Tag: school shooters

Teaching in the Age of School Shootings

Teaching in the Age of School Shootings by Jeneen Interlandi

What happens to teachers who are forced to act as first responders?

Jeneen Interlandi in The New York Times. All annotations in context.

Teachers were the first responders. Before police officers and medics arrived, they gathered sobbing, vomiting, bleeding kids into the safest rooms they could find, then locked the doors and kept vigil with them through the stunned and terrified wait. They shepherded the injured to hospitals in their own cars. And they knelt on the ground with the ones who were too wounded to move, stanching blood flow with their own hands and providing whatever comfort and assurance they could muster.

How do we prepare teachers (and students) for this sort of trauma? How do we prepare teachers (and students) to be first responders? Should we have to worry about this?
It’s important to think about the stats of these events.

For all of the fear they inspire, school shootings of any kind are technically still quite rare. Less than 1 percent of all fatal shootings that involve children age 5 to 18 occur in school, and a significant majority of those do not involve indiscriminate rampages or mass casualties. It has been two decades since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold ushered in the era of modern, high-profile, high-casualty shootings with their massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. According to James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, just 10 of the nation’s 135,000 or so schools have experienced a similar calamity — a school shooting with four or more victims and at least two deaths — since then. But those 10 shootings have had an outsize effect on our collective psyche, and it’s not difficult to understand why: We are left with the specter of children being gunned down en masse, in their own schools. One such event would be enough to terrify and enrage us. This year, we had three.

It’s important to recognize the trauma that exists even if there is only a “threat” or a “hoax.”

Teachers are at the quiet center of this recurring national horror. They are victims and ad hoc emergency workers, often with close ties to both shooter and slain and with decades-long connections to the school itself. But they are also, almost by definition, anonymous public servants accustomed to placing their students’ needs above their own. And as a result, our picture of their suffering is incomplete.

We know that the trauma that teachers experience after a school shooting can be both severe and enduring. “Their PTSD can be as serious as what you see in soldiers,” says Robert Pynoos, co-director of the federally funded National Center for Child Traumatic Stress, which helps schools coordinate their responses to traumatic events. “But unlike soldiers, none of them signed up for this, and none of them have been trained to cope with it.” We know that teachers who were least able to protect their students in the moment tend to be especially traumatized. “For teachers, the duty to educate students is primary,” Pynoos says. “But the urge to protect those students is deeper than that. It’s primal.” And we know that their symptoms can include major sleep disturbance, hair-trigger startle responses and trouble regulating emotions.

Perhaps the roles and relationships of teaching are also changing.

Jenny Darnall decided to re-evaluate her understanding of what it meant to be a teacher in the first place. She had never been particularly compassionate with the students. The way she saw it, her job was to educate them, not give them advice they should be getting from their parents. But now, she felt as if God were telling her to step up and do more: Call parents more and tell them the hard truths she might normally expect them to discover on their own. Talk to the kids more too. Tell them that they are loved, even when they’re being terrible. Those things did not feel like part of her job. But maybe now they would have to be.

Many questions exist about how to follow-up after these events. Perhaps we have the wrong goals.

From the inside, a mass shooting can feel distinctly unchartable. But Reed — and Pynoos, and Melissa Brymer, his colleague at the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress — say that while each school shooting is different in its particulars, several features are common to all. For example, Brymer says, it can be the secondary trauma that undoes a school’s recovery. “After a shooting, everyone wants to talk about how to find the next shooter so that this doesn’t happen again,” Brymer says. “But that’s not what the school itself needs to focus on. We’ve had suicides, car accidents, overdoses.” For a school that’s already traumatized, she says, these follow-up events can be incredibly devastating.

Brymer advises schools to conduct mental-health screenings before anniversaries, to find the people who are struggling most and help them. The hierarchy of hurt can split in surprising ways. For the most part, people closest to the carnage are the most traumatized, and people farther away are less so. But any teacher might be plagued by any number of things, including what they saw and how they responded in the moment. One educator might flee the building in a panic, leaving his students behind, only to be devastated by guilt afterward. Another might behave heroically, then seethe with resentment over not getting enough recognition. Each will need counseling and support to fully recover.

