Teachers' Preparedness for High School Crises
Teachers' Perceptions of Their Preparedness for High School Crises
Teachers’ perceptions about their preparedness are thought to influence schools readiness to handle crises. Thus, the collected data guides in answering the main research questions of the study which border on: teachers’ perceptions about their preparedness and readiness in responding to a crisis in a high school, the type of training offered/ required by the school system/school for crisis management, teachers’ perceptions of crisis management training they have received at the school, teachers’ perceptions of their role as crisis managers, and type of crisis the teachers have been involved in and their reactions. The findings are thus arranged based on the above questions given that they are used to generate five themes namely: teachers’ perceptions of preparedness and readiness, type of training by school system, teachers’ perceptions of their role as crisis managers, types of crises teachers are involved in alongside their reactions, and barriers to improved school crisis management.
Before engaging participants on deeper aspects of the study, they were asked to define a school crisis. Responses demonstrate unanimity that events disruptive of school harmony qualified to be crises. Participant 1 for instance, observed that, “a major one is a gunman in the building, maybe a medical crisis where a student would pass out or is ill”. For participant 2, a crisis occurred if, “teachers, staff, and students are in danger for their safety”. Participant remarked that, “anything that could disrupt the normal day, dismissal policies or class change policies” constituted a crisis.
Teachers’ Perceptions of Preparedness and Readiness
In order to understand the extent to which schools are prepared the views of the teachers involved are required. To this end, the participants of the study were asked to assess the effectiveness of the school’s emergency drills in order to understand its level of preparedness. The respondents thought the drills had a positive effect although they dreaded them. The position was supported by the respondents` high level of confidence as they indicated that they had some sense of control although they were unsure about their safety. In particular, the participants felt helpless were they to encounter tornadoes or shooting incidents. One respondent observed that the absence of metal detectors hampered the effectiveness of the school’s efforts to mitigate crises.
The school was ahead in terms of policy guidelines on crisis control. Policies and procedures posted across the school are the main exemplifications of preparedness. Participant 1 remarked, Well, I know our policies and procedures. They’re posted around the school, they’re on the share drive …”. Participant 3 was more direct by saying, “Ah, I feel pretty prepared for the tornadoes, fire drill, we practice those on a regular basis”. The presence of practice lockdowns also highlights the state of readiness to handle emergencies involving guns. Teachers are also allowed to exercise their discretion in disarming students or confiscating items that they think might be harmful. Through experience sharing, teachers also manage to increase their level of preparedness.Special attention is also paid to constantactive trainings on crisis management. According to participant 1, new teachers took part in active shooter training. The school also ran active lockdown drills which they carried out on a bi-annual basis. In the event that a crisis happened, teachers were expected to ensure the safety of their students, and they were prepared to implement safety measures. Participant 2 claimed, “I definitely don’t remember everything but I’m pretty calm under pressure and can, you know, be patient and delegate as needed”.
Participant 2 indicated her willingness to put her life on the line to protect others, in addition to discussing safety procedures. The participant also confided that there was a SharePoint in each classroom detailing school crisis intervention procedures. In addition, the teachers were required to remain calm under pressure. It is also evident that new teachers were taken through active training. Apart from being well prepared for tornadoes having engaged in routine fire drills, the respondents felt that practicing crisis response across a variety of scenarios would improve their overall level of preparedness. Participant 6 observed, “So we do a lot of training in emergency situations”. Thus, the participants felt a gap existed in the school’s safety preparedness practices. Despite the array of activities, the respondents recognized the reality that none would ever be fully prepared for disasters. Among the issues that the participants identified to have been covered are: health concerns (diabetes, seizures, and allergies), response policies and procedures and training in regard tocrisis management. Availability of such items as first aid supplies, backpack supplies, Ids, and flashlights highlight the degree of preparedness within the school. Participant 7 however claimed no training exited by claiming, “There wasn’t any training”. The limited number of years working as teacher explains the discrepancy given that he had only a year’s experience.
Type of Training by School System
Training plays a major part in influencing preparedness inaddressing crises. Hence, the researcher sought the participants`perceptions regarding the type of training that they received. The responses highlighted active shooting, fire drilling, tornado, and inclement weather. Despite the significance of the knowledge obtained on the above, there was a lack of training on evacuation in case of bomb or chemical attacks. Participant 2 said, “I think in their manual, there is an evacuation process”. The participant further observed that at Dagwood High School, newcomers had to participate in active shooter classes. Participant 4 was however more skeptical about the training level although the second respondent indicated that she had receivedthe required training. The fourth participant posed, “As teachers, I feel that we lack training in counseling skills in how to deescalate the situation, how not to say something inappropriate to the shooter, student, or whoever it is”. The observations were informative given that in some situations, the responders escalated situations instead of calming them. The first respondent observed that the ACT QUICK method was appropriate in de-escalating situations. The findings demonstrate discrepancies in the level of training aimed atmitigatingcrisis situations.
