measures and Reassure your Students
After something like Las Vegas or, rather, unfortunately, like the many other shootings in America, we are often left to feel powerless, defeated and likely scared.  Gun violence is a growing concern in our country, and with its prevalence, many of our students will begin to feel worried about their safety. While the realization that nowhere or no one is safe or off limits may cause great anxiety, there are ways to try to feel a little bit more in control.
Many schools and institutions have enacted “active shooter” protocol and training. Review this protocol with your students, and try to do and say what you can to make them feel safe.  If for some reason your school does not have something like this in place, brainstorm, and rally together with your classroom to encourage the administrators to create a plan. Explain, too, that is it natural to feel scared, sad and upset when something like this occurs.
Limit Exposure in the Classroom, but carve out time to talk
While most of us have had our smartphones in hand constantly and the TV on in the background with journalists and news correspondents trying to discuss and make sense of the “why” in a tragedy like this, it can sometimes feel overwhelming. It is natural that our students will want to see coverage during this time. For instance, I was a high school student during 9/11, and our teachers all had the TVs on in our classrooms throughout that week, as it would have been nearly impossible to discuss anything else that awful day.
Some coverage and media exposure may be necessary, or just plain unavoidable, but in addition to media coverage, it’s also important to carve out time to talk to your students. Many of them will be wondering “why” this happened. While you and quite honestly no one else will be able to provide an answer, it can be cathartic to share your feelings and express yourself.
Take Action to help the victims of gun violence
While this may not always be possible, there are many ways that we can help the victims and their families during this time. For instance, just this morning, CNN released an article citing the ways that we can help the victims. Some of the avenues described are donating to the Victims’ Fund on their GoFundMe page and donating blood or transportation if you live in the area or nearby.
Try to Maintain a Normal Schedule
The events of this past weekend are likely to make their way into our classrooms at some point, and while it can be tempting to table other planned lessons and activities for the day to discuss something of dire importance, it is also important to maintain a schedule and to try not to veer too far off from the day’s planned activities. This helps to keep a sense of normalcy for your students.
Lastly, gun violence is a very sensitive topic, so make sure that you are proceeding with caution. While these steps will likely prove helpful, it is important to also keep in mind the age and developmental levels of your students.

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