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.
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.
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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