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Off to a Safe Start

Author
Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Start Your School Safety Planning Now  

While pre-service teachers receive instruction associated with classroom management, most will receive limited, if any, information related to issues of school violence. Unfortunately, many experienced teachers also lack knowledge and training on this important topic. Though most schools are secure and orderly, even the best of educational environments may experience events that turn violent; it is then that staff will be expected to respond in a reasonable, professional and prudent manner. 

The training received by teachers on school safety usually occurs just before the beginning of the school year and may be limited to a few minutes out of a lengthy faculty meeting agenda. When it comes right down to it, what other topic is of greater importance for a school that student and staff safety? 

Who, What, and When

Who should be trained? 

  • All staff should be trained in how to appropriately respond during a school emergency situation, but the training of teachers is of critical importance. These individuals work most closely with students on a daily basis and are in a unique position to observe sudden changes in student behaviors, as well as the types of triggering events that can escalate into something more dangerous.

What should the training include? 

  • All staff should be thoroughly familiar with the school’s Emergency Response Plan. It should make little difference that some teachers and staff do not have pre-designated assignments or responsibilities during an emergency event because under adverse conditions tasks are often assigned by who is available or in close proximity. To facilitate the familiarity with a school’s plan, all staff should have a copy of the document and sufficient time should be allocated to discuss it.
  • The training should include how to operate basic equipment such as fire extinguishers, intercom systems and phones. Fire extinguishers are easy to use when one has been shown the operational procedures. All staff should know the location of the nearest fire extinguisher to their classrooms, as well as how to use the equipment.
  • Phones and intercoms are common items within a classroom, but different types of systems require different procedures and those new to the building may not know how to dial an outside line or how to call the office during an emergency event. This type of information should be included within the teacher handbook, as well as reviewed prior to the beginning of school.
  • Tabletop exercises are an excellent way for teachers and administrators to "test" their plans. When facilitated correctly, these exercises take approximately 20 minutes to complete and provide a wealth of good problem solving information for the staff, as well as important feedback for the administrative team.
  • Teachers should be shown how to assess their classroom for safety purposes. The review should include verification that designated safety supplies and aids are readily accessible.
  • Faculty should be given directions related to training students on safety issues. Students should be taught how to evacuate the building, shelter during inclement weather, as well as how to respond should an intruder be present on the school campus.
  • Faculty should review the student code of conduct. If students are going to be taught to use this important document, teachers must first understand how to use it for its intended purpose. The disciplinary definitions, as well as the scope and sequence of consequences, should be familiar to all teachers and reviewed with students.

When is training most critical?

  • Prior to the opening of school is the perfect time for this information to be discussed; however, the beginning of the second semester is another appropriate time for administrators and teachers to review safety related issues.
  • After any critical incident, it is important to debrief with staff and make note of any areas where the school’s response was limited or deficient, as well as where the response was correct. In the aftermath of an emergency situation a "teachable moment" is possible for all staff. Administrators should set aside their egos and opening and honestly discuss what went well and how things could have been done in a more prudent manner.
  • "Items of School Safety" should be a standard item on monthly faculty agendas. Staff should be asked if there are noteworthy safety concerns that should be discussed with the group. There will probably be some months when nothing is noted, but staff should still be encouraged to contribute their thoughts.

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