In Part One, I discuss my initial reactions to the Parkland, Florida shooting. I touch on how teachers are prepped for active shooting scenarios.
In Part Two, I discuss how teachers can be “on the first line of defense” without stepping between students and bullets. I recommend reading about restorative justice in schools.
In this section, I plan to look at a few exceptionally foundational ways to combat violence and especially mass shootings via community creation, teacher support, and updated school resources. If you are interested in reading more about restorative justice in schools, I’d encourage you to check out “The Cult of Pedagogy” podcast and resources like this one. The following list is in no way complete, and many people have similar ideas. If you have ones you’d like to see added, let me know!
I am coming into this article with this understanding: no one wakes up one morning with a completely new decision to kill people in a school. No psychologically sound child with no past of violence would do that. Students who feel loved, safe, and welcome would not do that. As such, what I am going to suggest and build into my own classroom are ways to create community in a school and keep kids safe.
There is no way for teachers to go into the homes of every child and save them from hunger, abuse, neglect, misunderstanding, narcissism, etc. We cannot adopt them all – as much as we may want to. However, we can use our position as a teacher and mentor to act when we know something is off – because more often than not, those gut instincts about kids and their lives is right. By using our voices – such as in the following options – we can actually make these acts of violence and climaxes of pain go away.
Meeting Each Child’s Basic Needs:
Behavioral psychologist Maslow states that before anyone is able to learn, feel acceptance, or have self-esteem, their basic needs of food, water, and shelter need to be met. Too many of the children in our schools are homeless, coming to school hungry, or feel afraid in their homes because of a family member or other threat. We can be that child’s first line of defense by encouraging the schools to adopt free breakfast programs. Did you know if the breakfast meal is different than the lunch meal, students on free and reduced lunch can eat both meals for free or discounted rates?
- We can also work to remove the stigma of buying lunch from the children. I have heard stories of children being turned away at lunchroom cash registers because their parents forgot to update their card or send them with money. The fault of that should never fall to the child and should certainly not result in them throwing away the meal. If you as a teacher see this happening, a conversation needs to take place with your administrator.
- Weekend food programs created by the community can ensure that students who are eligible for free and reduced lunch go home with something to eat on the weekends. One way to make sure students aren’t looked down on for this is keeping the meals in a guidance office and in inconspicuous bags or totes.
- Asking parents to donate a box of granola bars throughout the year to keep in your classroom would let students who come to school hungry anyway have a way to eat something during the day. Hopefully this does not have to come out of the teachers’ pocket, but it’s frankly a cost I’m willing to front if I need to.
- Support legislation like Mckinney-Vento which ensures busing for students who are homeless but want to stay in their current school for the rest of the year, as students who move frequently are more likely to feel disconnected from the community and do more poorly in school.
Before Restorative Justice can take place to combat an offense that has already taken place, the culture of the school needs to already be there. Students have to be able to see things from other students’ perspectives, want to repair the harm they caused, and hope to regain the trust of the community. Spending time at the beginning of the year in homeroom, in your classroom, and as a whole school can help create this feeling of community.
- You might want to consider saving the first few days of each semester as all-school focused days where students mingle with one another, play ice breaker games, and have their first community circles. As a teacher in a school where this is not in place, maybe you want to avoid getting into the curriculum until the second week of school, spending the first setting expectations, sharing stories about yourself, helping foster the community, and letting kids get to know one another. There are lots of great icebreaker games out there!
- Why is this important? If a student knows the community, knows the people, and most importantly – knows you, the teacher and mentor, he or she will be much less likely to feel out of place. The building of community could create a community where bullying is rare if ever present, and they will also have the tools to deal with it when it occurs. And since so many mass shootings in schools are in the spirit of retaliation for some wrong – bullying or otherwise – things like community circles, get-to-know-you activities, and more could actually save you, your classroom, and those students who might otherwise turn to violence.
Having resources in place to combat violence before it ever happens is another way that you can stand on defense for your students. Specifically designated areas for general counseling, for psychological therapy, and for community building would be ideal, though I believe, realistic as well.
- Easily accessible areas for counseling and psychological help could both make known students whose primary needs are not being met, but could also work towards understanding students whose mental health might give them a higher likelihood of acting violently. Counselors and mediators trained in restorative justice practices could address bullying problems, trauma counselors could point students towards community resources, and a school psychologist could reach students who are in trouble. Maybe if some teachers had pointed the shooter at Parkland towards a psychologist, perhaps we would not be mourning 17 deaths today.
This is a longer post than I thought it would be, and like I said, this list is in no way exhaustive. What I am trying to do, though, is write up what my ideal school would look like. I want all students to come and know that they will be fed, cared for, looked after, and valued. They will be able to reach the resources they need right there in school because they have nowhere else to go as kids. I want all kids to be able to lean on the teachers and each other, create unity and oneness that does not exist right now. Without it, nothing will change.
If you’re a teacher and you’ve read through these three lists and still think to yourself, “nope, I’ve got some bad kids who these ideas wouldn’t work on. I can’t take time away from lessons to do community building. None of this will work:” I’d encourage you to take a look at your career choices and ask yourself if you’re in the right field.