Two Rules has been my focus for over two decades of education. One of those rules is Safety. We cannot just talk about it; we must model and provide it. How?
As schools, we have crisis plans, emergency drills, and active shooter drills. I want to share information with you from research conducted about these drills. Everytown Research & Policy, an advocacy group for gun violence prevention, and the Georgia Institute of Technology reported in December of 2021: “While there is limited proof of the effectiveness of these drills, anecdotal evidence, including many online conversations, increasingly suggests that active shooter drills may be harmful to mental health.” In the same report, it is stated: “Active shooter drills in schools are associated with increases in depression (39 percent), stress and anxiety (42 percent), and physiological health problems (23 percent) overall for children from as young as five years old to high schoolers, their parents, and teachers.”
Gun violence and deaths from shootings sparks high emotions. As an educator from Illinois, I can tell you I have lost several students related to gun deaths, but not in schools. The ends of students occurred as a result of gang violence. If you travel north from where I am located to Chicago, gun-related deaths happen daily. Advocacy to stop the violence is what I ask for and plead for on a daily basis. It is deeper to resolve this problem and why the solution is not easily found. It takes many layers of solutions to resolve all of the issues from the violence we see spreading each day.
School shootings in the United States happen more than in other nations. One school shooting is too many. When it happens, it is devastating to all of us, and we want to do anything, everything, to stop it from happening. Most states have mandated active shooting drills and put in place many safety protocols to take active steps in the prevention of incidents like the most recent one in Uvalde, Texas. Even with all of these things implemented after the 1999 shooting at Columbine, we have continued to have school shootings.
When you least expect it
We all get swamped in our days, and we take shortcuts to save time. Our routines become habits, and we go through the motions. Safety should not be a shortcut and is a habit we form, but it should never be taken for granted in any aspect of our lives. Seatbelts, door locks, safety glasses, gloves, helmets, smoke alarms, and my list of safety items could continue as we add many things to our list. Schools are expected to be safe places. It is not one of those possible places of safety, but a place where parents drop off their children to be safe with trusted individuals.
My advice as a first-year administrator from a man sitting next to me at my first conference: “Do you think your school is safe?” No. “Good, never think it is, and always check everything.” The man stood up to speak to the group as they introduced Mr. Bill Bond, former principal at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, during a school shooting.
How to respond
- In a previous post, I suggested reviewing and preparing crisis plans, establishing drills schedules, and meeting with police and fire departments. Many steps can be taken before the start of the school year to prepare. Take the information about the research conducted about the dangers of conducting drills. Being prepared for emergencies is essential, and so is mental health.
- Host a family meeting night about Safety. Safety should be about home, school, and community. What are we doing at school, what can we do at home, and what can the community do? Safety checklists are located on the Resource page on my website. Did you know around 75% of those committing mass shootings at schools got their weapons from their home or friends?
- Introduce Two Rules at (Name of School). Everyone will feel good and safe. Before we do something or say something, we will ask these two questions: Will this make me or others feel safe? Will this make me or others feel good? If the answer is no to either question, then you should not do or say it. The choice is always yours to make, but you are also choosing the consequences of your actions when you do.
- Build relationships! Work to ensure every child in the building has a trusted adult they can talk to and would come to if they need to talk about anything.
- Emphasize to students about collaboration with each other about the safety of the building, and making sure others feel good. We must explain the difference between informing, tattling, or ratting out others. We all must agree to be part of the solution and not part of the problem to make our school, community, and homes the best they can be. We all deserve the best because we are the best.
- Identify grade-level leaders, and rotate leadership roles so everyone can work to have the opportunity to lead at some point. Student lead conferences are essential in helping to gain confidence, leadership, and validation.
Did you know that all of the school shooters showed warning signs? Also, at least 75% of them indicated their plans to someone! If we can identify these signs, listen to what people tell us and report it, we can prevent mass shootings. Helping children feel good about talking to us at school about things can help us to solve issues before they become problems and grief. We have more than this to do in our work, but we can begin with these steps. I want to stress more than anything to implement a theme, program, or approach that is simplistic and consistent with the program.
Have an existing system of ensuring every child feels comfortable with at least one adult in the building. If you are the principal or assistant principal, every child should know you. Be in the hallways, say their names, get to know them and take time to talk with students if you can make home visits.
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