We like to consider schools as safe zones, places where children can retain an expectation of safety and protection. Unfortunately, over the last few years our nation has experienced an increase in school shootings.
February 14, 2018, seventeen people were killed and fourteen were injured in a Florida high school. This is the third largest school shooting in America’s history. These tragedies burn into our memories forever. I can still recall the 2007 Virginia Tech and 2012 Sandy Hook school shootings.
You may wonder, “What would I do if I was faced with a similar circumstance?”
There is some debate about what is best to do during a school shooting, but today schools are training teachers and students to run. Follow the school emergency plan and listen to school leaders that you are familiar with.
While this disaster is not easily explained and/or understood, I have found a lesson of inspiration and leadership
A person’s true character is revealed during a catastrophe or tragic event.
There were several outstanding examples of educators with character on this day. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida a janitor redirected more than 40 students away from the shooter and saved many of their lives.
I would also like to highlight three teacher heroes that died protecting students from the shooter. Scott Beigel, a Geography teacher, Aaron Feis, a football coach, and Chris Hixon, the athletic director, died protecting students from the shooter. These three heroes saved dozens of students from gun fire by literally shielding other students with their bodies. I am proud that we have amazing leaders like these in our schools.
I am not sure if this could have been avoided. I do know that there are many hurting people in our schools. There is something that we can do to help those that are hurting in our schools. Here is a Great Article of a teacher that is intentionally trying to reduce school tragedies by understanding the students in a unique way.
Tragedies like these can be difficult to deal with. It is important that we take a moment to reflect on how these events influence and affect us – those both close and far from the situation. Grief is a process. It takes time.
I have experience in dealing with difficult situations in my personal and professional life. For example, many don’t know that I was the target of a potential school shooter that was arrested and is still in jail to this day.
Sometimes events happen outside of school. I remember teaching a high school biology class in Galt, Ca where one of the students I had was suddenly not there one day. This was unusual because he rarely missed class. He was an English Learner and had a quiet sense about him. That night I saw in the news that he had passed away by drowning in the American River. This was difficulty for the school and my class to deal with.
There are times where your students will be affected by life changing events. At William Jessup University a few years ago we had a Student Teacher that had a terminally ill 1st grader pass away. This was difficulty for the school, teacher, student teacher, and the Jessup community.
You can even have things happen to colleagues that you work with. Last year we lost a faculty member at William Jessup University. These moments of mourning are uniquely connected to the human race and we hope that the character development at Jessup has helped to prepare you to steer through this journey of life.
When difficult events happen here are some of my personal tips:
1. Be aware of your own emotional state.
2. Reassure those that you are involved with that it is safe.
3. Only share developmentally appropriate information.
From my own experience traumatic events are unavoidable and unequal in their distribution. Individuals that allow these events to change them mature and adjust to the new state they are forced into. For example, when my father passed away it was sudden and traumatic. That event changed me forever. Luckily, I have a large family that served as a support system. There were two things that I learned from that experience that I would like to share with you:
This brought me closer to Jesus. What does one do without a father? My response was to reach out to my heavenly father. The term “heavenly father” meant something very different to me after my father passed away. For the first time I had to talk to Jesus (my heavenly father) to talk to my dad (my biological father). This brought me closer to Jesus.
Relationships matter. We held my dad’s funeral a few days after he passed away on a week day in the middle of the day. There were more than 2,000 people that attended the funeral. Many others contacted us because they were not able to attend. My dad understood the importance of people and relationships. His priorities were correct in God, Family, People, then work. My understanding and commitment to people and relationships were changed as a result of my father passing away.
As a family we wrote a book titled: I am my Dad. All eleven children wrote a chapter of how we are similar to our dad.
It is good to reflect and understand what you learn from traumatic events. In fact, that is good teaching as well.
Attached there are some resources for you to educate yourself and others related to traumatic events. I hope this is helpful.
Thanks to these educators and leaders that provided a model of true character.
We need more teachers like this.
Dr. Nathan Herzog