“School shooting in Texas” is four words to stop you, frozen at the moment, and your heartstrings are pulled. The number of injuries, loss of life, the individual or individuals involved in the shooting makes no difference. It is the four words no mother, father, grandparent, or educator wants to hear ever.
Then the media storm begins. The violence at Uvalde, Texas, with the school shootings at Robb Elementary, left all of us with more questions and seeking answers. Comments, pointing fingers to blame, a retelling of stories, the first stories were incorrect; these are the correct facts, more finger-pointing and it continues with comparing to other shootings. Then here comes the solutions, the same as the previous shootings. We need gun control, armed guards in the schools, mental health, and the list continues. Please stop and pause for one moment.
All I can hear and see are children laughing in the playground. They are swinging on the swings. The girls have their hair blowing in the wind from the swings, and the boys are busy hitting balls out into the field. I see children being children. School is ending for the summer break, and children are preparing to enjoy all of the summer fun. My heart strings are pulled as I know those who have fallen to this senseless act of violence took the innocence of this sacred time and lives away. It stole the childhood innocence of many who experienced the noise of the gunshots, screams, cries, and the trauma no one can claim to understand.
Stop all of these political agendas on both sides to find the real solutions to the issues at hand. So let me just go through the list of the things I believe we can review, reinforce and respond to appropriately.
As a country, can we bring all state government leaders together to draft a common gun control law to follow with integrity, accountability, and responsibility? Laws for guns should not be vastly different from state to state, and we should have/do have a monitored system to know who is purchasing firearms. In Illinois, there is a ban on guns in Chicago, but in our state, there are more shootings in this area than in any other place. How?
Illegal guns are a significant issue. We must address this issue.
Accountability with all laws must be enforced. Crime at any level has to have responsibility. If we do not hold all offenses with the laws we have and establish a society of rule and order, violence will continue to escalate. A community with a relaxed soft view will fall.
Are you addressing mental health correctly? In every situation, the words of mental health flow freely from many mouths without knowing how to address the issue appropriately. It is more than throwing money at the problem, building a facility, and saying you will do x, y, and z, but you do not have the time or personnel to accomplish the goals.
We need more psychiatric treatment staff to include, but not limited to the following:
Mental Health facilities and in-house care
Facilities for treatment to care for individuals in a 24/7 facility with supports
We need to have providers within schools to support staff, families, and students in providing a complete wrap-a-round care plan to facilitate meeting all of the needs of individual children and inclusion in the support systems.
We need to provide training to families, staff, and community-based entities with direct interactions with the public.
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Is a place to begin your search for understanding mental health issues, needs, and advocacy. This is the first organization I went to as a young leader in education. The need is more significant today for understanding mental health.
The need for Two Rules is stronger today than when I was principal. I want to share that the children, families, staff, and community you serve want to know more than ever before that these rules are being followed and applied. “Everyone who walks through the doors of (the name of your school) will feel good about being here and feel safe.” How will we all do this together? We can choose to be part of the problem or the solution; the choice is always ours to make. However, if you choose to be part of the problem, the consequences of your choice will be fully applied.
Talk with everyone about what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to be safe and to feel good in a learning environment. It takes all of us working together to create an environment of safety, feeling included and good.
Many tools can be used at home, school, and in the community to accomplish these goals. I have been waiting to find the right time to see if the book I have written, Two Rules, would interest others. It feels like the right time now. Too many children are being lost in our world to violence in our schools, streets, and “safe” places.
Secure Schools is something we have worked on with crisis plans, training, and drills. It is time to look at what we have done and remember conducting a drill one time a year does not always help when reality comes and fear-panic sets in.
Can we look at all of the school buildings we currently have to see if modifications can be made to prevent an intruder from getting inside? Bulletproof?
Reinstate school resource officers on campus. Utilize retired police officers, military personnel, or other professionals—someone with a radio to contact the police and organize when a situation occurs.
Building relationships in the school to know all of the individuals within the school.
Have an organized plan for every situation. Talk and communicate with the onsite leadership team for the crisis.
Leadership is critical when seeking solutions. It is not top-down, but side by side when we discover looking through the lenses to see the perspectives of others. It is always to seek to understand and hear what is not said.
In my very first professional development workshop as an administrator, I sat down at a table all alone. I did not know anyone, and I was one of the first to arrive. I was not confident, so I sat in the back. An older gentleman sat down at my table. He began to talk to me, and I felt relaxed. He asked, “Do you think your school is safe?” No, sir, I don’t. I do not think you should ever believe that with 100% confidence. “Great answer. The conference began. -Let me introduce you to a brave man who is coming to share his story as a building principal of a school that went through a school shooting-Principal Bill Bond of Heath High School in Paducah, KY. The man sitting next to me got up and went to the front of the room.
His words were powerful, and I knew this was what leadership was to me. His story about the day has many important factors to remember when working with students, staff, and the community.
Relationship building. We all have said it, heard it, and have it as a goal. Do we know what it truly is, looks like, sounds like, and feels like? During my time at middle school, I wrote personal postcards to all of my staff and students. I mailed it to their homes. There were 75 staff members and 602 students. They were all individualized. Yes, they compared to see if I wrote the same things on the cards. I did it over the Christmas break. We gave everyone something on their birthday, talked to everyone, and watched them in their extra-curricular activities. I did home visits and community activities and embraced everything I could to get to know every aspect of life they had.
I brushed the surface of the solutions for the violence we are seeing transpire across our country and especially targeting our schools. I want to focus on families and communities as well. This is an issue with not one solution to solve the problem. It is not to have stricter gun controls or address mental health. We have a deep system of layers to address this issue more profound than the surface solutions we often try to address quickly, so we can say we did something, move on and place it on our list of accomplishments for the following political add. No thanks. I want to drive the deep solutions to systemically solve issues to save lives, create positive environments, help families and improve communities. I can’t, you can’t, but we can together work to establish better systems, accountability of the laws, offer services, and commit to improvements overall.
Our heartstrings are pulled, and we react. Then the conversations begin to fade as fast as the seasons change. The swings at the playground echo the laughter of children who want to be kids. Can we all work together to solve these issues, so the heartstrings pulled are the ones that bring big smiles.