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Corner on Safety

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Strategic Supervision

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Strategic Supervision

Have you ever wondered what effective student supervision and successful fishing have in common?  If your answer has anything to do with 'strategy', you are on the right track.

Ask any seasoned administrator, and he will tell you that for supervision to be effective, it must include administrative strategy.  As an experienced fisherman what determines where and how to fish, and his answer will also include some type of strategic decision making.  Time of day, weather conditions, geographical location, first hand experience and reports from others will be relevant to both.  Successful fishermen do not randomly fish, and successful principals do not randomly decide where and how to supervise a school building or event.

As with many tings in the school business, it is well advised to develop a written plan and to communicate expectations to those that must carry out the duties.

As you develop your plan for supervision, we suggest asking the following questions:

  1. Based upon knowledge of the school plant and past disciplinary situations, as well as staff and student input, where and at what times of day should supervisory personnel be placed at specific location?
    • We would suggest beginning with bus arrivals and departures, lunchroom, student commons areas and hallways during class change.
    • Additionally, a periodic review of discipline and accident reports can provide insight into the location of problem areas.  An analysis of this data is best completed by an internal safety committee made up of staff and faculty members.  When staff is involved in the review of data, they become more participatory in the process of school safety.
  2. Does my current supervisory plan include the following:
    • Beginning and ending times for supervision duties
    • Communication procedures between supervisors and administrative personnel, such as a requirement to carry a radio or cellular phone
    • Instructions for evacuations or in place sheltering and the expectations and duties for staff during times of supervision
    • Notations of special problems or areas requiring special attention
    • Monitoring hallways, exterior doors, restrooms, common areas, etc.
  3. How should principals remind staff about the value, responsibility, and accountability related to supervision?
    • In addition to giving staff a handbook that provides expectations for student supervision, periodic discussion of supervisory guidelines should be a part of faculty meetings throughout the school year.  Staff should be required to sign for receipt of the handbook indicating that it has been read, understood, and an opportunity given to ask questions.  Faculty agendas that provide documentation of items discussed should be retained.
  4. Have I trained all personnel in the dynamics of supervision?
    • In addition to training full time staff, provisions should be made to ensure that substitute teachers and staff hired after the beginning of the school year are provided with similar expectations for supervision.  Substitute teacher folders should include instructions indicating the same supervisory guidelines as the regular education teacher.
  5.  Do I always model the appropriate techniques for supervision?
    •  Administrators should properly model supervisory techniques by refraining from personal adult conversation while on supervisory duty.  When faculty see administrators that are not paying attention to students, the message is sent that this is an acceptable practice.

Remember, many aspects of school security and safety come with a price; however, strategic supervision is one of the most valuable, inexpensive and proven methods to ensure staff and student safety.  It will require a number of discussions and considerable planning, but it will be well worth the effort in establishing the optimum safe school environment.

Prepare to 'Weather' the Storm

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Preparing for Severe Weather

With the recent tragedy in Enterprise, Alabama in which a tornado struck the high school during the school day, it is prudent to once again reflect upon the strategies that should be part of a school’s emergency planning.

Practicing for Situations of Severe Weather

While certain parts of the country are more susceptible to severe storms and may warrant additional drills, a minimum of five should occur regardless of the location. From the first day of school until the last student leaves at the end of the school year, there is always the possibility for a weather related emergency; therefore, two drills should be held the first week of school with quarterly drills to follow.

The first severe weather drill should be completed as a "walk through" to orient new students and staff to the procedures involved; the second drill should be conducted to assess true readiness for such an event. With each exercise, staff should have the opportunity to debrief and discuss problems that arise.

School Maps and Evacuation Routes

All rooms within the school should contain evacuation and sheltering maps posted at approximately eye level and adjacent to the exit. Maps and written directions should be easily read with large fonts and color coded. Additionally, designated sheltering areas should be clearly marked as such. In the event patrons or visitors need to quickly seek shelter outside of the normal school day, they should be able to find the designated areas through directional signage posted in the hallways and throughout the building.

