TEACHING Children about Sandy Hook

Resist the New Normal

I am having a very difficult time dealing with the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I understand that my horror pales in comparison to what was, and forever will be experienced by the parents, students, teachers and first responders of Newtown, Connecticut…but I am a mom, and I am haunted.

My oldest daughter is a student teacher at a wonderful elementary school in Oakland County; my younger children attend middle school and high school here, too. How many years and gunman attacks ago did I first start reviewing “how to survive a school shooting” with my kids? When did I first sit them down and tell them how to run, hide or play dead if an armed individual burst into their classroom? These are very scary scenarios to cover with one’s children, but even scarier: I barely remember when school-movie-mall-church-hospital shootings weren’t part of my parenting and our societal New Normal. The New Normal where educators must learn how to deal with potential school terrorists and students have lock-down skills.

Why is it that our teachers and kids need to know how to survive being attacked with an assault rifle?

Does anyone else find this incongruously, outrageously surreal?  Or have we all fallen down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole, where the outrageous is commonplace – allowing us to tolerate the intolerable?


Teachers and parents, let’s refuse to make horror the New Normal, and let’s mentally FLIP the crisis management prep-for-death-at-school plans. Let’s educate our children into pro-active action, instead of just hoping the next crazy with a gun doesn’t have a bad day at our school. Let’s explain to students how they can be part of the grassroots solution to school shootings, and let’s clearly demonstrate ‘how’ at home and in classrooms…

  • We can TALK with our kids in age-appropriate ways about the various issues underlying a shooting. We can also help students understand a situation, without terrifying them, when we empower them to take action. We want to protect our children from tragic news stories, but when we don’t openly talk about school shootings (along with outrage, hope and activism) our children assume our silent acceptance and bury their questions and fears.
  •  We can MODEL how to write compassionate letters and emails of sympathy to the victims’ families and to the grieving community. We can express our feelings, and help students develop understanding and empathy.
  • We can TEACH our children how to write fact-based letters and emails (that include their own personal viewpoints and opinions) to state and national legislators in order to effect change. These children will be voters in a few short years and we can show them how to tackle social issues (e.g. mental health funding; community support; gun control; illegal drugs; parenting) and how they can begin to make a difference in their own future.

Taking these small steps won’t keep any of us from being haunted by what happened in Newtown, but we can give voices to the ghosts. Let’s truly honor the six brave Sandy Hook educators and twenty young students by refusing to accept the New Normal mentality, and by teaching our children that actionable words can ultimately be more powerful than guns.

from Jean MacLeod, Communications/Oakland Schools


EXCELLENT RESOURCES for Teachers & Parents

Coping with a School Shooting (great list compiled by NAEYC)

The Best Resources On Talking With Children About Tragedies (compiled by Larry Ferlazzo)

There Is No Lesson Plan for Tragedy – Teachers YOU Know What to Do (Angela Maiers)

School Safety & Crisis: Helping Children Cope (Nat’l Association of School Psychologists-NASP)

Mr. Rogers on Tragic Events in the News (especially good for young children)

Helping Children Cope After a School Shooting (Children’s Nat’l Medical Center)

Responding to School Violence: Tips for Administrators (NASP)

Coping With School Crisis: Helping Students with Special Needs  (NASP)

Resources for SCHOOLS to Prepare for & Recover from Crisis (U.S. Dept. of Ed)

Resources for PARENTS following Traumatic Events (U.S. Dept. of Ed)

EMOTIONAL HELP for Parents:  Coping with Anxiety Following Tragedy (Ryan Rivera)


This Is What Happened In My Classroom Today – What Happened In Yours? (Larry Ferlazzo)

The New Normal (Charles Dumais, Principal of NewTown High School, 1/5/13)

2013: Stockpile Classroom JOY (Oakland Schools)

Say His Name (The Only Way I Survived After The Loss Of My Child) (Jackie Moore / Huffington Post)

Darren’s Journey: From Fear to Courage in Sandy Hook 

LETTERS to Newtown


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