School security and the teacher’s role

June 10, 2021

Daniel Bal

On April 20, 1999, 2 gunmen made their way through the halls of Columbine High School. The actions of those 2 individuals sent shockwaves throughout the nation, the hardest of which were felt by those students, teachers and community members who called Littleton, Colorado home. The ripple effect of that incident thrust school security into the national spotlight as administrators, community members and lawmakers began to review and create safety protocols to help prevent future shootings. As we entered the 21st century, it became imperative that students and teachers felt safe as they walked through their school doors each morning. As new policies are continually developed, educators find themselves playing a significant part in the development and execution of safety measures, fundamentally altering various aspects of the teaching profession.  

Although school shootings have been occurring for some time, the frequency of what have been coined  “rampage shootings” has heightened fears regarding school security, thrusting the issue into the mainstream and leading to an increased need to evaluate safety protocols. While students’ safety is a vital aspect of the educational environment, it is also crucial to define teachers’ roles to better prepare them to be key participants in the effort to keep schools safe.  

In order to be an effective educator, teachers need to adapt to meet the needs of our evolving society. The hopes and fears of students change on a daily basis, and it is their teachers who are right beside them as they grow and it is crucial that teachers help students learn the appropriate safety measures. Teachers have become first responders, necessitating additional training to prepare them for any conflicts that may arise.  

Teachers’ roles 

Education is not only about absorbing knowledge and teachers need to be the driving force in developing students’ characters.  Schools should provide students with opportunities to lead, follow, win and lose. By focusing on the following areas, teachers have the ability to help promote the development of positive character traits that can help limit aggressive behavior. 

Prioritization  

Teachers’ primary responsibility is to educate, but personal and interpersonal growth are close seconds. When students are aware that teachers are supportive of and include them in creating a positive atmosphere, the result is a healthy environment of inclusion that revolves around respect, responsibility and community. Ultimately, teachers should cultivate a learning environment that highlights the integral part character plays both in and out of the classroom. 

Relationship building 

 The classroom should play a significant part in developing the growth of positive relationships, both between students and between students and teachers. Students who feel detached or withdrawn often isolate themselves, which can exacerbate negative attitudes and lead to aggressive behavior. Teachers should focus on developing a positive environment by encouraging trust, respect and open communication. In order to create such an environment, teachers need to make sure students understand that they are the main stakeholders in their education – they are not simply vessels to be filled with knowledge. By finding a balance between respect and authority, teachers can positively influence the development of their students. 

Intrinsic motivation  

When performance is intrinsically motivated, students typically are driven by their accomplishments. By integrating programs that help encourage self growth and goal setting, students are more likely to avoid impulsive behaviors and instead evaluate the impact of their actions on their own future success. When teachers understand what drives their students and cater their lessons to those interests, students become more invested in their education.  

Modeling 

When teachers model acceptable behavior, students learn from their example. Although this tends to be more effective in the younger years, it is beneficial for those in a position of authority to behave in the way they would expect from a student of any age. However, if a student actively ignores modeling behavior, discipline can be necessary. 

Empowerment 

When students are provided with the opportunity to participate in leadership roles within their school or community and have a voice in their academic development, they take ownership of their education. Teachers can drive this type of empowerment by providing opportunities for students to be placed in positions of power. When given the opportunity, students can certainly rise to any occasion. When they feel they are an indispensable part of their educational experience, they respect that experience.  

Teacher training  

Teachers are no longer simply academic educators but counselors, motivational speakers and confidants. Now, more than ever, teachers are also protectors. The weight placed on a teacher’s shoulders can be overwhelming and they need as many tools and resources as possible to successfully meet the needs of their students. Effective training is critical in helping teachers recognize and respond to threats. The Department of Education finds it crucial that everyone working with children plays a role in their protection. Teachers must be able to recognize threats, provide proper guidance should an attack take place and appropriately respond and address issues in the aftermath. 

Preparation 

Providing teachers with guidance on how to recognize potentially problematic behaviors is critical. Professional development that gives counselors and school security officers an opportunity to train teachers to recognize warning signs and how to defuse a potentially problematic situation is crucial in the prevention of conflict. Teachers also need to know how to handle these situations delicately and make sure any issues remain confidential. Ultimately, recognizing the signs of trouble and providing that information to the correct individual is essential in the prevention of school security issues. Teachers need to be mindful of all of their students and it is vital that none fall through the cracks. 

During the incident  

Depending upon the situation, teachers must be trained how to protect their students should a crisis take place. Providing detailed instructions on what to do will help teachers maintain order at critical moments. Should you stay where you are? Where is the closest exit? Are all of your students accounted for? The more tools and knowledge a teacher has, the stronger their ability will be to properly analyze the situation and make sound decisions to protect their students.  

Response 

Upon returning to class after any sort of conflict, teachers need to know if and how they should respond. Does it warrant a class discussion? Would it be beneficial to open up a dialogue? Typically, administration will provide guidelines explaining how teachers should handle the return to the classroom. However, it is vital for teachers to continue to monitor their students’ reactions. In doing so, any concerns can be passed on to the appropriate person. 

Closing thoughts

Schools are still statistically recognized as one of the safest places for children. Although it is necessary for teachers to prepare for the worst, awareness and support are the areas where teachers have the most impact. They are in the classrooms and so have the best chance to recognize even slight changes in a student’s behavior. Being in the trenches is one of the most advantageous aspects of being a teacher where safety is concerned. Security guidelines, procedures and protocols are all necessary to provide a safe learning environment, but it’s the presence of the teachers and the way they communicate and connect with their students that creates a safe haven for both social and academic development. Students want to matter, have agency and be heard and teachers are often the unsung heroes who listen. 

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