Weather Alert Radios

While some schools have agreements with local authorities that result in a notification of impending severe weather, using a weather alert radio provides a backup system. For others, a weather alert radio may be the primary source of weather information. Regardless, the weather alert radio should be placed in an area where there is constant adult presence.

Emergency Management Plans

Emergency management plans specific to severe weather should be reviewed by outside emergency response providers to help ensure all contingencies have been covered. Fire department or other qualified officials should review the identified sheltering locations in the school and "sign off" that the areas selected are appropriate.

Alternate provisions for notification should be made for areas of the school where staff and students may have difficulty hearing the internal alarm. These locations may include band, orchestra and music rooms, industrial technology, physical education, etc.

School Events off Campus

School and district staff accompanying students on trips away from the school should be well versed on actions to take if severe weather strikes. This includes not only when they are at their appointed destination, but in transit as well. One should not try to outrun or out maneuver a tornado. Seeking immediate shelter in the closest well constructed building or having students move to low areas such as a ditch or depression in the ground and assume a duck and cover profile is prudent, provided standing or rushing water is not a hazard.

Emergency Planning for Physically Disabled Students

For many schools the student population will contain both permanently physically disabled students, as well as those with a temporary handicapping condition due to accident or injury. For both groups, advance planning will need to occur. Evacuation and sheltering plans should be written for these students designating sufficient staff to help transport them to the sheltering or evacuation location. These plans should cover each class period, as well as lunch and other non-instructional times. Unless advised by parent or physician, the school should practice these evacuation and sheltering procedures with these students so all understand the expectations and steps in the process.

Planning for Parent Arrival and Student Dismissal

Since knowing exactly when and where a tornado will strike is not possible, dismissing students during a storm warning can put them in harm’s way and increase the risk that something tragic will happen. Procedures should be written to guide staff when parents arrive and ask for the release of students during a sheltering event. This information and the accompanying procedures, along with how the school generally handles a severe weather event, should be included in the student handbook, posted on the district or school’s website, and given to parents through other appropriate venues.

Regardless of how well school administrators plan for severe weather events, it is not possible to totally predict how and when nature’s fury will strike; however, thorough and collaborative planning can provide the best opportunity for safety when tornados or other severe weather interrupt the school year.

Responding to an Armed Intruder

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Training Staff and Students to Respond to the Armed Intruder 

Recently a school district in Texas hired a company to instruct teachers and students in how to fight back if a gunman invaded a classroom. As the first district in the country known to institute this type of training, media attention was inevitable. While some applauded the effort, others, including local law enforcement, were critical of the tactic. The idea was heatedly debated across the Internet and in the print media. In the end, the school district discontinued the program; however, the dilemma faced by school principals in public and private education related to how to instruct staff and students to respond when confronted by an armed intruder at school is still a question that needs to be answered.

Who are these armed intruders?

Armed intruders generally fit into two basic categories - individuals who are armed and make threatening statements indicating harm, and those actually shooting, referred to in law enforcement as "active shooters", and the line between the two is very fine and fragile.

Armed but Not Shooting

Staff should know that when faced with an armed intruder who is not yet an active shooter, there are few hard and fast rules. While easier said than done, maintaining one’s composure is the best first step. Under stress, rational decision making is difficult, so it will be critically important for staff to stay as calm as possible and look for ways to engage the intruder in conversation and find some area of commonality. If there is a face to face encounter with the intruder, building rapport may buy time for law enforcement to arrive. If students are present, a staff member’s calmness and stability will be reassuring. Speak in a normal but low tone of voice. Maintain eye contact but do not stare.

Staff should be instructed to make all decisions based on the premise that the armed intruder intends to use the weapon. However; attempting to disarm or attack the intruder should be a last resort relegated to when it appears failure to do so will result in someone being injured or killed.

Active Shooters

For the active shooter, staff should be instructed to take whatever action necessary for the protection of self and others in the immediate vicinity. Staff will inevitability ask if this means confronting or attacking the intruder and, if so, how? The answer should be that the decision to physically engage an active shooter is a personal one that must be made on all known facts at the time, and staff should use whatever means are available. While it is not advisable for districts to provide training related to physically engaging armed individuals, interested staff can be referred to groups offering such service.

