If a teacher is tasked with explaining a major crisis to the students, such as gun violence, be sure that they are accompanied by a counselor who can support the teacher in explaining and answering the students' questions.
Teacher or counselor addresses the “elephant in the room” in an age-appropriate way. Offer open-ended questions to the whole class with low-stakes questions that students can “sit out” if needed, such as “How does this news make you feel?”
In this phase, students go around a small circle and express their feelings. The other students simply listen and wait their turn - they do not yet engage in discussion. This is meant to allow space for everyone to express their thoughts and be heard without judgment (if they want). Allow participants to pass their turn if needed.
Place students in groups where there are pre-existing trusting relationships; maybe they self-select if the teacher feels that no one student will be excluded. Explain to the whole class that they will talk about the issue in small groups and maybe establish norms with a Community Agreement - i.e., no interrupting, and no discussion for this first round. Offer an initial question they can focus on, such as “What does this bring up for you?”
After everyone who wants to speak in the microlab has shared, peers may respond thoughtfully to each other, i.e., “What you said made me think of…”. Allow students to write or draw or simply sit still to allow thoughts to sink in. This can also be a time for any student who passed their turn to share if they want to.
Individually, they may want to engage in a Mandala Activity to represent their inner feelings (inside the circle) and their outward show of emotions or the effects of the event (outside the circle). They can also try other Drawing Directives. In their small group or pairs, they also may want to write a story together.
Return to a circle with the whole class. Going around the circle, students share anything from their own perspective and experience that came out of reflection. If another person’s share made them think, ask them not to share the other person’s name. Once everyone who wants to has shared, engage in a discussion and allow students to go deeper.
Encourage students to keep tabs on each other to stay emotionally healthy and safe (Can use a card-matching activity to create buddies, self-select, or use the Support Network or Relationship Mapping activity from Partners in Healing). Create a place in the classroom or school to go if anyone needs to sit out for a moment.
Close out the discussion in a formal way, while also reminding students that they have their buddy, their place, and also you as support if thoughts and feelings linger. A closing ritual, for example, can be going around the circle passing the talking piece and offering a one-word takeaway from the discussion; or, leading a stretch or mindful moment with breathing; or, having them write down something positive they’d like to see/ a prayer/ a wish, and place their paper in the center of the circle.