“The Day After” Tools


Heath & Iturbe-LaGrave, 2021

Because we inhabit the world at a time when the cyclical nature of devastating events triggers painful memories and continues to challenge our individual and collective courage, it can feel impossible to find
the words to speak into the classroom and to soothe our students and community members when facing ‘the day after’ a traumatic event. As helping-professionals, we are often called upon to hold space amidst the unfolding of unimaginable violence, human loss, and grief- a tall demand, and one that can exhaust our emotional, physical, and pedagogical resources. How, then, do we continue to support our students’ ability to thrive in the classroom as our own our external and internal worlds are destabilized? In a way, writing another statement can feel disingenuous. Here are some tools and guidelines that you can use to guide your own process as you address heartbreaking events the day after, guided by authenticity, belonging, and safety.

When to Use

Acknowledging community impacts, modeling resiliency, cultivating community empathy, working through collective grief, signposting students to support services, responding to the day after a tragedy.

How to Use

Addressing The Class

Step 1: Acknowledge what is happening

  • Acknowledge that the event took place.
  • Research and educate yourself to know the context. Acknowledge if you don't currently know much about an issue.
  • Share resources and information for those with questions.
  • Take your time, don’t breeze through the topic.
  • If able, share your own feelings and model vulnerability when safe.

Step 2: Reduce immediate school-related pressure

  • Talk with students about how they are doing.
  • Reexamine workflow and necessary tasks, shifting deadlines if possible.
  • Understand that while we are in a state of trauma response our neural functioning is not at its peak. This can manifest in varying degrees of intensity; accommodations may or may not be a good option for different students.

Step 3: Make space for expression

  • A check-in, formal or informal space to talk about recent events.
  • If you feel comfortable and equipped to facilitate a synchronous discussion, invite students to express their responses and share impacts. Be sure to reflect back with validation and empathy.
  • If you do not feel able to facilitate discussion, invite students to utilize asynchronous or nonverbal reflections via tools like the How Are You Feeling? Exercise (link to tool)
  • Connect back to the work at hand only after allowing individuals space to express their own feelings.

Step 4: Support students wholistically

  • This means supporting employees in their scholastic duties, but also in their overall wellbeing.
  • Provide resources internal and external: It is best practice to remind all students of the resources available to them. At DU that could the Health and Counseling Center or Student Outreach and Support.
  • Check-in again, these events can preoccupy students minds for weeks or months after the incident
  • Addressing Individual Students:
  • You can rely on the same compassionate communication tools for handling student disclosures detailed in The 3Es- Empathize, Educate, & Empower

Visit the NCTSN Database for more resources around helping students in the wake of community trauma.