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As we experience some of the most intense challenges our country has ever faced, students are watching. Now, educators across the US are tasked with explaining dramatic events as tensions unfold in real time. This article shares resources for how to navigate these issues and support your students.

The dramatic events of Jan. 6 and their continuing fallout demand sustained and careful classroom attention from teachers. But there is no complete roadmap available to them yet.

What makes teaching about the insurrection on Capitol Hill especially complicated is that it’s not a spontaneous event, but rather the product of multiple factors and trends: political polarization, a disintegrating news infrastructure and the rise of social media, a backlash to recent discourse about criminal justice, and racism, among many things.

Nor were the day’s events entirely without historical precedent. Disputed elections have occurred at several points in American history, and there has been at least one other attempted insurgency.

It’s OK not to have everything all figured out immediately, said Emma Humphries, the chief education officer at iCivics, the civics curriculum provider and advocacy group. At least in the beginning, teachers should trust their instincts and take steps to make sure students feel safe. But longer term?

Read this full article in EdWeek: How to Teach the U.S. Capitol Attack: Dozens of Resources to Get You Started

As we celebrate this unusual holiday season and prepare to welcome a new year, we are finding new, creative ways to virtually connect with our families, friends, and school communities.  The following survey shows that students are asking for more ways to connect with their teachers- and school leaders are listening.

Middle and high school students say that they’re not doing as well in school as they were before the pandemic, and that they want more opportunities for connection with their teachers, according to new research from the National Education Association and the National PTA.

The survey, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research in October, asked 800 public school students ages 13-18 about the academic, emotional, and economic effects of COVID-19 for themselves and their families. Researchers also conducted focus groups with the teenagers.

Read this full article in EdWeek: Students Want More Opportunities to Connect With Teachers During the Pandemic

Teachers are utilizing grief training to help students bearing tremendous amounts of grief and trauma.

During a standard history lesson this year, a student in Alexandra Hinkson-Dutrevil’s fourth grade class spontaneously burst into tears and revealed that his young cousin, who lived with him, was on a ventilator after having contracted Covid-19.

The student then revealed to the class on Zoom that he and the rest of his family had to leave the home they shared with the cousin in Frederiksted on the U.S. Virgin Islands to quarantine and that he wasn’t sure he would ever return to his home or see his cousin again.

Under normal circumstances, Hinkson-Dutrevil would have taken the child aside or referred him to another staff member so she could continue her instruction. Instead, she let the student finish, abandoned her lesson and began a discussion allowing other students to discuss their emotions about the pandemic.

It was a strategy she learned in a grief training program for teachers that she took a few weeks previously.

Read this full article on NBC News: How grief training is helping educators manage pandemic-related trauma in schools

 

It took four months to plan, write, field, analyze and prepare the final summary, but through the hard work of students and faculty from Boston University, in partnership with our team, we are excited to share this report with you.

We can boil down the results of the State of School Safety 2020 survey and report to this: we are headed in the right direction.

When we first set out to report on the state of school safety in 2018, the world was a different place. In the wake of the Parkland school shooting, educators were grappling with safety threats but lacked resources, parents were hungry for details about plans, and students demanded to be heard. Communication about school safety was sparse, and parents and students were not confident in their schools’ safety preparedness.

In 2019, the State of School Safety report showed a continued disconnect among stakeholders about school safety. Educators felt more prepared than students and parents. Students still felt they did not have a voice in school safety decision making, and parents and students sought increased communication about plans and protocols. Parents and students were unsure how to access mental health experts in their schools. However,educators and parents both felt a sense of optimism that schools have the expertise to improve school safety, and educators showed a deeper understanding of the role mental health plays in school safety.
Results of the State of School Safety 2020 report indicate we have come a long way in three years. Not only have we increased understanding among all stakeholder groups, we have fostered a more proactive culture of comprehensive school safety awareness and saw educators enhance the safety of their schools through easily accessible improvements. While we love seeing the impact of our work, there is still much more to do.

As you dive into the report, you will see we delivered it to you in a more visual format, which we hope will make it more accessible to all members of your community. We also divided the results across our framework for comprehensive school safety, making it easier for you to parse out feedback for various members of your safety team.

The strides we’ve taken are worth recognizing, but we must stay vigilant in our cause – school safety is not an item you can ever cross off your to-do list. The more we learn and as threats continue to evolve, we must stay alert, committed, and invest in all areas of school safety.

