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Very Sensitive Situation

Discussion in 'Headteachers' started by jago123, Nov 14, 2017.

  1. jago123

    jago123 Established commenter

    Early this year, one of the teachers in the school that I am the HT at was diagnosed with cancer. This was a shock to the whole school community given that the teacher is only 43.
    The teacher has been receiving treatment and has been off work since the diagnosis and came into work today to meet with myself and the CoG to inform us that the cancer is terminal and at best she only has 12 weeks to live. This is obviously a very devastating situation and of course, very sensitive. The colleague in question has opted for staff members to be told of this. As the Headteacher, it is my duty to do this but I have never had to do this before so need advice on addressing the school community.
    I have informed the DHT and the colleague’s HoD but have told them not to mention it to any other colleague before I make the announcement. Just wondering if anyone else has had to deal with this tough situation before and what steps to take?
    The colleague has been teaching at the school for the last 18 years when they joined us an NQT in September 1999 so they are well known and well liked.
  2. thatmaninthehat

    thatmaninthehat Occasional commenter

    Really no easy way to deliver news like that.Very sad situation and it will upset everyone.I think you'll find the staff will be somewhat prepared for bad news already so just get them together informally and tell them.
  3. dts

    dts Occasional commenter

    I'd make sure to tell them at the end of a school day, so that they then have the option of either staying as a group to console one another, or going straight home to deal with the news in their own time. I wouldn't expect them to have anything to do with children after hearing this news.
    sabrinakat, bonxie and galerider123 like this.
  4. Crowbob

    Crowbob Lead commenter

    I would tell the person's department/faculty separately to the rest of the school in a more intimate setting.
  5. Sundaytrekker

    Sundaytrekker Star commenter

    Very sensible advice above. I had to tell staff a similar message a few years ago. Later followed by giving the news the staff member had died. Although they were expecting it, staff wanted that feeling of being together to be told with a vicar governor saying a prayer. Worst of all was telling the children class by class which I did with another member of staff. We had a fantastic counselling team from our LA who helped out and supported us through including realising the strain on me. Later I closed the school for the funeral which most staff attended. Think of everyone else but look after yourself too.
  6. dunnocks

    dunnocks Star commenter

    I've been on the receiving end of this sort of announcement.
    HODs knew in advance, email/ tannoy to call for a lmeeting after school, with around 10 mins notice, asked my HOD what meeting was about, and was told, couldn'tface official announcement so left straight away.

    Crying just remembering it.:(

    but we were all told within the same 20 minutes, with no big build up and security over the information - I think that was best.

    I've also had tell a tutor group their tutor had died - this was probably suicide, so even harder - again, no big build up to a secret announcement, just at the first private opportunity, sitting the down, telling them and providing tissues,playing down the drama, etc.

    I would tell everyone immediately, without putting too much thought into the presentation of the news, etc, I agree with after school, both of these announcements were after school.

    another occasion I had to tell a class that their teacher was critically ill with an infectious disease, and they all needed screening - again, very hard, and I handled that "badly" in that there was some drama from the kids! but many other staff being present to answer questions was what helped there.
    spurton1 likes this.
  7. jago123

    jago123 Established commenter

    Thanks for everyone’s advice. I held a meeting in the staff room at the end of the school day yesterday with further support offered to colleagues that might be emotionally affected by this.

    The colleagues in the teacher’s department were informed by myself and the HoD separately to the rest of the school.

    I have contacted the family of the colleague, sent them flowers from the school community and have been told that their condition has deteriorated over the last 48-72 hours and will be going into a hospice this weekend for end of life care.

    For when the colleague passes away, I intend to close the school on the day of their funeral to allow colleague’s to pay respect.

    I know this bit may come across as insensitive, but I’ve never dealt with anything like this before and I am finding it emotionally draining- the colleague hasn’t resigned but is signed off work, I’m assuming that they are paid until the date of death or to the end of term?

    Thanks for any further advice anyone can give.
  8. dunnocks

    dunnocks Star commenter

    speak to their union rep, there will be pension assets and stuff that will need to be handled correctly. If they die whilst still technically employed, their dependents and family benefit financially. contact the union and get it right for them
  9. Sundaytrekker

    Sundaytrekker Star commenter

    When our staff member died I was asked by HR, when I phoned to explain, if I wanted the pay to end on the date of death or paid to the end of the month for their spouse. We paid the full month (this was not a teacher). Death in service benefits then came into play for the spouse as they were paying into the pension scheme . It’s well to be prepared for these practicalities. We started a display for messages immediately and later raised money for a permanent memorial.
  10. circuskevin

    circuskevin Established commenter

    Do you remember Stephen Sutton?

