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On the last track, we discussed four steps that can be used to help prevent school shootings. These four steps are, adjusting the radar, school resource officers, leavening social capital and tweaking adolescent culture, and a zero tolerance policy.
On this track, we will discuss four steps that can help encourage students to come forward about threats. These four steps are ensure confidentiality, direct contact between parents and teachers, educational films, and decisive action.
Step # 1 - Assurance of Confidentiality
As discussed on the last track, school resource officers provide an adult students can confide in, and research indicates that the fact that these officers do not report directly to the school increases students feelings that their information will be kept private, and that action will be taken that will not link the tip to the reporting student.
Step # 2 - Direct Contact between Parents and Teachers
A parent without a secure connection to the school may not know who to go to, or how, about a fear of violence expressed by their child. If parents maintain meaningful bonds with school staff, parents are more able to find ways to come forward about a threat in ways that will not publicly implicate their child. In this way, the parent fulfills the child’s need for him or her to “do something” without exposing the child to the risk of being identified as the source, and thus the child is reassured that the parent can be trusted to keep his or her confidences.
Step # 3 - Educational Films
However, frank, blunt, graphic, and accurate portrayals of actual events helps to bring home to students the unhappy message that the threat of school shootings is real. I have found a PBS Frontline special on Moses Lake, and a Dateline NBC program concerning the Jeremy Getman case to be accurate depictions of the terrible cost rampage school shootings have exacted on schools and wider communities. These videos, of course, should be followed by structured class discussions in which students are asked to analyze what they have just seen.
Step # 4 - Decisive Action
School staff should be trained and encouraged to assess the context of words which were spoken as well as the state of mind of the student issuing the threat. At the same time, if a threat is assessed as serious, every immediate action should be taken to protect the student body.
Both students and teachers should be made aware of the FBI research concerning which threats need most definitively to be reported. According to these FBI guidelines, the more specific a threat, the more serious it may be. For example, how would you assess and address a student who says, “Oh man, I’m gonna kill that guy!”? How would you assess and address a student who says, “You’ll see who lives and dies on Monday!”?
Clearly, the former threat is much more likely to be a casual comment, while the latter is more threatening and more likely to require immediate, decisive action from the school staff. Helping school staff learn to make this distinction is, in my opinion, vital, as it helps students avoid the worldview that school life is divided between innocent students and monsters who target them.
As you know, students feel both an obligation to protect the welfare of other students, and a duty to protect friends and peers who say things they don’t really mean. If the system of distinguishing threats is perceived to be fair, students will therefore be less reluctant to come forward.
One additional technique that can be useful was pioneered by Dan Olweus in Norway. Olweus’ program focuses on treating the entire school for a bullying problem, rather than focusing attention on the subset of students who are causing trouble. Clearly, decreasing bullying has many positive outcomes, one of which is reducing the pressure on students who are thinking of reporting a threat.
5 Steps to Treating the Entire School for a Bullying Problem
Think of a school in which you currently work, or to which you consult. How could the Olweus program help students in that school feel more encouraged to report threats issued by a friend or peer?
On this track, we have discussed four steps that can help encourage students to come forward about threats. These four steps are ensure confidentiality, direct contact between parents and teachers, educational films, and decisive action.
On the next track, we will discuss Jack Kelley’s 4-stage model for the phases of a hostage situation. These four phases are the initial hostage taking stage, the crisis stage, the accommodation stage, and the surrender stage. In addition, we will discuss the responsibility of adult caregivers to children during a hostage situation.
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