Dealing with grief and loss | Education Support
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Dealing with grief and loss - teachers and education staff

Dealing with grief and loss

Based on the work of Dr William Worden, psychotherapist Ben Amponsah outlines ways teachers and education staff can manage feelings of grief and loss at this time of uncertainty and huge changes to our way of life.

Watch this short video.

What is the nature of your grief/loss at this time?

You may be experiencing feelings of grief and loss around:

  • Loss of ‘ordinary life’
  • Loss of social contact (very acute for those working in education)
  • Loss of development in schools (the kids)
  • Loss of exam results/great results
  • NQTs may feel they have missed out on properly qualifying
  • The inevitable loss many of you will experience of colleagues, friends and family who die and handling that grief at a distance (there will be a separate video on dealing with bereavement)

There are a number of  well-researched models for managing grief and loss.  The one that works well for both grief and loss is by Dr William Worden, a psychiatrist and expert on grief and loss.

He talks about being aware of the 4 phases of grief and  doing the 4 Tasks of mourning.

The 4 phases of grief

1. Numbness

Defense mechanism immediately following loss. Denial can be prevalent here, and the initial period of busyness adapting to new circumstances can support this feeling of numbness.

2. Searching & yearning

‘Pining’ where you may reflect on how things used to be and want the old ways to return (what will be the ‘new norm’?) – many emotions here including weeping, anger, confusion and guilt.

3. Disorganisation & Despair

Feelings of withdrawal and disengagement, apathy and despair may increase as normal routines have been completely disrupted.

4. Reorganisation and Recovery

The process of adjusting to a ‘new normal’as energy levels return. Sadness may remain but desire to get back to a new routine and to make a meaningful contribution increase

NB: Not linear! Phases can be experienced at different paces and at different times-everyone grieves in their own way!

The 4 tasks of mourning

1. Accept the reality of the loss

Don’t deny or distract as it will only prolong things. Talk to loved ones about how you feel. Don’t suffer in silence.

2. Experience the pain

Teachers are very good at getting on with it but it’s important to experience the pain of your loss; feelings won’t just go away if they are ignored. Allow expression of feelings (anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt etc) and seek support.

3. Adjust to the new environment

Do new things, don’t hold on to the old memories or old ways as it may prolong the process. What other things can you do that aren’t focused on being an educator?  Be mindful that the new environment is different and allow new routines to develop.

4. Withdraw emotional energy and reinvest it in other things/relationships

When the time is right for you, effect an emotional withdrawal from the thing or person you’ve lost so you can reinvest in other things or relationships. This is not about ‘moving on’ or forgetting what you have lost but about placing your energy elsewhere.

So allow yourself to go through the phases of grief and do the tasks of mourning and remember it is ok to feel sad and angry at the loss of your normal life and social interactions with colleagues, students, friends and family.

Realising that your feelings are normal will help you accept them.

Above all be kind to yourself and communicate and connect with colleagues, friends, loved ones and the Education Support helpline counsellors.

Useful further information

How we can help

Teachers & education staff who are feeling stressed or anxious during these uncertain times can get confidential emotional support from our free and confidential helpline: 08000 562561.

What can you do?

If you’re in a position to help others in these extraordinary times, please consider making a donation so that we can continue to answer the increasing number of desperate calls and grants applications we are receiving. Thank you so much.