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Thoughts on School Safety After (Another) National Tragedy

Less than 3 months into being a brand new teacher, an emergency staff meeting was called and we were informed that there was an unsubstantiated bomb threat for the school to take place on the following day, Halloween. While police were involved and there was no belief that the threat was credible, we were still asked to treat the situation very seriously and to be alert. I remember walking back to my classroom and looking around to make sure there wasn't anything that didn't belong there. Almost 10 years later, I was in my second month of being an assistant principal and we were securing the building for a lockdown. A convict had managed to escape at a local Walmart and the police were going to be searching vacant buildings near the school. As I reflect on the end of my 13th year in education, I am thankful that a real threat hasn't come to my door.

There has not been a year that I was in the classroom that the issue of safety and security didn't come up. While I believe it is my life's work to positively impact and educate students to prepare them for a future they still can't imagine, it is also clear to me that our first job is to keep our students safe. Students always want to know what we will do if there is a shooter in the building. I remember clearly the three large football players who sat in my class my fourth year of teaching and said "Don't worry Mizzo [my nickname before I was married because I had a hard to pronounce last name] if a gunman comes in, we'll take him down." I also remember what I said because it is true: I explained to them that if a gunman were in the school that most people will look to authorities to tell them what to do. I explained to them that they didn't need to worry, because I would take charge and I would tell them what to do. I wonder how many of us educators have had these conversations with students. There isn't a single one of us that doesn't now think of the teachers at Sandy Hook who shielded their children or hid them in cabinets and bathrooms. Most of us would do the exact same. 

As an administrator, I now run through scenarios in my head. What would I say over the intercom if I was the first person to make an announcement? If I was doing lunch duty in the cafeteria, how would I usher students to shelter? If I was in x or y hallway, what would I do? Between all of those thoughts are the drills, meetings and trainings to prepare for such situations. On top of all of that is the rapport that we build with students, the conversations we have, and the social and emotional support that we work daily to provide. I pray no one ever walks into my building with ill intent, or any other building for that matter.

In light of the tragedy in Orlando recently, I am also reminded of the role that we (educators) have to help students make sense of the world when bad things happen. I came across a number of resources on social media in the last couple of days and so many of them are worth a share. Here are my  2 favorites:

Levar Burton from Reading Rainbow- YouTube video
From the Harvard Graduate School of Education- Talking Tragedy

Comments

  1. Great posting. I actually have discussed with my students the reason(s) we have security measures in place and how they (as people and not as students) may need to react. Reacting calmly but quickly could save their lives. Scary stuff.

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