At PublicSchoolWORKS, we understand the heavy feeling many districts feel of being responsible for creating a safety culture across the district.
Keeping staff and students safe can be like a gray cloud always looming.
This summer, you might be feeling the questions stack up as you think ahead: How can I train staff and educate students effectively while checking all the boxes of state-mandated compliance? How can I track student behavior closely enough to see patterns and respond to warning signs? How can I handle the inevitable incidents that may happen (and avoid as many as possible!)?
Much like the weather, school safety feels hard to predict and impossible to control.
If you start taking small steps toward safety now, you can relieve some of the burden and feel confident walking into the school year. Here are our top 3 summer ideas to make next school year safer than ever:
1. Identify ways to make safety collaborative.
Every burden is made lighter by sharing it. Truth is, the responsibility of safety needs to be felt by every single staff member. A culture of safety is only pervasive when every individual makes the decision to actively promote safety and take their own safety education seriously.
So how do you rally your stakeholders and staff?
We wrote about six ways to collaborate with them—and with students. Practical ideas include leveraging social media, talking through practice scenarios to look for threats, digging deep into your own environment to find “problem areas” before they become problem areas, even bringing students into staff meetings to understand new places/apps/etc. with which students are interacting.
Since every district culture is different, however, make a list of ways you can involve others. Maybe you can even brainstorm ideas with a few other school officials.
2. Create a plan for how to handle incidents.
Planning to avoid incidents is more compelling than thinking about how to handle them. But sometimes, accidents happen. Knowing what you’ll do—and communicating that plan to staff, parents and, when appropriate, students—makes everybody feel safer.
This is especially important in a culture where we see major incidents happening in other schools. Gun violence, for example, was higher in 2018 than it has been since 1970. When a school shooting occurs, even across the country, everybody feels more vulnerable and fearful. Having a plan to address a school shooting or incident at another school is as deeply impactful as knowing what to do if a student is choking.
Every good plan, of course, should include not only a resolution to a problem but a next step to move forward. One way we try to make this easy is by offering 5-minute refresher courses that cover a host of “everyday” incidents, from insect bites to slips, trips and falls. However you choose to re-teach and instill self-efficacy moving forward, summer is the best time to think through your approach without having to be reactive.
3. Take time to educate yourself.
“Time off” in the summer is a bit of a misnomer; “time that’s different” is more accurate. There’s still much work to be done, but school administrators tend to be less tied to a student schedule. This means there’s a chance to create space to read about schools who have had success in streamlining safety management or preventing student crises, and how they have built a culture of safety. There is likely an opportunity to look up other administrators in your state and share challenges and success stories.
If ever there is a time to ideate proactively, it’s summer.
So make a list of three people who have handled safety really well. And three people who have had to deal with incidents beyond their control. Take them to lunch. Then incorporate their good ideas into your plan and share it with your team.
If your students feel safer than ever next year, they’ll be better equipped to learn more productively than ever, too.