Teachers (and students) need to recognize that they are struggling and in trauma.

Brymer advises schools to conduct mental-health screenings before anniversaries, to find the people who are struggling most and help them. The hierarchy of hurt can split in surprising ways. For the most part, people closest to the carnage are the most traumatized, and people farther away are less so. But any teacher might be plagued by any number of things, including what they saw and how they responded in the moment. One educator might flee the building in a panic, leaving his students behind, only to be devastated by guilt afterward. Another might behave heroically, then seethe with resentment over not getting enough recognition. Each will need counseling and support to fully recover.

A common lament among educator-survivors is the way that personal boundaries shift within the school community. Abbey Clements, who taught second grade at Sandy Hook, says that after the shooting, she would take her entire class to the bathroom at the same time, so that no one would have to leave her sight. But as they drew their students close, she says, she and her colleagues distanced themselves from one another. “You’re afraid that if you start talking about your own trauma, you might trigger someone else’s,” she says. “You’re also afraid of looking weak or unstable, afraid you’ll be asked to leave or take leave if you admit how much you’re struggling.”

As a result, many teachers bury their fear and anger and guilt, until it changes into something else entirely. The question of where to erect a memorial, or when to take one down, can create fierce divisions. So might similar questions about how long to allow comfort dogs on campus, or what to do with the mountain of gifts and condolences that pile up. Students may come close to blows over whether to discuss the shooting during class time. Teachers may feel close to doing the same. “It’s not all ‘Kumbaya,’ ” Clements says. “When the system is cracked by a trauma of this magnitude, a lot of stuff leaks out. It gets messy. And it can change relationships.”

Some real answers.

Matthew Mayer, a professor of educational psychology at Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education, says that among experts the best solutions to school shootings are not really in dispute: basic gun control, more and better mental-health services and a robust national threat-assessment program. We also need to help educators create an atmosphere where students who hear about a potential threat feel comfortable sharing that information with adults. (Many student shooters, including Gabe Parker at Marshall County, hint about their plans to at least one other person or tell them outright. Getting those others to inform teachers is one of our best options for preventing shootings from happening in the first place.)

In February, Mayer and his colleagues circulated an eight-point document titled “A Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America,” which summarized these and other key actions needed to reduce the risk of school shootings. So far, 4,400 educators and public-health experts have signed it. But political will is still missing. “We keep revisiting the same conversations every five or six years without learning or changing much of anything,” Mayer says. “Armed guards and metal detectors make it look like you’re doing something. You get far fewer points for talking about school climate and mental health.”

Predicting Active Shooter Events: Are Regional Homogeneity, Intolerance, Dull Lives, and More Guns Enough Deterrence?

Predicting Active Shooter Events: Are Regional Homogeneity, Intolerance, Dull Lives, and More Guns Enough Deterrence? (ResearchGate)
Research in Crime and Delinquency from Richard B. Duque, E.J. LeBlanc, & Robert Rivera.
Abstract: Based upon a secondary analysis of 2016 General Social Survey (GSS) data, this study identifies regional “Heterogeneity”, “Tolerance”, “Life is Exciting”, “Lack of Confidence in Institutions” and “Gun Ownership” effects related to the frequency of Active Shooter events, which occurred in the United States between 2000 to 2016. For Education Active Shooters, regional homogeneity is related to more tragic events as is less gun ownership per capita. For Workplace Active Shooters, more gun ownership per capita is associated with more events as is regional diversity and tolerance. The findings support calls for arming schools in white, affluent neighborhoods as well as more aggressively profiling, arresting and convicting potential White perpetrators in order to reduce the risk of Education Active Shooters. Meanwhile, stronger gun control measures in diverse and tolerant regions might reduce the incidents of Workplace Active Shooter events. The findings also suggest that organizations should acquire digital “Human Analytics” platforms and programs that integrate internal member profiles, conflict incident reports and culture climate data along with relevant regional and national data like that analyzed in this paper to help alert them to their dynamic Active Shooter risk. Also, re-evaluating diversity training seminars and courses, which often cast teen and middle-aged, White males as historical “villains”, might help address the chronic strain this population experiences at school and at work. Finally, re-evaluating how disassociated White males are treated, as well as expelled/fired from school or work, might also help defuse the “popcorn effect”associated with these tragic events.
 
