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DHPE Professor Uses Grief Experiences to Shape Philosophy as an Educator

Chenee Gilbert, Ed.D, Ed.S., adjunct faculty in Logan’s online Doctorate of Health Professions Education (DHPE) program, grew up in Miami, Florida, in a family full of educators and pastors. From a young age, she knew that she too would become an educator. What she didn’t know is how one event in college would ultimately shape how—and what—she taught others.

During Dr. Gilbert’s sophomore year studying elementary education at Florida AM University, her mother died from cancer. “My whole world changed as I was on the cusp of adulthood,” Dr. Gilbert said.

Although she was always a good listener and trusted confidant for her friends and family, Dr. Gilbert didn’t confide in anyone about her mother’s death. Eventually, she began writing her feelings in a journal—lashing out at God, explaining the jealousy and pain she felt when she saw her friends enjoying time with their moms.

Fast forward to 2007, when, as a fourth-grade teacher in Atlanta’s inner-city schools, Dr. Gilbert’s grief experiences helped her recognize unaddressed grief in her students—in particular, three male students who were demonstrating disruptive classroom behavior. After a bit of digging, she discovered the root cause for these behavior issues was, in fact, grief from incarcerated family members or loved ones addicted to drugs. To help her students cope, she decided to make her personal journals from her mother’s death into a children’s book.

“Everyone in the classroom had a story to share about someone they missed or lost,” Dr. Gilbert said. “Once they understood how to release their emotions in positive ways—dancing, singing, karate, to name a few—they got back on track, their grades improved and they stopped acting out.

“They were smart students; they just had issues no one was talking about and needed a space to get it out,” she said. “I felt that God spoke to me and charged me to be a vessel within the community to educate our youth on what grief is, equip them with coping strategies and dispel myths.”

From the first children’s picture book, Dr. Gilbert developed a grief series for students 11 years of age and older—chapter books with questions to prompt students and to show them they can share their feelings.

“Grief is a journey, an emotional roller coaster,” Dr. Gilbert said. “Grief is not limited to death. It can be divorce, job loss, sickness, pet loss, loss of a limb, etc. The word ‘grief’ simply refers to a huge change or loss in your life, and when that happens we have to embrace and adapt to a new normal.”

Although no longer an elementary education teacher, Dr. Gilbert’s grief work, as well as her research and development of strategies to enhance teacher preparation programs, has shaped her philosophy as an educator, including her role as adjunct faculty in Logan’s DHPE program.

“I was attracted to this program at Logan because I’m an educator at heart,” Dr. Gilbert said. “This course was different because it’s centered on how to implement a program—what do you want to see changed, and what steps do you need to follow to get there? I do that working with the grieving youth.

“I like learning from others, and I like relaying my knowledge and realistic experience,” she said. “I enjoyed teaching younger kids, but I enjoy higher education so much more because I can understand where they’re coming from as working adults.”

As a former online student for her specialist and doctoral degree programs, Dr. Gilbert also understands the challenges of an online learning environment and works to ensure each student is engaged in discussion and supported in classwork.

“I always encourage students to reach out to me—I don’t ever want to make students feel like a burden for asking a question or treat them like they’re just a number,” she said.

When Dr. Gilbert is not actively teaching, she works individually with children and families, co-facilitates a community Grief Share group in Atlanta and hosts grief workshops at schools, churches and non-profit organizations.

To learn more about Dr. Gilbert’s grief books, visit www.iamcheneegilbert.com.