Florida school shooting underscores need for new PD

By: | March 9, 2018

After February’s deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, there was no shortage of suggestions for improving school security, ranging from adding more guards to arming teachers.

One area not widely addressed, however, is how to prepare teachers and administrators psychologically for dealing with a crisis. For example, although teachers practice active shooter lockdown procedures, how should they respond if they lock a classroom door and hear a student in the hall calling for help—do they risk the safety of other students to bring the child in from the hall?

And once they decide, how do they live with their choice?

Unfortunately, not much is available in terms of social-emotional PD for educators in crisis planning, says Amy Klinger, director of programs for The Educators’ School Safety Network and professor of educational administration at Ashland University.

“So much emphasis has been reactionary—on guns and metal detectors—but there needs to be a discussion about investing in people” says Klinger. “We need to shift the conversation to educators as first responders, because they are.”

Although much of the focus has been on active shooter scenarios, educators also need to consider preparation for extreme weather events, student suicides, bus accidents and other more likely—yet traumatic—situations.

Empowering responders

It’s important to provide emergency-related PD to every employee in the building—not just the principal—because there is no way of knowing who will have to respond in a crisis, says Klinger. The Educators’ School Safety Network offers emergency operations planning on its website (eschoolsafety.org), including active shooter preparation, threat assessment and management resources.

Empower teachers by tapping into existing caretaker skills, Klinger says. “We’re not saying stop being a teacher and start being a security guard” she says. “We are saying we can take what you do as a teacher and make it work for threat assessment and violence prevention and crisis response.”

Teachers mostly request training that focuses on identifying and referring threats. They then want to know how to add appropriate supports to intervene on that path to violence, says Klinger.

Navigating the aftermath

The National Association of School Psychologists’ PREPaRE curriculum (DAmag.me/prepare), designed for school-based professionals, focuses on crisis prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. In-service PD is also provided.

Any crisis-training PD has to be addressed from different angles, including having a detailed recovery plan, says Stephen Brock, a nationally certified school psychologist and an author of the PREPaRE curriculum. The caregiver component of the PD should help educators cope psychologically with traumatic events.

“The goal of the training is preparing them to take care of others, but really, there’s nothing wrong with the idea that the training is also taking care of the caregivers themselves” says Brock.

Taking care of teachers first sets the path of the entire school community’s recovery. “The students and parents will say, ‘Yeah, this is bad, but look at the principal and the teachers. They have a plan, and it’s clear they’re following it,'” says Brock. “Suddenly, the perception of the event and the problems it’s generated become less severe, less overwhelming and less unsolvable.”