Shootings Bring More Questions Than Answers: How Can Educators Move Forward after Students Are Killed at School? Start by Trying to Regain Some Semblance of Control

By Fagell, Phyllis L. | Phi Delta Kappan, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Shootings Bring More Questions Than Answers: How Can Educators Move Forward after Students Are Killed at School? Start by Trying to Regain Some Semblance of Control


Fagell, Phyllis L., Phi Delta Kappan


In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, teachers, principals, and superintendents everywhere have questions. "We're expected to play so many roles these days, from social worker to parent to nurse, and now we're expected to be human shields," one teacher says. "I run through scenarios. I visualize blocking my students by standing between them and the locked closet door, but then I get stuck thinking about the playground. What do I do if we need to run away and one of my students lags behind? Or if a student cries when she needs to be silent?"

Another teacher says she loves working with kids, but she can't stop thinking about active shooters. "I fear for my students, and I'm also concerned about my six-year-old son. Multiple times a day, I think, 'Is he safe?' "

A principal wonders whether he should reevaluate his safety procedures. "Some schools have the works--metal detectors and security guards and teachers trained to use guns. All I have is a secured main entrance and a few cameras. How do I know what's enough?"

Another principal worries that his drills aren't realistic enough. "I don't really want to have simulated gunshots and powder in the air and kids playing dead while armed officers storm the building, but that's what some schools are doing. Where's the line between adequate preparation and unnecessarily putting everyone on edge?" he asks.

Then there's the superintendent who wants to be a reassuring leader but doesn't want to seem disingenuous. "How can I comfort my community while conceding that we can never be entirely safe?" he says.

Educators want to know how to manage uncertainty and helplessness after a trauma. How can they carry on when their reserves are down? Leaders want to tamp down everyone's anxiety, but they also want to make sure they're prepared for the worst.

There are more questions than answers, but we do have good research on stress. Sonia Lupien, director of the Center for Studies on Human Stress, in Montreal, developed the NUTS model. For something to be stressful, it has to contain novelty (something new); unpredictability (no way of knowing it could occur); threat to the ego (feeling your competence is questioned), and sense of control (feeling you have little or no control in a situation).

School shootings have all these elements. Stress also tends to spill over from adults to kids. When teachers have difficulty coping, their behavior may become unpredictable, and that can produce more anxious students.

So how can educators soothe themselves and others? …

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