3 Simple Ways to Strengthen School Safety
April 20, 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of the tragic school shooting at Columbine High School. This harrowing tale of violence in schools has played out over and over again since then, all the while striking fear within our communities. Mass shooter lockdown drills are now as common as fire and tornado drills. The frequency of attacks and increased media exposure has brought school violence to the forefront of education. It’s no longer the exception, it’s the rule. That is a bone-chilling reality for those tasked with protecting the students in our schools on a daily basis.
As an educator it can be daunting when considering the most effective ways to protect your school in regards to violence from within. Much attention has been given to identifying possible perpetrators. Take a look at this article in Psychology Today, “Profiling” School Shooters. In reality, there is no way to accurately identify those who may cause violence on our campus. So the article states that the focus should be on outreach and intervention. Creating a school culture that promotes inclusivity, trust, and compassion can be your first line of defense. The risk factors that may cause a student to resort to violence is often out of our control as an educator. We cannot erase a history of abuse or traumatic experiences and we cannot always change the current status of a child’s home situation. Our attention must be focused on the pursuit of creating a safe school environment. Here are 3 simple ways to strengthen your campus mission of school safety:
In most, not all, cases of school violence there were warning signs that were overlooked. Interviews with witnesses and those connected to the person who caused harm often reveal behaviors that may have been a “cry for help” that went unnoticed. Single instances, remarks, and actions exposed a pattern once combined by those who were associated. A social media post, a comment to a friend, attendance and behavior issues, or a single journal entry may seem insignificant when seen in isolation, but when linked together can paint a picture of someone reaching out for help. Create a campus that promotes a “see something, say something” mentality. Promote an atmosphere that empowers students and staff to advocate for others.
As the school culture shifts to one of empathy and connectedness you will want to make sure students, staff, and parents have easy access to reporting issues of concern. School safety is an “all hands on deck” situation. Utilize technology , such as, Google forms, school-approved social media, websites, etc to promote communication. Extend your support by empowering staff and students. Student leaders can be a powerful asset on campus. Take a look at how hosting leadership summits can encourage positive peer-to-peer interactions.
As a counselor, providing self-care strategies to staff and students can reinforce the goal of a positive, safe school climate. Guidance lessons that inspire self-reflection, relationship skills, goal setting, and self-advocacy can create a solid foundation. Make sure your lessons for staff and students are meaningful, relevant, and easy to execute for maximum effectiveness.
As we reflect on the past 20 years in relation to school violence it can be easy to feel an overwhelming sense of dread and hopelessness. The topic is sensitive and affects everyone in the country. Based on the statistics and tragic events it does not seem to be a situation that will just go away. We must come together as educators to foster a school community that encourages mutual respect, inclusion, empathy, and resiliency. Safe schools should always stay at the top of our priority list because the reality is that a student will not be able to learn if they don’t feel safe.
School Counselor, TEEN TRUTH