The findings from the interviews are also informative about the perceptions oftraining. Although the participant 1 agreed that preparations existed, she felt itwould be betterif the drills were to be clearer by identifying a commander, emergency centers, and related aspects. Similarly, the respondent felt that in case of active shooting training, learning alongside apolice officerwould be helpful. Participant 3 reported that a fire drill was conducted once a month, and tornado drills three to four times a year, and the active-shooter training was conducted a couple of years ago. Although the efforts are commendable, the respondent was of the view that conducting active shooter series alongside students would improve the method’s effectiveness. In particular participant 3 retorted, “If were better trained on the counselor side of it as to what to say and what not to say, that would be a really good thing”. In brief, the training bordered on tornado drill and fire drills, active shooter, and inclement weather drills. The respondents agree that the training is informative although some improvements are required such as varying circumstances, and a more active involvement ofstudents.
Teachers’ Perceptions of Crisis Management Training
Crisis management training is critical towards the enhancement of the chances of achievingpositive results. From the focused group discussion, the participants (1-4) felt that both practice and training were influential factors. However, working across different schools complicates responses given the differences that exist. In order to overcome the obstacle, participant 2 in the group discussion indicated that training provided to teachers on safety manuals upon joining schools was critical to enhancing the level of preparedness. Preparations are improved by taking teachers through the manuals other than requiring them to go through them on their own. Maturity was also critical as pointed out by participant 4 although the first participant supported the position having observed that regardless of one’s experience, responses differed greatly. However, all the respondents were in agreement that experience played a significant role in improving the overall ability to handle crises at school. They also observed that schools would benefit fromtraining their teachers on safety measures rather than just giving them manuals to read.
Based on the face-to-face interviews, the training can be improved to meet the crisis needs. The participants acknowledge the presence of a crisis plan although the first one feels that it is not harmonious. According to participant 1, some parties were ahead of others in the understanding of the arrangement. The participant highlights cases where some stakeholders such as the school principal do not know the codes, which are vital tothe safety process. The essence is that each person should know the procedure. However, she acknowledged that the employment of active shooter lockdown, weather drills and fire drills were the main events of preparation. Participant 1 is quoted observing, “I feel like the school does an adequate job in preparing us for typical emergency situations, fire drill, tornado drills, and we practice the lockdown drills”’ The respondent felt that having a well laid-out plan such as a planning layer would help in improvement of the crisis mitigation measures. In such a way, each teacher would be allocated witha spot where to locate them, thus, guaranteeing the safety of each one of them and their students. The participant underscored the need for carrying concealed weapons by some trained teachers. Revisiting the location of buildings to allow students to have easy exits in case of crises, book shelves positioned to disguise the presence of students were also required.
In order to enhance the skills of teachers, especially new ones, they were taken through the school procedures to enhance their knowledge on tackling crises. However, the schools lacked measures on hazardous spills, chemical contamination, or death of a major school member. Nevertheless, the school had Code Yellow to cater for unanticipated events within the institution. Participant 3 observed, “We do have I think Code Yellow where if there is going to be an ambulance or emergency personnel in the building for whatever reason”. Despite the measures, the respondents acknowledged that in the event of an attack, confusion would be witnessed partly because of the mild nature of the school’s preparedness.
Teachers’ Perceptions of their Role as Crisis Managers
Having established that teachers are among primary responders, the researcher pursued the issue further with the intention of understanding whether they were the first responders, like policemen. Using a chemical spill at the school as an example to understand the institution’s preparedness, the participants understood that they did not have the right equipment. Participant 1 looked uncertain, “I would think if we had a chemical spill, we would lockdown in here and not go outside”. Further, the case of a student with a firearm demonstrates that the railroads are an obstacle to emergency plans. A train, which had stopped, blocked the entry for the police, thus complicating the exercise. Participant 2 capture the event, “We later found out that we were blocked in by the railroad because a train had stopped”. Given the difficulty involved in getting the police to the school site, the view that teachers should be treated as first responders, by being trained to handle such situations, gets support.
Experience is gained from the number or scale of crises that one is involved in. In this regard, the respondents were tasked with enumerating their encounters. Whereas participant 1 had zero encounters, participant 3 had experienced a tornado and severe storms. The second and fourth participants had been involved in many emergency cases. Participant 4 remarked, “I will probably say 10 ranging from students threatening ...”. Despite acknowledging the value of experience, the second participant observed that each new incident proved to be scary. The possession of basic skills such as reading perpetrators`mind is critical. Having a positive relationship with students is also important when mitigating crises. Moreover, the respondents raised some barriers that compound problems when redressing emerging issues. The participants identified the presence of a counselor, the exhibition of sobriety, referral services, and constructive communication as major elements of demonstrating a successful response to school crises.
