As I watched my 3rd grader take the stage with his friend, to accept his end-of-the year awards, it hit me. It hit me that just a day before, 19 moms like me got their kids up, dressed them for school, and celebrated that in just a few more days or weeks, they would have some downtime to enjoy a break from the morning madness, snuggle with their little ones just a few more minutes, and enjoy the day laughing, watching cartoons, and soaking up the summer news. But due to a senseless and preventable act of violence, those moments and memories were robbed from moms who are just like me. 

“Why did this happen? What can be done about this?” Are the questions that floated through my head filled with anger and sadness?

To be honest, these questions have become mentally and emotionally exhausting. 

How so, because how do you answer such questions when you’re looking into the eyes of your own elementary school children who routinely “practice” active shooter drills as if this is normal. 

For an entire school, their “routine” became their reality. 

How do I explain this to my own children while also trying to excite them about the last few days of school? 

The last few days that would never come were 19 mothers. 

When tragedy happens around us, it can be hard to give answers to the unimaginable and unexplained. But how do we, as educators respond, when we are expected to have answers. From my experience as a classroom teacher, there is a possibility of the unthinkable happening around us and, in some cases, closely to us. 

Our students (and children) will come to us with questions. So, how can we respond when we too don’t have all the answers (or the emotional capacity)?

  1. Allow space for you to acknowledge your feelings and be vulnerable. This can be done through journaling, blogging, therapy, or in a community of close friends. Inside the classroom, this can be done by creating space for students to process feelings and questions through writing or speaking with a school counseling professional. 
  1. Strategizing solutions is a way to empower ourselves when we feel the things around us are out of our control. Additionally, creating solutions to problems is an effective way to exercise creativity and ease anxiety associated with traumatic events. 
  1. After strategizing solutions, we can use those solutions to take local, national, or global action. For our students, this is critical in modeling for them the diversity of activism and the power we possess to offer solutions and advocate for change. 
  1. Lastly, be gracious with yourself and others by giving the time needed to process life on individual terms. Because something happens around us, or to us, doesn’t mean we owe anyone our thoughts or feelings on it, if we are not ready to share. This goes the same for our students. It’s okay to take an extended time to process things–hurt, grief, and experiencing loss are bio-individual–so take all the time needed and allow others to do the same. 

The events from this week were truly painful and many of us are still trying to process the “what” and the “why”. While we may never have answers to the questions we have, we can create space and opportunities to process the feelings and emotions we, and our students, might have. 

And remember, it’s okay not to be okay.