Chapter 6: Taking a proactive approach to student grief

Integrating death, dying, and grief into your curriculum

What the grief expert says
Lysa Toye, social worker, psychotherapist, explains that maintaining privacy isn't always the right thing to do when a friend is struggling.(3:22)Video transcript

“I used to think it was kind of morbid that Mrs. Khan used to have us talk about death when we were in grade 7. Even though that was a couple of years ago, I did remember she said grief can become intense without any warning. At least I knew I was normal when I had a big grief burst months after Katie had died”. - Student

As previously mentioned in Module 1, you are in a unique position to integrate death, dying and grief into your classroom discussions and curriculum. Doing so can help students become aware of the illness/dying/death/grieving processes and better equip and prepare them to cope with their emotions, reactions as well as their responses to those around them in the event of a death in their lives.

Discover some facts and suggestions to help you plan your curriculum approach on this topic. 

Click on each item below for more information.

Integrating concepts of serious illness, death, grief and anticipatory grief* into the learning environment is helpful to students because…

…you can begin to prepare students for some of the experiences and emotions that may arise. 

Discussions about serious illness and death are best approached in an open and honest manner because…

…this helps to create a space for students to both learn and express their thoughts, feelings, and questions. 

You’ll likely need to re-visit these discussions during the course of a student’s illness because…

…as the ill student’s condition changes or worsens, your students’ reactions and emotional impact may also change and deepen.  

Let students know they are welcome to ask you questions about the situation, at any time because…

…it’s okay to respond with, “That’s a great question, and I don’t know the answer”. Provide them with clear, straightforward, and honest answers.

Click on each item on the left for more detail
*Anticipatory grief itself refers to grief experienced in the present but influenced by current losses in tandem with anticipated future losses.


Any students who are considered vulnerable or at-risk in any way should be identified early on and offered additional support. You should also ensure that your school’s administrators are aware of these students. 

If a dying student has siblings in your school, you can ensure that all staff are aware and know that there’s a designated staff person who will take primary responsibility for maintaining contact with them..


See and for more information on death, dying, and grief.