What Really Keeps Us Safe

What really keeps us safe

With the recent violent events in the news, questions are bound to surface about what really keeps us safe. It’s enough to make our heads spin, keep us up at night, and second guess the safety measures we’ve put in place in our schools and workplaces. Events like what happened in Las Vegas can make many of us throw up our hands and wonder, “how can we possibly prevent something like that?”

After every incident of targeted violence, we learn a little more about how to protect ourselves and those for whom we are responsible. We do need to keep our doors locked and have consistently enforced check-in procedures at our entrances. We need to pay attention to who is in our buildings and be willing to question those we don’t recognize or who exhibit signs that they don’t belong there. We need to practice drills for all different types of emergencies, have a solid emergency response plan and effective communication system. We need to learn warning signs and have a process for intervening when we see them. Nothing has changed in that respect.

But there is one thing we come back to again and again.

It’s what really keeps us safe.

Relationships. Listening and taking concerns seriously. Paying attention and noticing when someone is struggling. Creating a welcoming and positive school climate. Stopping bullying, harassment and disrespect in its tracks.

These are not the glamorous, novel, or shiny new strategies. They are not the latest in technology or must-have safety gear.

But, they are what matters most.

After every mass shooting or incident of violence between individuals, we find someone who is unhappy, angry, feels dismissed or has suffered at the hands of someone else. When we dig deeper, we find that the person has often been in turmoil for a significant period of time and feels that no one is listening or helping to resolve the situation. We see the bullied and the bullies. We see those with a grievance who feel dismissed or disenfranchised. We find individuals who are at the fringes of the groups to which they want to belong. We see sadness, rejection and anger, and often an inability to make things better.

A sense of belonging is at the very root of human existence. Without proper bonding and positive interaction, infants fail to thrive. When children are neglected, they fall behind both socially and academically. When teens feel alone and unwanted, they become depressed, suicidal, and turn to all sorts of risky behaviors. When teens and adults have felt this way for years, they either turn the overwhelming feelings inward or outward. Often, they do both.

The best way to prevent this is to take a hard look at what we’re doing to build positive connections and an inclusive environment. We must look at this from the perspective of those we serve…our students. We may have programs in place that we believe address all of our school climate concerns, but if students don’t feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and concern from our staff and each other, we’re not doing the job as well as we think we are. If you need help finding a tool to assess how students perceive the school in these respects, take a look at this compendium of surveys or put together some focus groups and study the issue. Then, work together with all stakeholders to change what needs to be changed, and continue to monitor and evaluate until students and parents tell you that you got it right.

Achievement Despite Trauma

I often hear from educators that the number of students in their schools affected by traumatic life experiences is climbing. How do we bring out the best in these students, and help them find success and achievement, despite trauma?

It begins with an understanding of how trauma affects the brain. When a child is suffering from the aftereffects of trauma, his or her brain is in often in fight or flight mode. When the trauma continues over time, this pattern can become chronic. It becomes difficult to learn when our brains are in this state. Learning, memory, emotion and language skills are all affected.

If we can begin to calm the brains of trauma-affected students, we may have a chance to help lower this barrier to learning. One strategy includes teaching mindfulness to our students. When we are truly mindful and present in the moment, we can begin to leave the fight or flight response behind, if only for a few moments. That may be long enough to refresh the brain.

All of our students can benefit from daily breathing, stretching or yoga breaks to relax their bodies and minds. Some students have a low threshold for triggering fear, or shutting down and tuning out. Creating safe spaces in our schools and classrooms can provide a respite from the stress, overload and confusion that these students experience.

Consider creating a corner of the room where students can go to calm themselves. If you can block off an area with shelves and add soft furniture, pillows, fabrics, tactile objects and dim lighting, students can give themselves a break when needed. You can work out a system where either you or the student provide a cue that it’s time for a sensory break. A great benefit is that this helps the student learn to self-monitor and head off a more intense response by acting preventively.

For some additional resources on supporting kids who’ve suffered trauma, check out NEA’s Teaching Children from Poverty and Trauma handbook. One great tip is to greet each student authentically. If you haven’t already seen it, this video of a teacher in North Carolina is a great example of doing just that, and it will make your day.

Thinking about training your school staff in safety practices and behaviors to watch for?

For a limited time, you can get a free preview to see if the online Everyday School Safety course is right for your school. Contact me before March 5th for a free preview voucher.

