Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The 6 Cs for using social media during times of grief: Consider. Communicate. Connect. Console. Commemorate. HAVE COURAGE!

This has been a tough year for me. I experienced the death of my mother and my grandmother. In both cases I shared the news on Facebook just as my cousin had done when her father (my uncle) passed away a couple years earlier. This is not uncommon in the 21st century. For me this was a way to share sad news with my friends and family around the globe in a way that time and the reality of the situation wouldn't have otherwise allowed as I dealt with grieving and handling of affairs.  It was wonderful to get kind words and support from those who cared.  

Facebook has also become a place to connect with others in cases of tragic losses in school communities due to unexpected deaths, violence, and bullying.  More than a million people liked a Facebook page to show support after the Sandyhook Elementary School shooting. A school Facebook page update honored the unexpected passing of the beloved parent of one of their students.  In a small town in Colorado the family set up a Facebook page, which had 1,447 likes out of a school of 300 students.  It also resulted in enough donations to have the funeral they felt their son deserved and helped many middle school students deal with the issue of suicide, which can have a ripple effect.

In each of these situations individuals have turned to social media to memorialize, make sense, and grieve. When this happens school staff and administration have an incredible opportunity to not only get a sense of what the school community is feeling, but also show support.  

Here are six ideas that outline how social media can be used to strengthen the school community in such times.

  • Consider: Social media gives you a great window into the minds of your school community.  Consider what it is they are thinking and feeling.
  • Communicate: When school staff and administration seem out of touch or absent, it is not a good sign. Communicate in the world of your parents, staff and students and provide them with heartfelt insight into how you feel and the steps you are taking to address what has happened. Consult with the appropriate experts in your district when doing so, but do it quickly. Silence is often taken as being aloof and uncaring. A few kind words, an opportunity for contact, and information about  action that will be taken goes a long way.
  • Connect: Connect with those who are leading the dialogue and/or setting the tone and show your support.  Let your school community, especially those who are taking the lead in organizing, know how much you care. Those who are creating these pages, groups, etc. are the ones who are motivated and willing to take action.  Harness their energy for good and find out how you can help. Be a behind-the-scenes supporter to provide clarity and guidance when requested.
  • Console: Social media is an important platform that society uses today to communicate, connect, make sense, and console one another in difficult times. If your school or district finds itself in such a situation, it is important to let your school community know you care by having key members of the school administration offer words of support and condolences. It is powerful and touching for survivors to know those at the helm are aware of what is going on and are taking the time to show their support. Take a moment and imagine the impact kind words of support from your school superintendent, mayor or governor would have.
  • Commemorate: The school community will want to commemorate the passing of a loved one(s).  Connect with families as well as those who are organizing and/or outspoken in social media to show their support to coordinate a commemoration that will meet the needs of school community.  In a school-related incident, it is important that student voices are also represented in such decisions. This is of course very sensitive. In all discussions, ensure you have experts on hand who can inform decisions.  For example, you want to ensure that actions will result in helping the school community and will avoid unintentional harm. Guidelines such as those from the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide should be considered.  
  • Courage: It is not unusual that school staff or administrators are not savvy in the use of social media. In fact, in many districts, the use of social media as a part of their work might elicit a little fearfulness of the unknown. Get over it! Social media is the new town square. Your school community is there and they need you.  Sites like Twitter and Facebook give you something you did not have before: the ability to listen in as that proverbial fly on the wall. These sites also give you the opportunity to touch someone you may not even know was hurting.   In the past a card was sent to those directly involved, however, consider that there are many grieving, even those you wouldn’t think about reaching out to individually.  Social media allows you to touch the broad range of those affected and the hurting of the various stages of grief with one page, one post, or one tweet. So even if it goes against your preferences to get involved in social media, man up and show up! It may not be easy, but silence is deadly. More contact, more communication, done in an intelligent, deliberate, and heartfelt way, is always better than being absent.  .

In the 21st century social media has become a terrific tool to support families, loved ones, and the school community as a whole. It is important for school staff and administration to acknowledge this outlet and provide support in whatever way possible.
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Special thank you to licensed professional counselor, Willyn Webb for her expertise and input.
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