Training Students

Discussing the same topic with students poses a completely different set of problems. Some parents will object to the training believing that directing a student to physically engage an armed intruder would increase the chances of not coming home from school safely. And, while school shootings do occur, they are still relatively rare and many in a community will believe training students in that manner of response is an over reaction.

Generally speaking, students should be told that during emergencies and crisis situations, they should follow the directions and actions of school personnel. If a teacher or other adult is not present when an armed intruder is nearby, students should either hide by concealment or, if possible, flee.

Parents and Law Enforcement

Parents should be informed related to what children are being told on this topic. In-place sheltering drills, which provide an opportunity for staff and students to practice procedures for when an intruder may be on the campus, will be an opportunity for teachers to have an age appropriate discussion with students on the topic.

District administrators should also have an open and frank discussion with local law enforcement on what staff and students are being told to do in the event of an armed intruder. Their input and expertise will be critically important.

In the end, most will agree on a set of parameters and, in some cases, parents will continue the dialogue at the dinner table.

Student Threats of Violence

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Assessing Students Threats of Violence - A School's Responsibility

Hardly a month passes without a student somewhere in the United States being arrested or detained for making a serious threat of violence against individuals at a school. So what is a principal to do when aware of a possible threat of violence made by a student or students?  

First, administrators should be aware that in 2002 the United States Secret Service and Department of Education published two critically important books related to assessing student threats of violence and a summary of those findings are included in this article. There were ten key findings related to student threats and each finding has implications for school personnel. 

  1. Incidents of targeted school violence at school are usually not sudden or impulsive. 
  2. In most incidents, the student made some type of verbal or written threat to others. 
  3. Most attackers did not directly threaten a target individual. 
  4. No accurate "profile" exists. 
  5. Most perpetrators exhibited some type of behavior prior to the incident that indicated a need for help. 
  6. Many attackers had considered or attempted suicide. 
  7. Many of these students believed they had been bullied. 
  8. Access to weapons was readily available.
  9. In most cases, other students were involved.
  10. Most shootings were stopped by someone other than law enforcement.  

If those are the key findings then what are the implications for school administrators? 

Fact:  The attacks were usually the end result of thinking and the development of a plan.  

Administrative Implication:  The time span between the decision to attack and the actual event may be short in duration, so school personnel should act quickly and decisively.  

Fact:  In most cases, other persons knew of the impending attack.

Administrative Implication:  Principals should encourage all students and staff to be a part of the prevention process. This can be done through conflict mediation, character education, and other programs with an anti violence theme.  

Fact:  Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly.

Administrative Implication:  Principals must help others understand the difference between making a threat and posing a threat. Principals should also remember there is a difference between a serious threat and a serious discipline violation.

Fact:  School personnel should not profile students.

Administrative Implication:  Rather than trying to decide whether or not a student is capable of violence, principals should focus on behaviors and communications to help determine if an attack is actually being planned.  

Fact:  School personnel should determine whether or not these students have posed a threat prior to the current incident.

Administrative Implication:  The principal should compile a comprehensive listing of the student’s previous behavioral patterns.  

Fact:  More that ¾ of the school shooters had suicidal thoughts.

Administrative Implication:  The principal should determine whether or not the student has had a recent loss or perceived failure.  

Fact:  Bullying and perceived victimization is often a problem for perpetrators of school violence.

Administrative Implication:  Principals should work with teachers and counselors to develop bullying prevention programs at all grade levels.  

Fact:  Almost 2/3 of the perpetrators had access to weapons.

Administrative Implication:  The principal should communicate to parents that the access to weapons is a critical part of the investigation.  

Fact:  In over ½ of the incidents of school violence other students were involved.

Administrative Implication:  The principal should speak with friends and acquaintances to determine the perpetrator’s thinking and possible preparations for the attack.  

Fact:  Most attacks were stopped by someone other than law enforcement.