    His 'bucket list' was on the front page of the Birmingham Evening Mail.

    Number 41 was 'Learn to juggle'.

    I popped round his house to teach him.

    Have you asked this colleague if there is anything you can do while they are alive?

    If they have been at the school for 18 years maybe they have colleagues who could visit them?

    Talk over old times sort of thing.

    Stephen was very upfront about what he wanted to achieve and later sprung to national prominence with his cancer fund raising activities.

    Your colleague is probably less likely to request anything which would upset the smooth running of the school.

    The offer would probably need to come from you.

    Just an idea.

    sabrinakat likes this.
  11. jago123

    jago123 Established commenter

    Great idea Kevin-
    I’m going to be contacting the colleague’s family tomorrow to arrange flowers to be delivered from the school community.
    I do want to go and visit and so does a few other colleagues to say goodbye but I would again need to speak to family members about this as I don’t want to ‘interrupt’ precious moments as doctors now believe the colleague now has at best 4 weeks to live and is not expected to live till Christmas.
  12. circuskevin

    circuskevin Established commenter

    You may like to consider regular visits. They don't have to all be teachers. Cooks, cleaners, admin staff, caretakers ... anyone who could fit in with a group of say 3-5 staff members who know your colleague.

    Your colleague may not only enjoy a visit but have something to look forward too as in the next visit.

    With the right personalities in the group it could be fun for all.

    When Acorns children's hospice opened near me I would pop in with a 4 year old lad I used to babysit for. We would play with the kids. Kids love play, adults love chat.

    Your role would be to facilitate this if it were possible in your school's circumstances.

    As always, only an idea.

  13. jago123

    jago123 Established commenter

    I saw the colleague yesterday with the DHT, colleague’s HOD and a member of staff that the colleague was closest too whilst at school.
    We delivered flowers and said our goodbyes. We spent a few hours after school with them, we knew it would probably be the last time we see them which was as you could imagine a very sad situation for all.
    The colleague has been in a hospice since last Saturday and her condition has continued to decline even further.
    We have also offered our support to the colleague’s family...
  14. jago123

    jago123 Established commenter

    Just been informed that the colleague’s condition has got worse in the last 24 hours and has now slipped into a coma.. they are not expected to live the next 24-48 hours.
    Considering I saw them on Tuesday and they were in high spirits to now where they have got literally hours, it’s devastating. I can’t believe how quick they have deteriorated. I won’t be sharing this information with anyone else- they know the colleague is terminally ill. That’s all they need to know for now.
    I am now obviously planning how to break the news. If they pass away over the weekend, I’ll need to address this in a meeting first thing Monday Morning... and then have a assembly for each year group to break the news or send a letter out...
    Does anyone have any idea how I should approach this?
  15. cornflake

    cornflake Senior commenter

    I don't know, but I would be tempted to update staff today. Then you can collectively worry about telling the community on Monday if needs be
  16. Sundaytrekker

    Sundaytrekker Star commenter

    I think prepare staff that it is imminent before they go home today. They can begin to come to terms with that over the weekend. Do you have an LA Critical Incident team? Phone them today and get them booked in for Monday morning.

    My advice had been to be direct with children. Use the word died not gone or passed away or anything they could misconstrue. I kept it short, told them they could now draw pictures or write messages if they wished and that we had people they could talk to. I didn’t do it on my own. I spoke first then my colleague also spoke. My LA had a standard letter I adapted to send home .

    One of the hardest things I had to do as a head....... take care of yourself, too.
    sabrinakat likes this.
  17. jago123

    jago123 Established commenter

    The colleague died in the early hours of this morning. The colleague’s spouse has notified me and the colleague’s HOD. I am drafting a statement now to release to the school community tomorrow via a letter.
    I will also be informing staff in morning briefing tomorrow- They know that the colleague’s death was imminent as I decided to tell them on Friday to give them the weekend to prepare themselves for it.

    The school will also be closed on the day of the funeral to enable staff members to attend.

    The colleague was only 43. She began her career as an English teacher in 1999 before getting promoted to HoD in 2004 and then continued in that role until 2008 where she went on maternity leave and then returned in 2009 part time before resuming back to full time in 2013.
    A popular and well-respected colleague in the school who will be sadly missed in the school community.
    She also leaves behind her husband and one child who is 9.
  18. sparkleghirl

    sparkleghirl Star commenter

    Very sorry to hear this, thoughts & sympthies with you and all concerned.
  19. smurphy6

    smurphy6 Lead commenter

    A very sad time for her family and school community.
  20. Sundaytrekker

    Sundaytrekker Star commenter

    Im very sorry for this loss to your community. So young and leaving a young child, too. My thoughts will be with her family and with you tomorrow.

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