From the interviews, the overriding theme was that the involvement of teachers was minimal or non-existent. The position is supported by the finding that participant 1 was unaware of teacher-involvement in crisis management consultations or plan development. The participant felt that involving teachers would be useful in bringing in an additional dimension by introducing first-hand experiences in resolving problems. By virtue of their position as persons present at the target scenes, teachers are, and should be treated as first responders. The second respondent corroborated the first one’s observations that the teachers’ opinion did not matter as they were not involved in devising strategies or plans. The latter was clear that their involvement in meetings would help improve the plans given that they were firsthand witnesses of emergency situations at school. In order to make the process more participatory, the second respondent proposed changes to the strategies to address existing inadequacies such as replacing the issue of lining them in a room to shutting them in a closet. However, other participants expressed another opinion. The third participant observed that they were involved in the revision of the crisis plan and procedures, signaling a shift towards the acceptance of their participation in the exercise. Participant four also indicated that the teachers were involved in the preparation of plans although they were ill-prepared to take part given the absence of prior communication that they would play a role. However, the respondent observed that at the district level, involvement was nonexistent. The position is corroborated by the fifth participant, who enumerated many instances of non-involvement. The remaining respondents were unaware of involvement having had a limited time working at the school. From the above, involvement yields mixed results as some are involved while others are not. Nevertheless, it is held that lack of adequate involvement is likely to hamper the chances of success of the readiness initiatives.
Types of Crises Teachers are Involved and Reactions
From the focused group discussion, the study findings show that the respondents believed that their schools were prepared but were not adequately ready given that they did not factor in emotional, health-related, physical obstacles (such as railroads) and actual readiness to crises. Participant 4 indicated, “I’m asking myself “what do I do” because I don’t know how to deal with that type of stuff”. Handling chemical spills and responding to armed students were some of the concerns the respondents have been prepared to address. From the face-to-face interviews, the respondents have dealt with many crises. Such include: gunmen in a building, medical crises, possession of hard drugs, suicide attempts, lockdowns, students carrying firearms, tornados, murders, bank robbery within aneighborhood and physical confrontation between students. The respondents indicate the reactions to crises vary slightly although following the laid down procedures is the hallmark of all operations. In practice, teachers are expected to do primary activities to ensure their safety before communicating with the police to take over.
Many teachers except the newly employed (up to one year of experience) underwent training. From the face-to-face interview, training is carried on active shooter drills, inclement weather drills, fire drills, policies and procedures, diabetes, seizures, and allergies. Changes were also factored in the drills, given the unpredictability of attacks (alterations are made from classrooms to cafeterias, for instance). Teachers also reacted by invoking lockdowns by locking doors and windows, before entering a closed closet. Despite the realization that no individual claimed to be fully prepared, the teachers were expected to exhibit calmness under intense pressure.
Barriers to Improved School Crisis Management
Despite the presence of plans to mitigate crises at school, certain impediments undermine their efficacy as identified by the respondents. Communication was singled out as an issue of concern. In crisis situations, things escalate as communication protocols are broken or do not exist at all. It is also a concern when a teacher, who is supposed to communicate, is taken hostage. Additionally, having information about students’ off-school engagements such as being a witness in a case or thetarget of anattack would be helpful in planning for eventualities. In this regard, administrators are put on the spot for their failure to share information regarding students at risk. Participant 2 in the group discussion observed, “Better communication about those things would be very helpful”.
The absence of a clear chain of command, given the confusion about who to report to in crisis situations, was a major concern as highlighted by the third respondent.The fifth respondent disagreed having observed that the command chain was clear. The 3rd participant identified time as a barrier, and the need to involve parents when doing active shooter drills as obstacles for having an effective preparation.The third respondent corroborates the views of the participant 1 and 2 from face-to-face interviews and those taking part in the group discussion that communication is also an obstacle.
Existence of blind spots such as lack of information on entry and exit is a problem as teachers misunderstand building layouts. The fourth participant identified budgetary constraints (lack of phones and computers, thus, teachers are forced to use personal items) asimpediments to the implementation of safety measures. The participant also cited complacency as an obstacle given that teachers did not welcome suggestions on how to perform the exercise once they were in their respective classrooms. For the 7th participant, complacency as well as attitude towards drills and training was an obstacle. “He observed, Probably the biggest barrier would be my own personal attitude and other people having the same attitude, a complacency and just not watching like we talked about somebody walking down the hall that doesn’t belong”. For readiness plans to succeed it would be necessary to tacklethe above and related barriers.
The study results show that a gap existed in the schools’ safety preparedness practices given the continual practising of drills in similar scenarios. Besides being well prepared to handle tornadoes, fires and related emergencies, the respondents felt that practising crisis responses across dissimilar circumstances would improve their overall level of preparedness.The paper also identifies that teachers are critical to the success of crisis response mechanisms. Being first on the line of assault, they should be viewed and trained as first responders. Additionally, the research statesthat experience was a major element in safety given that the seventh respondent with the least number of years in service seemed to have been less informed and worst prepared to tackle the issue of crisis management. On the contrary, the fourth respondent, with thirty years of experience, stood out given the depth of the answers he gave regarding crisis management. Form the findings, it is observed that teacher’s perceptions relate to their ability to respond to and handle crises in the school.