Administrative Implication:  Principals should help to develop preventive measures and written protocols for responding to threats of violence. 

For further information on this important topic we would direct you to the Secret Service and Department of Education publications entitled, The Final Report for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States and Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates. Both of these documents can be ordered from the Secret Service at no charge to the school. Both books are well written and easily read – all the while providing invaluable information that all administrators should know.

Bringing New Staff 'Up to Speed' on

Dennis Lewis
Date of Post
Sep 27, 2009

Bringing New Staff Up To Speed On Safety

With the beginning of each school year administrators all across the country provide orientations, professional development opportunities, and assistance to new employees as to the way "we do things around here". These procedures include, but are not limited to student attendance, computerized record keeping, school improvement plans, master schedules, lunchroom procedures, etc.

Granted, all of these are critical functions in the secondary schools of today, but administrators should reserve ample time on their orientation agendas to discuss specific matters related to student and staff safety. And, it is equally as important to involve support staff, as they will have roles and responsibilities during an emergency. Among topics that should be reviewed and discussed with all staff should be relocation sites and evacuation procedures, in place sheltering procedures, access control, supervision, and crisis management plans.

In addition to the aforementioned, individual schools or districts may have other information considered "critical" to new employee orientation. If so, this information needs to be included, as well. But as all good teachers and principals know, "Teaching is not as simple as just telling". Consequently, it will be necessary for this group of new employees to reassemble mid year to discuss and review these same topics. And just as importantly as the orientation itself, principals should retain a copy of the agenda for the purpose of documentation.

  • The teacher handbook will contain pertinent safety information. While it is the expectation that teachers will read it, principals should not assume such. Rather the first faculty meeting should be used in part to thoroughly discuss the critical parts of this document, which will effectively outline an administrator’s expectation for staff behavior. Teachers should be expected to put into writing that the handbook was thoroughly read.
  • Certificated staff need to understand the administrator’s expectation for planning for substitute teachers. These instructions should include seating charts, adequate lesson plans, attendance procedures, a listing of potentially difficult students, a listing of students that can normally be depended upon for appropriate behavior, emergency flip charts, and procedures for building evacuation, classroom first aid supplies, severe weather, and sheltering in-place.
  • Administrators should provide to the teaching staff a safety checklist for teachers to use as they prepare individual substitute teacher folders. While most schools currently limit access within the school during the day, staff need to be informed of their responsibilities related to this practice. All staff can help in this endeavor by informing visitors and guests that they are to enter using specific entry points, as well as to check into the office immediately upon arrival to the campus. Additionally, all new employees need to receive instructions in how to approach individuals safely and effectively when it appears that they are on campus without following building procedures.
  • All staff should understand the procedures followed in the event that the school has a need to in-place shelter students. These procedures can be nerve rattling during an actual emergency even to the seasoned veterans. Principals should emphasize that staff may have to take initiative under certain conditions with little or no communication from the office. Most Crisis Management Plans include provisions for at least one relocation site in the event that the school becomes uninhabitable during the school day. New employees need to be knowledgeable of these sites, as well as have the opportunity to review the procedures used should relocation actually become necessary. Evacuation procedures should be explained, including procedures for when students are at lunch or assemblies, as opposed to when they need to be evacuated from the classroom setting.
  • All new employees should receive a copy of the Crisis Management Plan. Depending upon the specific position of a support staff member, he/she may not need a complete copy of the plan, but should still receive general information. Additionally, if the school uses a "flip chart" in addition to the more comprehensive plan, the components of the chart should be reviewed and discussed. Remember, for first year teachers coming out of the university this will be a new experience.

Administrators know the importance of adequate supervision. Staff should be made to realize that it takes everyone working together to monitor students and their activities while on campus. The supervision of students is especially critical between classes, lunch hours, and before and after school. In addition, it is always a good idea to discuss staff supervisory expectations for chaperoning dances or when students are at school activities away from the campus. Don’t forget that support staff is a part of the school’s valuable group supervision plan and expectations and limitations should be made clear to them, as well.

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