The first day of school is special in so many ways. The energy, enthusiasm and excitement as students enter the doors of the school is palpable. The crispness of waxed hallways, fresh paint and eye popping “Welcome Back!” bulletin boards bring a sense of renewal after the summer break. On those first days, I hope you take a moment and hit the “pause button” – if only for a few seconds – step back, listen, watch. In that moment take stock of the relationships inside your school. It is the people and those relationships that makes your school a special place for teachers to teach and students to learn. As the new year begins, it is those relationships that will ultimately define the quality of the education and personal growth experienced by each student. It will also be those relationships that define the culture of your school.

Over the years I have observed a number of great strategies to build and grow the relationships needed to influence and sustain a strong school culture. Below are three of my personal favorites you may want to consider as the new school year begins.

Front Porch Visits: One of the most impressive relationship building strategies I have encountered as both a parent and school administrator is the utilization of “front porch visits” by classroom teachers prior to or shortly after the start of the school year. I love the terminology, unlike a home visit, which can be intimidating and inconvenient for some families, the “front porch visit” is exactly as the name implies. The teacher schedules a time to drop by and have a visit sitting or standing outside the front door as opposed to going inside the home. This simple gesture of good will brings down barriers and gives teachers the opportunity to start building a relationship with the children and parents early.  It also gives teachers a chance to see first-hand where each child is coming from before entering their classroom each day. That experience alone not only builds relationships, but also provides perspective.

Every Kid, Every Day: Over the years I have been in many meetings where the question has been asked, are we sure every student in our school has a meaningful relationship with an adult in our school? We know it is important, but also know it is easier said than done. One of the best programs I’ve seen in my career was at Eastmorland Elementary School in Joplin, MO. The staff wanted to be sure their kids had adult relationships inside the school beyond just the classroom teacher. Eastmorland’s solution? They identified all the adults in the building (Cooks, counselor, nurse, secretary, remedial teachers, custodians, principal, etc.) and assigned each adult a small group of students for the year to connect with on a daily basis. If nothing else, just to say, “Hi! How are you doing today?” This proved to be impactful to build a stronger sense of community inside the school.

Student Empowerment: As adults, we want to be empowered to make decisions and be a part of the problem-solving process. Our children and youth are no different. Service learning – hands on, curriculum based, student led, service projects grounded in relevancy – is a powerful tool to prepare students for the future. Your community wants and needs to see our youth problem solving and leading the way. And yes…even kindergarteners can be engaged and empowered. The schools with the strongest cultures have student empowerment built into the culture of their school and continuously seek out ways to keep students engaged in the school community.

Without question, you and your colleagues profoundly impact our children and families. It may sound cliché, but it stands true – your work makes a difference. It’s the development, management and engagement of those relationships that light the way to an outstanding school year.


About the Author:

CJ Huff is the retired Superintendent of Joplin Schools and Special Advisor for Education and Community Leadership at Safe and Sound Schools.

Last year, we released our first State of School Report, a national survey which aimed to shine a light on several school safety issues communities face. Our survey included perspectives from parents, students, educators (teachers, administrators, staff, mental wellness professionals, and SROs), and the general public.  

We found there was a sizable communication gap between educators and other stakeholders (parents and students in particular) and that students were dissatisfied with their school’s current safety conversations and actions. These findings helped initiate some very important conversations in our schools and we are eager to continue our discussion as we looked towards our follow-up survey conducted earlier this year.  

In the State of School Safety Report 2019, we followed up on the progress our school communities have made, but also aimed to discover new patterns that point to where we are falling short at the national level. We found there are still issues pertaining to the communication gap between educators and other stakeholders, with 60 percent of students feeling like their concerns and feedback are not being considered. Students also believe their school has an illusion of safety, which results in a false sense of security –with educators feeling largely split as to whether they agree or disagree with that assessment.

One of the most interesting findings we uncovered centered around the different perceptions between stakeholders, regarding mental health experts and education. We found that “80 percent of educators knew where to find mental health experts in their school, but only about 50 percent of parents and students did.” This statistic, and many others, indicate to us that there is still a lot to discuss when it comes to communicating with our school community about safety and resources. To read a summary of the research or the full report, download the report here: https://www.safeandsoundschools.org/research/.

We’d like to thank Bark for its generous donation that helped fund the Safe and Sound Schools team’s time to review results, coordinate external reviews, and prepare the final report.

Please share this report with your community to get the conversation started!

 

Safe and Sound Schools is proud to participate in Teacher Appreciation Week. In honor of this week’s celebrations, we’re turning the spotlight to recognize our very own, Michele Gay. Many of you know Michele as one of the founders of Safe and Sound Schools – and of course, mother to Joey, Marie, and Sophie. What you may not know is that prior to founding Safe and Sound Schools, Michele taught in the Maryland and Virginia Public Schools, where she served as both an elementary classroom teacher, a mentor teacher and a peer coach.

