One of the smartest, least costly and most effective things we can do to improve our school’s level of safety is train our students to report concerns to an adult.
There are a number of reasons students fail to report concerns, even those that frighten them. According to a 2008 study, often termed the Bystander Study, here are the reasons:
They do not know how to report
It’s vital that we explain our procedures for reporting so students know how to do so. This might be a conversation with a trusted staff member, a text-line, or a simple suggestion box near the counselor’s office.
They don’t know whom to contact with concerns (this goes for parents as well)
We need to make it clear that students (and parents) can contact any staff member in the building and that their concerns will be relayed to someone who will take them seriously and look into the situation. Of course, this means that we need to cultivate a climate of trust and follow-through in our schools. And, we need to train our staff to be responsive to concerns and follow reporting procedures.
They don’t know what to report
We need to make it clear to students, staff, and parents that it is not their job to decide whether something is serious, dangerous, or feasible. It is their job merely to report concerns and allow the adults to investigate. In addition, we want to teach everyone in our school community to honor their intuitive sense that something might be “off” or “doesn’t seem right”.
They thought they had more time
A number of students who were interviewed following school attacks reported that they saw or heard something of concern, but believed they had more time to consider what to do about it.
They dismissed the concerning words or actions of someone because that person talked about such things often, or over an extended period of time
We know a lot more than we did 15 years ago about the planning involved with school attacks. It is not uncommon for someone to leak their intent for days, weeks, months or even years before they carry out their plans. We need to be sure our students, staff and parents understand this critical point.
They witnessed a concerning behavior or comment in the presence of a staff member
Warning: this one might make you squirm a little. Following several school shootings, students reported that staff members were present when the perpetrator spoke of shooting, killing, violence, bombs, or weapons. In at least one case, the perpetrator gave a speech in class about bomb building. Others submitted papers, art, or video projects with a violent theme. The students said that they assumed the staff member had the situation under control and would act on it. It goes without saying that we need to train our staff to know what to look for and how to act on concerning behavior.
If you haven’t already done so, it’s time to talk to your students, staff, and parents about their respective roles in school safety. This would be a great place to start.