Enhancing Student Engagement Post-Disasters: A Guide

Recovery post disaster is as varied as the impact. Being part of a community helps us to recover. Our university classrooms are part of being in a community and we can help! Three important ways we can help are: 1. Communicate, communicate, communicate; 2. Embrace the new normal; and 3. Normalize: all reactions as possible responses to a disaster.Disaster Image

Not only is our class schedule disrupted but also our learning contexts and mindsets are disrupted by recovery effects. Some of us will sustain loss that can weigh us down and/or add to an already challenging life. For some the disruption of our daily routine can be an annoyance. Others might be impacted more by the contextual factors such as lack of income, lack of transportation or the lack of structure to move on. Each of these elicits varied responses and as faculty we can engage the varied responses to increase student engagement post disaster.  Below I provide a few guidelines for Higher Education Faculty, to which I invite you to add from your practice.

Pre Disaster

  1. Develop a contingency plan at the beginning of the semesters.
  2. Email and/post announcements on Blackboard of the contingency plans for all classes which details:
    1. How to reach you?
    2. What to do about due assignments and online posts during the disaster?
    3. What happens after the disaster (a statement to the effect that you will post announcements and send emails after the assessment of the aftermath)?

Post-Disaster/Self & Family Recovery

  1. Inform your program head if you are unable to correspond with students and are unable to resume teaching as per the College’s recovery timeline.
  2. Contact your program head if you are without electricity to conduct online classes or check emails or unable to commute.

Post-Disaster/ Pre Campus Meetings

  1. Reach out* to students while the school is making decisions and there is a period of uncertainty.
  2. Let students know how to reach you if they are unable to commute.
  3. Email students if you have not heard from them as they may be overwhelmed or lost communication channels. It’s reassuring for them when they can get back on email.

* If you have access to communication/electricity or when you are able to

Post-Disaster/In Class

  1. Outline how the content for the missed classes will be covered.
  2. Announce what leeway, if any, are available for people in disaster recovery mode. What constitutes disaster recovery for your course?
  3. What proof, if any, do you need about that impact?
  4. If appropriate, check in during the class who were impacted. It helps create a sense of community and understanding.
  5. Students may appear a bit distracted or unprepared. Check in with them.

Post-Disaster/Online Classes

  1. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  2. See above.

Post-Disaster/Assignments & Attendance

  1. Make adjustments as needed.
  2. Review attendance policy if needed.
  3. Inform students what extra help is available for those who are experiencing loss and dislocation.


Feel free to download the article  Student Engagement Post Disaster as a pdf and circulate within your academic community.


Saliha Bava, PhD is an Associate Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, SSBS, Mercy College.  She is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who has consulted on disaster preparedness and response to organizations in profit, non-profit and governmental sectors. She received a leadership award from the City of Houston’s Disaster Mental Health Crises Response Team (COH-DMHCRT) for directing the Mental Health Services at the George R. Brown Katrina Shelter in 2005. She was the training co-chair for COH-DMHCRT. She is currently the Director of Research with the International Trauma Studies Program, NYC and a trainer in Psychological First Aid. Saliha has 16 years of teaching experience, some of which overlapped with disasters and recovery.

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