PDF – Predicting Active Shooter Events

The School Shootings That Weren't

The School Shootings That Weren’t (npr.org)
Anya Kamenetz on NPR’s Morning Edition.
How many times per year does a gun go off in an American school? The reports from the U.S. Department of Education are apparently way off.

This spring the U.S. Education Department reported that in the 2015-2016 school year, “nearly 240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” The number is far higher than most other estimates.

NPR researched these findings by reaching out to the schools and districts with the help of Child Trends, a nonpartisan research organization. They found that more than two-thirds of these incidents never happened.

In 161 cases, schools or districts attested that no incident took place or couldn’t confirm one. In at least four cases, we found, something did happen, but it didn’t meet the government’s parameters for a shooting. About a quarter of schools didn’t respond to our inquiries.

 
Department of Ed officials indicate that they rely on school districts to provide accurate data. This confusion is not helpful as real data about school violence as new school years begin.

Our reporting highlights just how difficult it can be to track school-related shootings and how researchers, educators and policymakers are hindered by a lack of data on gun violence.

Comparisons of these reports call into question how difficult data collection may…or may not be.

For comparison, the Everytown for Gun Safety database, citing media reports, listed just 29 shootings at K-12 schools between mid-August 2015 and June 2016. There is little overlap between this list and the government’s, with only seven schools appearing on both.

 

separate investigation by the ACLU of Southern California also was able to confirm fewer than a dozen of the incidents in the government’s report, while 59 percent were confirmed errors.

It is possible that some of these incidents were listed as “school shootings” whereas they were incidences in which a firearm, explosive, or toy cap gun went off.

There’s also potential for confusion within the CRDC itself. While this particular item refers clearly to “a shooting,” the previous item asks about a long list of incidents, some involving “a firearm or explosive device” and others involving “a weapon.”

Arming Teachers And Expelling Students Is Not The Answer To School Shootings, And It's Dangerous

Arming Teachers And Expelling Students Is Not The Answer To School Shootings, And It’s Dangerous (Learning Policy Institute)

What can we do to end #SchoolShootings? Give students the tools that can help them resolve conflicts peaceably and lead to success later in life.

Post by Linda Darling-Hammond in the Learning Policy Institute blog. All annotations in context.

These social-emotional learning practices have been found in hundreds of studies to reduce negative behavior and violence in schools, making schools safer while also increasing academic achievement. The guidance builds on what we know about how to increase school safety through “conflict resolution, restorative practices, counseling and structured systems of positive interventions.” The guidance also provides research-based resources to address students’ mental health needs, as well as proven practices that make students feel more connected to school and part of a community, so they are less likely to engage in negative and harmful behavior.

 

Indeed, school exclusion, without these supports, can exacerbate a bad situation. In the Parkland case, the fact that Nikolas Cruz had been expelled from school may have contributed to driving an angry young man who felt isolated to take out his frustration and anger by killing students and staff at his former school. In theory, zero-tolerance policies deter students from violent or illegal behavior because the punishment for such a violation is harsh and certain. However, research shows that such policies ultimately increase illegal behavior and have negative effects on student academic achievement, attainment, welfare, and school culture.

 

Numerous studies have suggested an association  between exclusionary discipline  practices and an array ofserious educational, economic and social problems, including school avoidance and diminished educational engagement; decreased academic achievement; increased behavior problems; increased likelihood of dropping out; substance abuse; and involvement with juvenile justice systems. All of these problems are costly to the victims and to our society. They drive up the public costs associated with the aftermath of violence, substance abuse counseling, unemployment or underemployment, policing and the justice system, and much, much more.

 

And in our schools, we need to continue the work done by many states that are pursuing educative approaches to school safety and student success by reducing school exclusions and leveraging initiatives that strengthen students’ social-emotional skills, mental health supports, and sense of safety and belonging. If we genuinely want to ensure safer schools, we should follow the evidence about what works, rather than jeopardizing lives with ideological battles.