Q: What inspired you to get into teaching?

A:  It was my family. I grew up in a family of educators.  My father was a school counselor. My mother was a teacher and principal. As a kid, I marveled at how hard my parents worked. Too hard, I thought!  But the impact they had on so many children and families was undeniable. It was inspiring. It tugged at my heart until I found myself working with children as a high school student and ultimately deciding to pursue a teaching career myself. The real clincher was the students themselves. Once I saw what they had to teach me, how exciting it was to watch a new skill take hold or a new idea light within their eyes, I was done. Teaching was it for me!

Q: What were some of the most rewarding aspects of being a teacher?

A:  The time I got to spend with so many incredible young people was undoubtedly the most rewarding part of the job. Every day was an adventure. Every child was uniquely gifted and challenged. It was incredible to be a small part of the journey of so many amazing people.

Q: What is one your fondest memories as a teacher?

A:  My fondest memories are of laughing with my students. The science experiments gone awry, the unexpected answers, the serious moments that turned into unstoppable giggle-fests, the unscripted moments of kids being themselves–they were the best.

Those moments where a hard-earned victory was achieved top the list, too.  Like when the furrowed brow of concentration on a child’s face gave way to the beaming excitement of discovery or long-awaited accomplishment. Nothing’s better than watching someone learn that they CAN do something they thought impossible.

Q: What was your biggest challenge as a teacher?

A:  Time. Without a doubt. There was just never enough of it to meet all of the goals and objectives on the list for each day, plus the grading, and the testing, and the meetings, phone calls and continuing education. Like lots of teachers, I’d trim time off of my lunch, stay late after school, and still have to bring work home. Don’t get me wrong–I signed up for it. All of it! But I always wished there was more time for relationship building, teaching, and listening and learning from one another in every school day.

Q: Teachers can change lives. They play pivotal roles in shaping minds and inspiring their students. Can you tell us about a teacher that made a lasting impact in your life?

A:  There were quite a few. “Miss Terry,” my third-grade teacher always comes to mind first.  After a really rough second grade, I landed in her class and was greeted with the immediate comfort of a safe place.  She created an environment where it was okay to make mistakes, ask for help, laugh out loud, and most importantly, to admit when you were wrong. She modeled all of those things for us every day. She gave us all that we needed to learn–and then she got out of the way. I continue to go back to those lessons throughout my life as a teacher, a mom, a wife, and an advocate.  

Q: You’ve transitioned from educating children to educating an older crowd as part of your work for Safe and Sound Schools. What aspects from you career as a teacher do you use in your work today?

A:  See answer above! Seriously, I am lucky to work with the most dedicated people you can imagine.  Teachers, school staff, police, fire, emergency managers and responders, school-based mental health professionals, architects, community leaders, parents, and students–and on and on–that want school to be the safe place it has to be to serve our students and the future of our country.  My work today is really just another kind of teaching. The students are much bigger and the conversations are a bit more complicated, but we are working together to solve for safety. My job is simply to guide the process and see what kind of amazing things they come up with.

I had the privilege recently of returning to work with a group to whom I delivered a reunification workshop for a few years ago. I still cannot get over how much incredible work they have done since our workshop together. I just provided the training, tools and a little inspiration. Everything else was all them.  And judging by my recent visit, they are only just getting started. If I hadn’t chosen teaching all those years ago, I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to step into this new role and move forward from tragedy in such a positive way.

The decision to become a teacher has been a blessing many times over in my life. Today, it gives me great appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the educators I work with, and deep gratitude for the teachers who have touched and shaped my own children’s lives.  


Teacher Appreciation Week is observed from May 5-11 this year. Please take some time to recognize the teachers in your community – click here for ideas and facts.

On behalf of everyone at Safe and Sound Schools, we’d like to thank all teachers for their outstanding contributions and efforts to educate, inspire, and keep our kids safe and sound.

 

By: John McDonald, Executive Director for Security and Emergency Management, Jefferson County Public Schools, Colorado

Now that school is underway and teachers, students, and staff are settling into their new routines, educators have a responsibility to foster a proactive healthy awareness of school safety. From my years working in security and emergency management, particularly my years in the Jefferson County school district in Colorado, I have developed a quick back-to-school safety checklist. These are the first-five items we tackle at the beginning of every school year.

I hope they are helpful to you, as teachers, staff, and administrators, in setting the tone for the new year. And if any parents or students are reading this, I encourage you to share it with your school. I wish you all a productive, smart, fun, and safe school year.

