The recent tragic school shooting may leave students and staff with feelings of helplessness. It can be helpful for students to send letters of condolence to the people affected by a tragedy. This is also a time to direct actions in a positive way, so that students’ feelings may not be expressed in a way that hurts themselves or others. Remind each child and each adult that everyone has a role in maintaining the caring climate of the school. Here are actions for children, youth and the adults who work with them can take to improve the safety of their learning community:
• Address name-calling and bullying directly. Both students and staff can say clearly that name-calling and intimidation is not appropriate 'in our school.' Staff can help to change the climate of harassment by giving positive attention to the person being bullied. Publicly and directly tell the person who has been bullied that what happened to them was not ok, and check to see if there is any assistance you can give them. After an intervention with name-calling, acts of intimidation or harassment, check back in with both the person who was harmed and the person who did the harm to see if the offending behavior has stopped.
• Use formative or restorative discipline to address rule violations. For some students the news may trigger memories and feelings of past pain or traumatic experiences (the same may be true for adults) and those feelings may be expressed through rule violations. While inappropriate behavior must be addressed, using discipline that teaches empathy, helps students repair the harm they have caused and associate power with kindness and helping, will help support behavior change while taking into account their experiences. In some instances, a mental health response is appropriate to help the student. View the Handbook for All Educators as well as other resources on the PREVNet website.
• Listen to expressions of feelings with care and concern. If a student or an adult says they are thinking of harming themselves or others, tell a trusted adult. As a student, ask an adult to help you talk with the person who is talking about hurting themselves or others. As a staff person, work with student support staff, administration, and local mental health programs and law enforcement to determine the seriousness of the comments.
In spite of incidents like the one that happened recently, schools remain one of the safer places a child or adult can attend in our society. By working together, and supporting one another, parents, students and staff can be make the school safe for everyone.