Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell launches first online resource to help primary teachers support bereaved pupils in their classroom

Categories: Education.

Speaking at the launch yesterday (Thursday, May 21st)  Senator O’Donnell described the resource, which is entitled, ‘Listen with eyes, ears and Heart’, as an example of best practice. She commented, “This resource will help and support and instill confidence in teachers and make them more comfortable to support the bereaved child and their classmates. 

“Dying, death and bereavement affects us all and they are our responsibility as citizens and human beings. Often death is marginalised and sectionalised into sub-specialties and it’s somebody else problem. It’s not, it’s all of our business,” she added.

Therese Hegarty, Lecturer in SPHE at the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education, Maynooth University called on the Minister for Education to provide in service training on bereavement for teachers around the country, and to offer support and direction to schools in formulating a specific bereavement policy.

A qualified primary teacher, Ms Hegarty commented, “Educating students for a career as a primary teacher is much more complex than educating them to teach the curriculum. One of the most challenging aspects of the teacher’s work is caring for children who are going through a difficult time in their life. Bereavement is one example of this. 

“Teachers sometimes panic and imagine that an expert counsellor is needed. While a small minority of children will need counselling, most children come through bereavement with the support of family, friends and community but it takes time.

“I look forward to using the resource with my students. It will open up very useful conversations and questions about the role of a teacher in the life of a grieving child and the ways in which teachers and families can work together. My hope is that those conversations will empower teachers.”

The resource was developed by The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network (ICBN) members from Rainbows Ireland, Froebel Teacher Training College, Maynooth, The Irish Hospice Foundation and an independent bereavement specialist. The project received funding from the All Ireland Institute of Hospice and Palliative Care (AIIHPC)  and the Irish Hospice Foundation.

The resource includes a four minute animation, video footage of teachers discussing real life experiences and support materials.

Bereavement experiences amongst children are extremely common. Research by the ESRI (Growing up in Ireland) demonstrates that 2.2% of nine year olds have lost a parent, 1.1% a sibling, 7% an aunt or uncle and 6% a close friend. By the age of nine 28% of Irish children have lost a grandparent.

ICBN advisory group member and National Director of Rainbows Ireland, Anne Staunton, said the organisation often receives calls from teachers seeking advice on the best way to handle a child’s bereavement.

“The reality is that there are many bereaved children in classrooms all over Ireland. We get many calls from teachers who feel they don’t know what to say to the child and are afraid they will do more harm than good. This resource is to help them in that moment and to enable them to support a bereaved pupil in their class. Children are with their teacher for a long period during the day and the teacher can be a positive influence for that child during a difficult time.”

The animation provides six simple pieces of advice for teachers:

  • Acknowledge what happened
  • Ask the child how you can help
  • Be flexible and understanding
  • Create a supportive environment
  • Maintain routine
  • Listen with eyes, ears and heart

‘Listen with eyes, ears and heart’ will be available on and will also be accessible through the AIIHPC learning hub

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