As soon as you can (as close to the first day as you can make it), every student needs to be taught what your emergency protocols are in the school. What is lockdown? Where is the evacuation area? What is expected? And if you are in a school where students change classes, you should review exits and protocols in every class as circumstances may change depending on the physical layout.

Reconnect with your Police and Fire Department to talk strategy and expectations during emergencies. While you are at it, find a time for your local emergency management personnel to talk to the rest of the school and parent community, too.

Challenge students to find one act of random kindness they can do. When you see something positive, find a way to reward them or lift their actions up. This sets the tone for a supportive and inclusive environment, which not only promotes learning, it makes our schools safer, too.

Double check that every classroom is clearly numbered on the inside and outside. If you know where you, then first responders will more easily know how to get to you. Make sure you have a “go” bag of supplies in case you need to evacuate quickly. It’s also a good idea to restock some supplies in the unlikely event you need to shelter in place.

Schedule – and then conduct – a lockdown drill in the first month of the school year. Take your time and do it right. Stop timing the drill. Use the time to train for success and survival. This is about your life and the life of students and staff. Make it count.

Hear more from John about his experiences in this video interview.

While schools are among the safest places for young people in our society, the recent mass shootings and school shooting in Benton, Kentucky, can increase fears and safety concerns for children and parents.

While the odds of a child aged 5 to 18 years being the victim of a violent death at school are extraordinarily low, it can and does happen. Consequently, it is important for parents to have guidance on how to address such events with their children. Adapted from guidance we have developed for the National Association of School Psychologists, in this blog we offer some of our thoughts on how parents can support their children when they ask questions about school violence.

Develop and Foster Resiliency

Proactively developing resiliency can help your child develop resources needed to cope with trauma exposure. Internal resiliency can be promoted by:

  • Encouraging an active (or approach oriented) coping style (e.g., helping others, taking action to help yourself)
  • Teaching your child how to better regulate their emotions and solve problems
  • Providing your child guidance on positive, healthy ways of coping
  • Fostering self-confidence and self-esteem by building upon your child’s strengths
  • Validating the importance of faith and belief systems

External resiliency can be promoted by:

  • Facilitating school connectedness and engagement in school and community activities
  • Facilitating peer relationships
  • Providing access to positive adult role models

Provide a Safe Place to Talk

Next, let your child know you are willing to pay attention, listen, and without forcing them to do so, talk about school violence. Protect your child by answering questions truthfully and providing reassurance that adults will take care of him or her. When providing facts about school violence, avoid providing any unasked-for details that might increase fears and emphasize actions adults and their school are taking to help keep them safe.

Build Community Connections

Connect your child to others by engaging the assistance of your child’s teachers, a school psychologist, coaches/mentors, friends, and neighbors. Spend extra time with your child and encourage engagement in familiar routines and activities.

Take Care of Yourself

It’s important to be aware of your own emotions, and while it is okay to show some emotion, it is a problem when adults lose the ability to regulate their emotions or fears in front of children. Especially for youth in preschool and primary grades, this makes a situation seem more frightening. If you are struggling to cope with the reality of school violence, reach out to others with similar experiences, or seek professional help. Taking care of yourself, will help you to better care for your child.

Increase Self-awareness and Understanding

It is important for your child to learn how to identify and manage fear and anxiety related emotions. You might tell your child to listen to their body’s “alarm system.” Help them to understand that stress reactions can help to keep them safe from physical and emotional harm in a dangerous situation, but when danger is not present such stress is not helpful. Enlist the support of a school psychologist to help your child regulate emotions such as anger, anxiety, and fear.  Development of these skills empowers your child with knowledge that they have control over their emotions.

Build Confidence

Encourage positive messaging by helping your child to assert: “I am strong,” and “People care about me.” Help your child to understand that while they may not have complete control over their circumstances, they do have some control over how they respond to the situation and how they seek support. Review safety protocols their school has in place and what they can do to get to a safe location if there is a concern. Refer to Developmental Levels of Safety Awareness for information on providing such guidance.

Increase Empowerment through Engagement

Let your child know that his or her voice matters.  Help them find a way to be a part of the solution and a true stakeholder in safety.  Younger children may enjoy starting or joining a Safety Patrol at school, while middle and high school students may take a greater leadership role by starting or joining the Safe and Sound Youth Council  in their school.

Seek Help

If your child is distressed, keep in mind that recovery is the rule. However, if stress reactions do not begin to lessen after a week or more, consider seeking the help of a trained professional such as a school psychologist. This is especially important if your child has ever been directly exposed to an act of violence or has lost a family member.


Dr. Melissa Reeves is the Immediate Past President of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and a speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools. Dr. Stephen Brock is a former President of NASP and speaker and advisor for Safe and Sound Schools.