Principals’ Top 7 Goals for the New School Year

Principals' top goals for the new school year

It’s nearly the end of July, with the start of another school year just a few weeks away. Along with the excitement of the new school year, administrators are very busy making preparations.

Here are principals’ top 7 goals for the new school year, as outlined in education journals:

  1. Motivating teachers
  2. Improving morale among staff
  3. Building a team atmosphere
  4. Creating excitement for learning
  5. Increasing parent involvement
  6. Creating a positive school climate
  7. Ensuring that the school is a safe place to learn

If you’re thinking about improving any aspect of your school’s safety, I would love to talk with you.

Here’s why

I’ve worked successfully with schools nationwide to help them to significantly improve their safety plans and I’ve provided students, staff and parents with highly effective safety awareness training. I’ve also established and trained violence threat assessment teams, with outstanding results.

I limit the number of schools I work with so I can provide individualized and highly targeted services to meet each district’s specific needs.

Because of this, there’s a limit to the number of schools I can work with. The reason I am writing to you, is that I have just 3 places 2 places available, starting in September. If you’ve been thinking about proactively improving safety in your school, I’m here to help you.

To find out more or secure 1 of the 2 remaining places, get in touch using the contact form here or call me at 505-313-1092. I’m happy to answer any questions you have. To avoid disappointment, get in touch as soon as possible.


Taking another look at school climate


This morning, I was disheartened to read about two high school runners being disqualified for helping another girl who had fallen, cross the finish line.  According t0 the article, the students violated a high school league rule prohibiting the helping of another student.

I understand that rules are typically put into place for very good reasons, but we may want to take a second look at what this one teaches our youth.  If we want to improve our school climate, we need to look critically at the way things are, and the way they have been.  We need to focus our efforts on changing some of the rules according to what matters most…treating people kindly, helping others, and doing good deeds.

Making Your School Safer With Limited Funds

Making your school safer with limited funds

Those of us who work in schools are intimately familiar with the process of pinching pennies. Educators routinely tap into their personal reserves to provide much-needed supplies for students. They often dig into their own pockets to provide snacks and lunches for students in need. They cover field trip costs without complaint. Educators are accustomed to hearing, “that’s a great idea, but where are we going to get the funding to implement it?”

Making your school safer with limited funds

It is with this reality in mind, that I want to talk about where we invest our limited dollars to help make our schools safer places for our students, staff and parents. There is a lot of talk these days about training staff and students on how to respond in an active shooter situation. I support training and drills. They are paramount to school safety practices. When under duress, we experience physiological symptoms that can render us unable to think quickly, thereby necessitating a conditioned response. I strongly believe drills and response protocols are a critical component of any school, home and workplace safety plan.

But, when we have limited funds and can’t cover all the bases at once, where should we start? Consider this: even though mass violence is on the rise, school shooting attacks remain rare. The chances of your school being involved in one are roughly 1 in 50,000.

However, research shows that a safe and positive school climate fostering communication, relationships and a sense of belonging improves academic performance, reduces risk factors and minimizes problem behaviors. This is something everyone benefits from on a daily basis.

The keys to building positive school climate are getting all staff members on board, implementing positive, asset-building programs and having a process in place to identify students and staff who need social, emotional and psychological assistance. Beyond that, we must facilitate help for individuals who need it so they can rise out of a place of struggle, frustration, anger and depression. It is those very feelings that nearly always precede acts of violence, from bullying to verbal harassment to an after-school fight to a full on attack of the school community. By addressing the needs of individuals with empathy and crafting a plan to resolve the difficulties, we will make our schools much safer for everyone, every day of the year.

“Seems like every other day, lately…..”

preventing school violenceLately, I’ve heard people talking about the stream of shootings on college campuses and in public places. Yes, it does seem like it happens frequently. Or, are we just becoming more aware of it? Probably, a little of both.

When I think about this, I feel outraged, saddened and sometimes helpless. Then, I remember what my work is all about. I know that there are some things we can control and some we can’t. When it comes to preventing school violence, we can control at least three things:

  1. We can create an environment that is welcoming and supportive to all who spend time in it. This means taking an honest and difficult look at the realities of our school climate, from the perspective of the students.
  2. We can learn about the warning signs of violence, suicide and other destructive behaviors and make sure our entire staff knows them.
  3. We can develop a process for identifying and assessing students, staff, parents and visitors that exhibit behaviors of concern, and follow up with intervention.

Of course, we’ll never be able to control or stop everything that the complexities of human behavior will bring our way. But we can ensure a safer environment for everyone in our schools by getting these three things right.